Inside Westminster

Boris Johnson makes Keir Starmer look like a serious man for serious times

The public, Tory voters included, are increasingly critical of the government’s economic record, writes Andrew Grice

Friday 08 October 2021 14:05
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<p>Tilting axis: Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer  </p>

Tilting axis: Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer

Rishi Sunak impressed business figures as he worked the room at a £4,000-per-table gala dinner on Monday during the Conservative Party’s Manchester conference. “What can I do for you? Tell me what you want,” the chancellor asked the diners. He took questions at each table – not making a quick escape, as Boris Johnson had done earlier when he spoke briefly at a business lunch without inviting questions.

Sunak acknowledged the concern over business rates, but politely invited his questioners to tell him how else he could raise £30bn a year. When they suggested a property revaluation, he said that would be opposed by 50 per cent of businesses. “He is a class act. He really engaged and was completely on top of the detail,” one company boss told me, not needing to make the contrast with Johnson. “Rishi is very good at the personal stuff – even better than Blair.”

Although guests left the dinner reassured, Johnson was to spoil the party by repeatedly blaming business’s addiction to cheap foreign labour for recent shortages in shops and petrol stations. The prime minister’s solution – telling companies to raise wages to attract more British workers – was clever politics, but at the end of the week, some senior Tories are jittery about his rift with business.

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