Britain is no longer being run to any political programme, but according to its prime minister’s impulsive responses to events
Who would be a Tory ideologue? One minute you must favour a private-sector, low-tax, deregulated economy, basking in the glories of free trade. The next you must favour state spending, corporate taxes, regulated energy prices, trade barriers and restricted labour markets. One minute, queues at petrol stations are nothing to do with Brexit. The next they can be eased by Brexit-busting visa quotas. Now Boris Johnson boasts they are a sign of “a period of adjustment” from a “broken model … that relied on low wages” – the old Labour case against joining the EU single market.
The Tory party has always prided itself on such ideological backrooms as Policy Exchange, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs. With the party long in power, these organisations have weathered many a stormy U-turn, from Ted Heath’s prices and incomes policies to Thatcher’s variable geometry on Europe. But they retained an intellectual coherence. This has been shot to ribbons by Covid. The raw fact is that, when the nation faces a serious crisis, one cry alone is heard: “Thank God for central government and big spending.”
Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist