Beneath the Bluster, Boris Johnson’s ‘New Deal’ Offers Nothing New

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Yves here. Boris Johnson’s paltry “New Deal” gimmick has been thumbs down outside his hard core fanbase. For instance:

This post does a tidy job of taking this scheme apart.

By Fatima Ibrahim, co-executive director of Green New Deal UK and the Build Back Better campaign. Originally published at openDemocracy

Today Boris Johnson has announced a ‘New Deal’ for the UK, as his government looks to kick-start an economic recovery and get the nation back on its feet after the tragedy and destruction wrought by COVID-19.

The Prime Minister is right to opt for a big policy announcement. The UK is hungry for change: a recent poll from YouGov found that only 6% of the population want to return to the pre-lockdown economy. That’s an appetite for change that can only be satisfied by big, bold and high-impact policies – all of which were in the original New Deal that helped bring an end to the Great Depression in 1930s America.

The government’s plan, however, pales in comparison. The ‘New Deal’ is set to see £5 billion injected into infrastructure projects up and down the country to create jobs and get the economy moving. Mr Johnson wants to “build, build, build” to fuel his economic recovery, which – according to the man himself – sounds “positively Rooseveltian”.

But when you skim past the adjectives and hyperbole, it seems that this ‘New Deal’ is in fact nothing new: it is repackaged and repurposed policies that will do little to deliver the change the UK wants and needs. The increases in spending are only slightly above the spending that was already planned. During the worst economic crises in history this isn’t ambitious – it’s appalling.

Flicking through the policies that make up this ‘New Deal’, it is clear that the Prime Minister hasn’t bothered to read the Committee on Climate Change’s report last week, which set out in clear terms how this government is utterly failing to get on a pathway to net-zero by 2050. The ‘New Deal’ is allocating £100m for road building programmes throughout the country, locking in carbon emissions for decades to come at a time when we need to be drastically curtailing them.

The Prime Minister has also said that the plan will allow the UK to “build back greener”, but the environmental details are alarmingly scarce. The ones that are there – around supporting conservation efforts and tree-planting – are simply repackaged policies from previous budgets.

The Committee on Climate Change couldn’t have been clearer when they said that this economic recovery is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to build a green, fair and strong economy that’s on a pathway to net-zero. So, instead of ‘build build build’, Mr Johnson might want to ‘read, read, read’ the advice laid out to his government.

There are many “shovel ready” policies out there to “level up” the UK economy without reneging on our international and domestic climate commitments. Take UK housing, for instance. Not only are homes prohibitively expensive, but they are also shamefully energy inefficient. The UK housing stock is the oldest in northern Europe, and on average UK homes lose heat three times faster than their continental cousins. A mass retrofitting programme would create jobs up and down the country, endowing groups of draught busters with the new skills needed for a low carbon, 21st century economy.

This wouldn’t only create good jobs throughout the country, it would also improve everyone’s quality of life through lower energy bills and warmer, more comfortable homes. It would make serious in-roads in eradicating fuel poverty, which still impacts thousands of people across the UK, which is supposedly the sixth richest nation in the world. A ‘build, build, build’ approach to housing just won’t cut it – especially since 80% of the houses that will be standing by 2050 have already been built.

What we can’t do is pursue an economic stimulus that prioritises short term growth over long term prosperity. Handing out blank cheque bailouts to industries like aviation, without any conditions for curtailing emissions, will do little to build the green, fair and strong economy we need. Aviation is only used by a fraction of the British population, with just 15% of society taking 70% of all flights. Half of us don’t fly in a given year, at all.

Surely at the critical juncture we must aim high to get as many people back on their feet as possible, and support industries that are essential to life. This is what a green recovery would do: it would support the necessities of our lives, our homes, our health, our energy and the way in which we travel.

At a time of economic vulnerability and uncertainty, we need to challenge the idea that going green is a sacrifice or a luxury that we cannot afford. It isn’t, and we can.

