Two months since his decisive poll victory, Mr Johnson is in a powerful position, with a united cabinet and an 80-seat majority in the Commons, said Mr Timothy, who quit his position in 2017, apparently in response to the Tories’ poor showing in the election of that year. Mr Johnson’s historic 2019 victory was marked by the collapse of the so-called “red wall” as the Conservatives took seats in Labour heartlands in the north of England which hitherto had been considered essentially impossible to win.
However, Mr Timothy stressed Mr Johnson could not afford to become complacent, stressing there was “a line of issues that could cut right through his electoral coalition”.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Timothy explained: “His new immigration policy, for example, landed well last week.
“But while it ends free movement and takes back control of our borders, the number of people coming to Britain under such a system is likely to be at least as high as in the days of unrestricted European immigration.”
While the new approach would likely see an increase in the proportion of highly skilled workers, as well as encouraging a more ethnically diverse intake, the overall numbers were unlikely to come down, Mr Timothy said.
He added: “Time will tell whether this is what the Red Wall converts, or the majority of voters who say they want sharp reductions in immigration, expect from the government.”
There were similar uncertainties with respect to other areas of policy, Mr Timothy said – not least environmental pledges.
He explained: “The Conservative manifesto promised to reduce the cost of living, but the aggressive target set by ministers to go ‘carbon neutral’ by 2050 – and the likely carbon budgets needed to meet the objective – risk huge increases in energy bills, hikes in petrol prices and the enormous cost of refitting boilers and central heating in all our homes.”
Mr Johnson has signalled his intention to end the age of austerity ushered in by David Cameron and George Osborne ten years ago – but it was yet to be made clear this meant in practice.
Mr Timothy said: “If it amounts to huge investment in infrastructure, funded by borrowing, and increases in resource budgets only for the police, schools and hospitals, we are likely to see austerity continue for public sector budgets that the PM’s voters value, from prisons to the provision of skills and training.
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“A half-in, half-out austerity programme is a real danger.
“And this brings us to one of the most meaningful choices Johnson’s government will face.
“With the end of austerity, a programme to ‘level up’ the country, and an ageing population that will draw more on welfare, health and social care budgets, somebody will need to pay the bill.”
In order fund Mr Johnson’s grand plans, the overall tax burden would need to increase, Mr Timothy predicted, suggesting the question of who pays how much would test Mr Johnson’s voter coalition “more than any other”.
If the tax burden increased, Mr Timothy predicted Tory economic liberals would call for “supply-side reforms” in the shape of deregulation and tax cuts to boost economic growth.
He added: “Certainly, the laws and regulations that underpin the planning system need to be reformed and reduced, but many supply-side reforms needed today, from infrastructure to skills, require active government, not deregulation.
“And the PM’s new voters will expect him to do something, not nothing.
“From immigration to energy, and austerity to taxation, these are the faultlines in the new Tory coalition.
“It will require an obsessive focus on the values and interests of his new voters for Boris to keep his coalition together.”
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