Boris Johnson hailed by his party despite UK economic difficulties
MANCHESTER, England (AP) – Empty petrol pumps, labor shortage, empty store shelves. It’s an autumn of inconvenience in Great Britain,…
MANCHESTER, England (AP) – Empty petrol pumps, labor shortage, empty store shelves. It is an autumn of inconvenience in Britain, if not quite a winter of discontent.
But this week, Boris Johnson is in his element. The PM closed his issues outside at the Conservative Party’s annual conference, addressing supportive crowds, posing for selfies and clowning around on a bike at a sprawling convention center in Manchester.
Johnson ends the four-day conference on Wednesday with a speech promising Britain will emerge from Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic as a stronger, more vibrant country – albeit a slightly bumpy road.
“There is no alternative,” Johnson said on Tuesday, echoing a phrase used by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, an iconic Conservative figure. “The UK must (become) – and we can do much, much better by becoming – a higher-wage, higher-productivity economy. “
Britain has been through a turbulent period since the party last met in person two years ago. Next, Johnson vowed to “get Brexit done” and pull the UK out of the European Union after years of wrangling over exit conditions.
The promise won Johnson a huge parliamentary majority in December 2019. He pulled Britain out of the EU last year, ending the UK’s seamless economic integration with a close trade bloc. half a billion people. Britain has also been hit by a coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 136,000 lives in the UK, the highest toll in Europe after Russia.
The pandemic, which froze much of the economy, and Brexit, which made it harder for EU citizens to work in the UK, have combined to desynchronize the economy.
While not as dire as Britain’s infamous ‘winter of discontent’ in 1978-79, when thousands of striking workers crippled essential services and led to the election of Thatcher, the country has experienced the most widespread economic disruption in years.
A shortage of truck drivers, partly due to a backlog of tests and partly to an exodus of workers from Europe, has plagued UK supply chains. This has left supermarkets with empty shelves, fast food chains without chicken, and gas pumps with no fuel.
After more than a week of fuel supply problems, the government appealed to the military this week, forcing dozens of soldiers to drive tankers. It also says it will issue up to 5,500 short-term visas to foreign truckers coming to the UK
Other troubled sectors of the economy say they aren’t getting the same quick action. Pig farmers protested at the Conservative conference, saying a shortage of slaughterhouse butchers means thousands of pigs may need to be slaughtered on farms, ending up in landfills rather than the food chain.
Meryl Ward, a pig farmer from central England, said it was “utter folly” for the government to refuse to issue visas to a small number of qualified European butchers to alleviate the crisis.
“It’s a complete and utter mess,” she said.
Johnson says companies will have to resist by raising wages, improving wages and conditions to get British workers to fill vacant positions. He said too many sectors of the UK economy relied on workers from Eastern Europe willing to do hard jobs for low wages, and vowed the UK would not come back “to the old failed model where you favor a low-wage, low-skilled workforce. “
While Johnson argues that joining the EU has driven down British wages – a claim disputed by many economists – he downplayed the role of Brexit in the country’s current economic woes, stressing that the United States and the China also have a shortage of truck drivers. Critics say these countries also don’t have the supermarket shelf gaps Britain knows.
Johnson said supply chain issues are just “the stresses and strains you expect from a waking giant,” adding Britain is bouncing back quickly after suffering the strongest contraction of all. the major economies of the pandemic. Unemployment is below 5%, although the end this month of a program that paid the wages of millions of workers on leave could increase that number.
Many Conservatives fear that winter will put a strain on voters’ wallets as fuel costs rise due to soaring global natural gas prices and cutbacks in social assistance benefits for millions of people this week.
This could make it harder for Johnson to achieve his key goal of “leveling” the UK by expanding economic opportunities beyond the south of England, where most business and investment is concentrated. This promise helped him win working class votes in areas that have long been strongholds of the center-left Labor Party.
“The Conservative Party has changed,” said Michael Gove, the government’s grand secretary of state for upgrades, housing and communities.
He said the party that cut government spending for a decade after 2010 under Johnson’s predecessors had rejected an economic model “in which the fruits of growth were not fairly shared and the talents of all were not. also valued “.
One day, voters will judge whether the Conservatives have kept their promises. But so far, with most polls giving the party a lead over a demoralized Labor Party, delegates in Manchester were as dynamic as their famous irrepressible leader.
They filled meeting rooms and sipped mulled white wine at sweaty receptions, as if the months of lockdown, masks and social distancing in Britain were a bad dream.
The Johnson-led Conservative Party was visibly younger, more diverse and less dominated by wealthy residents of southern England than it had been for years.
“You wouldn’t have seen this even 10 or 15 years ago, with the north coming out in such numbers to support the Conservative Party,” said Max Darby, a delegate born in the northern town of Scunthorpe. England. “I think Boris must be doing something right if people like me are more than happy – indeed proud – to vote Tory.”
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