A green recovery will improve all of our lives, whether it’s through new and secure jobs, better cycling infrastructure, a properly resourced health service, thriving local communities, more abundant green spaces or warmer homes.

On closer inspection, the government’s ‘New Deal’ is just BS and bluster. The UK wants real change, not more of the same under a different name.

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  1. jackiebass

    Boris is another Trump. He like Trump is a master con artist.The people in the UK will pay for years because of their overwhelming support of Boris. He fed them a big dose of promises he never intended or could never keep. watching Boris perform on BBC immediately reminded me that he was just another Trump.

    1. Ignacio

      This is not a comment on your funny take but this prompted a reflection on how seriously Johnson cultivates his image as a clown, as the funny white folk that contrasts with the Very Serious People at the other side of the Channel like Macron or Merkel. But behind this apparent relax there is a serious intention to make Thatcher’s sweetest dreams real, IMO.

      1. Clive

        Yes, and it gets ‘em every time. Plus, it’s all wrapped up in a Trumpian knowledge of how to trigger the left (the “clap for bankers!” being a case in point, getting them to waste bandwidth on diluting their message on what should be a shooting of fish in a barrel opportunity with his damp squib of New Deal).

        Throw in the ability of the left to let itself get taken down dead ideological ends like Black Lives Matter, more distractions through the cancel culture, Cummings Derangement Syndrome and an inability to stop wittering on about rejoining the EU (all things which the general public largely aren’t interested in) and you get a place where, bad though Johnson is, the opposition is still carrying on like a student demo — trying to be everything to everyone, everywhere, all the time.

        1. Ignacio

          Yes, that is all distraction and most of us fall prey for this. Likewise, Trump tweets.

          1. Clive

            Absolutely. There was a real doozie yesterday from him and it was all I could do not to feed the troll and pick it up and run with it.

            The genuine progressive left really must learn the kind of self-discipline which is needed in our new civic discourse environment (and, heaven knows, I find it hard enough to stop myself from falling for whatever is being trotted out as today’s pot stirring).

            As illustrated by Johnson in this instance (not the only offender but definitely in the vanguard of this new style of politics), getting your opposition to do your work for you by tripping over themselves in their haste to respond, Pavlov’s Dog-like, to their constant goading but, unfortunately, making themselves look like a bunch of crazed halfwits who need to go on an anger management course is some kind of demented genius.

        2. flora

          Yep. Distractions are part the the game of deflecting the public from deeper examination of the political/economic changes taking place, imo.

          About the Left being led down deadends:

          Philip Mirowski gave a lecture on neoliberalism. His opening statements included this:”My main argument today is the Left doesn’t want to see neoliberalism as a philosophical project. They want to see it as doing good work for the rich, which it clearly is, but they don’t want to see it as a philosophical project. That leads them astray. …I want show we need to stare [the neoliberal] vision of truth in the face and see what it really looks like.”

          Elsewhere Mirowski writes, “It is a neoliberal tactic to postpone the truth as long as possible when it comes to the nature of the society they [the neoliberal thought collectice] are dedicated to bring about….”

          While impeachment or BLM has the spotlight all sorts of questionable bills are passed with bipartisan support and little to no media coverage. The distractions worked to keep questioners focused away from some pretty bad economic legislation. I wonder if Boris Johnson’s distracting antics serve the same philosophical ends in the UK.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    The sad thing here is that there is a perfect political and economic opportunity here to re-launch a post-austerity economic policy for the UK. For a short while, it looked like the Chancellor realised this – the speed with which he injected an unprecedented gush of cash into the economy made it look like he understood both the needs and the tools. But the Tories have retreated back into orthodoxy with unseemly haste.

    Its good news of course for Labour. It seems that the Tories are walking into a steep recession that they will have made much worse, and they won’t be able to hide this from the public, no matter how hard the media works to spin it. Boris and Cummings seem to think they can bullshit and charm their way out of one. I think they will be sorely disappointed.

  3. The Rev Kev

    For what it is worth, Boris could have done something even more stupid. With Oz heading into recession and the economy struggling to cope with a new configuration in a pandemic world, Scotty from Marketing has decided that the best thing that we can do is to spend $270 billion on the military so that we can pick a fight with China – who happens to be our biggest trading partner.

    China might be too far away from the UK but Boris could always spend a coupla hundred billion pounds picking a fight with Russia because everybody knows that Russian tanks are due to roll down Oxford Street any day now. Either that or send a boat load of men-at-arms & long-bowmen to invade America hoping to lose and get a Marshall Plan 2.0-

    1. Clive

      The problem with this line of thinking (and its often expressed by those on the left) is that, for a chunk of voters — voters that I will remind everybody, lest anyone forget, who’s votes the left needs — it comes across in the same way as those gossipy curtain-twitching snobby sorts who live across the street. The ones who think you’re a bit ordinary-verging-on-the-common, your wife’s bordering on a tart and your kids are feral. Oh, and you need to sort that hedge of yours out, it looks a mess.

      All of which has you thinking, what’s the point in even trying with those sorts of people. They never liked you anyway.

      1. Tony Wright

        Yes Clive “those sorts of people”- your eloquent description of one of the reasons why I stayed in Australia when my parents and sisters returned to the UK (misnomer, I know) in 1971, all of us having emigrated in 1967.
        Thank you for the decision affirming reminder.
        Greetings and best wishes to all on NC from currently Covid19 free Adelaide.

        1. Clive

          Yes, they are a scourge. But my jibe was more aimed at a faction within the left that seems to think that all that is necessary is to fire off a constant rat-tat-tat refrain that this- or that- country is irredeemably awful, filled with unwashable deplorables who are fundamentally unsalvageable and will be treated with nothing more than consistent contempt. Like the judgemental neighbours in my allegory.

          But in politics, what happens then is those same turning-their-noses-up-at-you folks then expect everyone to embrace the left because everything is so dreadful and everyone is so abhorrent and, if they live in such a ghastly place then, well, they’ll just vote for left-leaning parties as — what? — some sort of penance?

          Now, I’m certainly not saying here that, on occasions, you don’t need to cut irrational hubris down to size and bang a drum to highlight blatantly obvious failings which need to be addressed but aren’t being. Unjustified cheeriness and rha-rha’ing will, if unchallenged, always lead to trouble.

          That is not the problem with COVID-19. If the mood of the nation is in a slough of despond, now is not the time to tell everyone they’re a useless pile of crap and nothing can be done to improve matters. I wasn’t around at the time, of course, but I doubt that’s what FDR did to depression-era America. Rather, he said (paraphrasing) we can do better than this and we will do better than this, and here is how we’re going to do it.

          Returning to the UK situation, Starmer should, in face of Johnson’s hopelessly lame not-very-stimulating-stimulus have said “If I was over there (pointing to Johnson) I would be going round to the Governor of the bank of England, asking if he will cover £50-100bn of additional government expenditure and here (pointing at a list, Starmer is supposed to be ‘forensic’ so he should be able to produce one) is exactly what I’ll be spending it on”. But no. We got his usual wooden whataboutery. No vision. No can-do attitude. No hope for anything.

          And from the rest of the left, we got jibbering nonsense about Dominic bloody Cummings and some guff about mourning the irreversible leaving of the EU, amongst a barrage of other lesser muddled rubbish.

          I can’t speak for other countries, but this is not the mood of where the public in the UK is. Of couse, there are a fair few who will say, oh, well, just wait a while and everyone will get fed up of the right, then they’ll magically look at left and progressive alternatives. If I tell you that the last time a notionally left-wing government was elected to office here, it was in 2005 — and that the very earliest opportunity there is for another government to be elected is 2024 (that’ll be 19 years, well over one-third of my life) — you’ll perhaps forgive me if I don’t exactly think this (i.e. just give it a bit of time, they’ll all come round eventually, in the meantime, tell them how awful they all are) is a great strategy for the left of politics.

