London Prime Minister Boris Johnson once said he believed he had his cake and ate it, and during a career of dizzying ups and downs he often got what he wanted while avoiding difficult choices.
But the days when he could have both ways seem to be coming to an end.
Mr. Johnson now has to choose between two bold but contradictory promises: to put more resources into social care, but also to avoid raising taxes. And as Parliament returned from its summer recess on Monday, it has put him in a scuffle with lawmakers and some of his cabinet members.
On Tuesday, Mr. Johnson is expected to break his oath not to raise taxes when he announces a plan to strengthen nations’ social care services, a long-standing goal he announced off Downing Street shortly after becoming prime minister in 2019. Even before the announcement, fierce disagreement from members of his Conservative Party has highlighted the problems ahead for a government that has increased borrowing during the pandemic but still faces great pressure to spend and deliver on its promises. domestic policy.
It’s getting crunchy, said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London. The 2019 general election was about ending Brexit, but making Brexit so that we could continue to improve public services.
So Boris Johnson was elected with plenty of promise. That would always take some money and in the context of the pandemic there is less money around, Bale said.
The tension reflects current U.S. domestic policy, where the Biden administration is pushing a $ 3.5 trillion spending plan that would transform the social security network and proposing to fund it with tax increases that have already drawn fierce opposition from businesses and Republican lawmakers.
Amid rising tensions, rumors have surfaced of an imminent cabinet reshuffle, and last month Mr. Johnson was even reported to have suggested the downsizing of his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, a fiscal hawk who has emerged as a key rival to the prime minister. On Monday, however, Downing Street said it had no plans for any tremors.
But the dispute marks a new phase for the government as it seeks to move away from pandemic crisis management and back to a difficult domestic agenda including its commitment to distribute wealth to the most deprived parts of the country.
At the same time the British are cracking down on the National Health Service, which was already tense before the pandemic, now has a massive load of routine treatment and surgeries that had to be postponed. On Monday the government announced a cash injection of $ 5.4 billion, or $ 7.4 billion, to help address the issue.
Mr. Johnson is eager to turn to the social care system which is primarily for seniors, people with disabilities and others unable to take care of themselves and cement it as part of the heritage his. But his move to seize funding, at this point in British politics, is a gamble.
With a large majority in Parliament, the country out of the blockade and a respectable lead in the medium-term opinion polls, Mr. Johnson may have chosen a period of political consolidation after another traumatic year. Instead he is dealing with a notorious treacherous problem that guarantees a battle in Parliament.
His proposals are likely to limit the amount every British citizen pays for social care during their lifetime. This would prevent many people from selling their homes to pay for care, but it would also mean investing more public money, mainly through the accumulation of taxes
In 2017, Mr. Johnsons’s predecessor, Theresa May, lost her majority in Parliament following a disastrous election campaign in which the opposition Labor Party stressed its commitment to reform social care, describing its plan as a tax for dementia.
This phrase was used by Labor to suggest that someone who needed care because they suffered from Alzheimer’s would be less able to pass their home to their children than someone with a condition such as cancer. In Britain a cancer patient would receive free medical care under the National Health Service.
For Mr Johnson, whose government was in defense of the British military’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the focus on the domestic agenda is a chance to show voters who backed the Conservatives for the first time in 2019 that he is addressing issues that disturb them. Health care became a crucial issue in the 2016 Brexit referendum, when pro-Brexit activists, including Johnson, suggested that leaving the European Union would allow $ 350 million, or $ 484 million, a week to go to health care. a claim described as misleading by the head of the national statistical authority.
Critics oppose the fairness of the plan that Johnson seems to be proposing because instead of raising the income tax, the government is expected to raise a tax known as National Security. The burden of this falls on workers on payrolls and therefore disproportionately on the working poor and young people. No less than three former conservative Treasury chancellors have joined the chorus of critics, including Philip Hammond, who said he would vote against such a plan in the House of Lords.
Jake Berry, a member of an influential group of Conservative lawmakers from the north of England, also told the BBC that the plan did not seem right. The Labor Party plans to oppose an increase in National Insurance, increasing the possibility of a close vote in Parliament.
Perhaps the biggest danger to Mr. Johnson is the hostility of his party’s fiscal conservatives, who oppose tax increases, including a senior cabinet minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Writing in the Sunday Express, Mr. Rees-Mogg, chairman of the House of Commons, recalled the quote from President George HW Bushs: Read my lips: no new taxes, noting that voters remembered those words after President Bush had forgotten them.
Mr. Sunak is also concerned about reigning in spending, a view that is popular on the right wing of the Conservative Party.
He believes there is a moral and political tendency not to raise taxes, not to increase spending and take control of borrowing, said Professor Bale, who added that this was partly because he knows that this is where the beating heart of the parliamentary party lies. conservative.
Professor Bale added that many conservative lawmakers, like their prime minister, also seemed to want to keep taxes low while spending large sums on domestic priorities, their version of Mr. Johnsons’s philosophy. now nicknamed cakeism.
Professor Bale said he is shocked by his supporters. At least he seems prepared to sanction some tax increases, while his supporters seem to want something for nothing, so somehow he reaps what he sowed.
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