by Tim Hanes Writer In Residence
A new website for the Equity FD family and, apparently, an entirely new approach to running the country. Enter Borisnomics as set out at the Conservative Party conference. Goodbye low wages and high immigration. Hello, high wages and low immigration. That switch in strategy plus the injection of a suitable amount of optimism and “oomph” and we will be soon be growing faster than China.
This new approach has, admittedly, come as something of a shock to the business community and think tanks of a free market inclination. It has left the Labour Party scratching its head as well. It was hard enough dealing with the fact that the Prime Minister had ditched and disowned the austerity agenda of his immediate predecessors without shedding a tear for its departure. One is all for flexibility, but there is the small matter of who is going to have to pay for these high wages and/or pass on the cost of forking out for them to their customers in the form of higher prices.
What then is to be made of Borisnomics? Where has it come from? Where will it be going?
Fortunately, I am in a position to offer an explanation. If there is ever the post of Professor of Boris Studies advertised at a university anywhere, I will be the first one in there with an application.
Let me offer you a little personal history of how my paths have crossed with the Prime Minister.
Boris and I were undergraduates at Oxford University at the same time. He had come from Eton to read Classics at Balliol College. I had arrived from de Stafford comprehensive to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oriel College. In his fourth term Boris stood to be President of the Oxford Union Society. A friend of mine, was his opponent. I was the campaign manager. We were not, at the outset, the favourites by any means.
Yet Boris Version One was really quite a conventional Old Etonian/Balliol College type with the sole exception of his extraordinary hair. He came across as aloof, a High Tory, and with little in the way of the popular touch.
We ran what was essentially a campaign of unremitting class war against him. We won by a comfortable margin. That was the end of him in student politics we, indeed everybody, thought.
How wrong we were. What we had failed to anticipate was his extraordinary capacity to reinvent himself. Neither the late David Bowie nor Dr Who are in the same league as him. He came back a year later as if a different person. He was (deliberately) shambolic in appearance, he was funny, he hung out with the Social Democratic Party’s activists. He waxed lyrical about the environment. None of the lines of attack that had worked so well against him the first time had any effect the second go. He did not merely prevail but absolutely massacred a very worthy opponent. Boris II had been born. By his standards, therefore, Borisnomics is a relatively small adjustment in his political positioning.
A second tale before I draw this together and attempt a theory of Borisnomics.
For a number of years, when with wife number two, Boris and I both lived in Angel, Islington. I would pass his house several times a day when out for a run, shopping or just on my travels. The incident concerned was on the Sunday in February 2016 after David Cameron had named the date for the referendum on whether Britain would remain in or leave the European Union. Boris was due to declare which side he would be backing and announce it on that day from his front doorstep.
It was a surreal experience. I passed by at about 10am and there were already a few journalists, photographers, TV camera crews and a local tramp with a plastic bag clearly full of beer cans. On my return a couple of hours later the numbers were larger and the tramp was still there (with fewer beer cans). I had reason to be that way again and there was a very large media scrum indeed, not only British but a number of continental European outlets, and the tramp, who was the closest thing to an ordinary member of the British public, was by now selling interviews as to where he stood on Brexit in exchange for more beer cans to French and Italian television reporters who presumably needed to fill in the airtime somehow. At that very moment, and a number of hours before he was supposed to do so (the then Mrs Johnson, not unreasonably, wanted to be shot of this mob in front of her property), Boris emerged to announce that he would be leading the Leave team. It felt like a bizarre cross between a moment of history and a very bad experience with narcotics. It did, though, illustrate that along with reinvention and charisma comes the capacity to draw a crowd.
What has all this to do with Borisnomics? The common thread, and I appreciate this will be a source of some pain to the Equity FD readership, is that Boris does not do numbers. Because of that, any attempt to argue with Borisnomics on the basis of numbers, statistics, figures or facts will fail.
When I assert that he does not do numbers I do not mean that he is any way dim (far from it he has immense if rather unusual intelligence) or innumerate. He just does not think that numbers are that important. They have nothing to do with leadership. They rarely by themselves settle a debate. If there happen to be numbers out there that assist him in any case that he wants to make then he will willingly cite them to boost his cause but they are distinctly secondary to what he will articulate. Numbers are to him, much like a Boris Bike was to Londoners, something to use if it is convenient.
In fairness, he has been absolutely consistent in his disregard for numbers. That some of his grand projects such as the famous Boris Island Airport scheme or a tunnel connecting Scotland and Northern Ireland would cost astronomical sums and involve hideous practical challenges really did not bother him. Numbers only move the needle for Boris if they are so large and have such seismic effect that you cannot ignore them or ask for other figures (such as on Covid). The likes of Pericles or Julius Caesar were hardly accountants. Borisnomics is a numbers free entity.
On the basis of past evidence, he will probably carry this off. He will continue to be the CEO whom the FD desperately tries (but rarely succeeds) controlling. Spare a thought for Rishi!