  4. David

    I wonder if we’re not seeing a kind of inside-out version of the saying attributed to Negri or Zizek or somebody that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. I think that Boris, like just about every other major UK politician, “Just doesn’t get it”, and is actually incapable of getting it. It’s not a question of numbers, it’s the need to understand that the system as a whole is basically (familyblogged). I thought until very recently that the Tory appetite for power would drive them to realise what was necessary, even if they didn’t understand it.Now, I’m not so sure. Yes, they want power but they are too far gone, too stupid and too isolated to understand the problem, let aloe the answer.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think the current crop of Tories (specifically Johnson and Cummings) do have a lot in common with Trump in that they have an unusual mix of cunning and stupidity. They are, as we’d call them in Ireland, ‘cute hoors’. Cute hoors can often outwit much smarter people in the short term due to natural cunning and ruthlessness, but invariably they never really succeed in the long term as they rarely understand the reasons for their own success, or recognise their own limitations (which is one of the first thing genuinely smart people discover about themselves).

      This is a long winded way of saying that people like them usually run out of road eventually, and often crash horribly – usually when they find themselves in a situation where they genuinely have to know what they are doing. All the indications are i think that Trump has found that Covid is one thing he can’t bluster past. I suspect Johnson will similarly find that he can’t BS his way around it either.

      The broader question then arises as to how the people who have ridden their coat tails deal with this. I believe there are already whispers in Republican circles as to how they can replace Trump without damaging the brand. The Tories of course are long time masters at wielding a butchers knife when necessary. But I wonder if they have simply run out of talent and intellect – once upon a time there were always people in the Tory party with a genuine understanding of how the world works. I think, as our friend the Col. would suggest, they’ve all now been replaced with jumped up second hand car dealers.

      1. David

        Yes, the second-hand car dealers took over the party in the country in the 70 and 80s, but of course generational change is by definition slow, and there were actually competent Tory politicians (some selected accidentally, it’s true) until fairly recently. Now, the system is eating itself, and ideological nonentities are selecting and promoting ideological nonentities.
        I think there’s another problem, that I date from the Blair years, which is that politics has become completely self-referential. There is no “there” there outside politics, and real life exists only insofar as politics deigns to take account of it. I don’t think any politician, in any party, has actually realised that Covid is anything more than a political issue (as everything is). I find that terrifying.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yup, thats the scary thing. I’ve noticed that Boris, like Trump, genuinely seems to think that if he gets the messaging right, the virus will just go away, as if in awe the awesomeness of the leader. Neither of them are even interested in actually addressing the problem, its just too complicated.

          1. Tony Wright

            Seems to be an anglosphere problem : “It is not that our policies that are wrong, we just need to explain them better”, or words to that effect. We get that here in Australia too – as if three word slogans were not simple and clear enough to the electorate…..Nuance? Nu who?

  5. Glen

    Gee, just imagine, Boris can gut the NHS, offer up a token Nude Eel, and join the US as a nuclear armed, third world failed state.

    If he really succeeds, you won’t even be able to travel to the EU! Brexit problem solved!


  6. Red

    Well the red wall enthusiastically voted for this. Hopefully they aren’t complaining.

  7. David Campbell

    Ferdinand Mount has a scathing article on Boris Johnson’s first year in office in the London Review of Books.
    Mount must be in his seventies or eighties, as I remember reading his weekly political column in The Spectator in the 1070s,but his writing is as sharp and stylish as ever
    His comments on Brexit are particularly worth reading, in the paragraphs beginning:-
    “First up, of course, are the closing sfages of the Brexit negotiations. ………………..”
    “Johnson’s policy has always included leaving the single market and the customs union, and saying goodbye to the European Court of Justice. ………..”
    “What will be the net effect, even assuming a tolerable outcome on trade in goods, if not in services?……….”
    “What will be the first outing f for Britain in ifts new role as ‘an independent actor and catalyst for fo free tradeacross the world ‘ to qiote the Greenwich speech?…………..?

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