Londoners have learned the hard way that Boris Johnson’s boosterism will fail

Never not relevant. Image: Getty.

In many ways, Boris Johnson’s new economic strategy – “boosterism” – is the embodiment of our new Prime Minister. Like the man himself, at first glance, it’s compelling and cartoonish. It’s only when you delve deeper, that it becomes clear that it’s reckless, impulsive, and bursting at the seams with contradictions.

According to sources within Number 10, Johnson wants to put “rocket boosters” under the economy in the form of heavy infrastructure investment. He has already outlined a few initial ways he would like to do this: spending billions on new high–speed rail lines, and rolling out super–fast broadband across the country.

Yet, here in London, we are still recovering from the impact of Boris Johnson’s boosterism over the course of his eight years as Mayor.

Londoners learned the hard way how detached Johnson is from reality – watching him pour funds into hare–brained schemes like “Boris Airport” and the “Garden Bridge” that cost millions without a single brick being laid.

His array of costly vanity projects left taxpayers footing a bill of nearly £1bn, and this figure is continuing to rise three years on. What do we have to show for it? A handful of shiny monuments on the skyline that do nothing to tackle the underlying problems faced by those living in our city – growing inequality, child poverty, and a chronic lack of social housing.

This money could have been invested in schools, hospitals, housing, libraries and youth centres – reviving the lifeblood of our communities, rather than tearing them apart.


Of course, Johnson is right about one thing: that the UK is desperately in need of greater infrastructure funding after years of crippling Tory austerity. However, his fanatical approach to Brexit completely undermines this goal.

With one hand he’s offering “billions” to help stabilise our poorest regions. Yet, with the other he’s threatening to pull the rug out from beneath them with a no deal Brexit that would plunge our country into the grips of recession. We all know who would be hit hardest. It’s not our new Prime Minister or his pals.

Even if Johnson strikes a deal in Brussels, the UK will soon be cut off from critical EU funding streams that are designed to reduce inequalities. Parts of the country that have been “left behind” will face a multi–billion–pound gap in funding for housing, transport and infrastructure projects, and countless other EU schemes designed to support the most vulnerable will evaporate. This will all take place at crunch time, as UK Government ministers scrabble to set up and oversee a number of new national systems and procedures to replace the EU mechanisms that their predecessors helped to build.

Should Johnson succeed in dragging us out of the EU without a deal, the economic shock will be severe. In the short–term, we can realistically expect to experience long traffic jams at the border, disruption at airports, food and medicine shortages, a mass cull of farm animals, thousands of job losses, and research funding flooding out of the country.

Anyone who thinks that speedy broadband connections and some new trains will fix this problem is either naive or incompetent – I fear our new Prime Minister may be both.

Scott Ainslie is a Green MEP for London.

 
 
 
 

Community-powered policies should be at the top of Westminster’s to do list

A generic election picture. Image: Getty.

Over the past five decades, political and economic power has become increasingly concentrated in the UK’s capital. Communities feel ignored or alienated by a politics that feels distant and unrepresentative of their daily experiences.

Since the EU referendum result it has become something of a cliché to talk about how to respond to the sense of powerlessness felt by too many people. The foundations of our economy have been shifted by Brexit, technology and deindustrialisation – and these have shone a light on a growing divergence in views and values across geographies and generations. They are both a symptom and cause of the breakdown of the ties that traditionally brought people together.

As the country goes through seismic changes in its outlook, politics and economy, it is clear that a new way of doing politics is needed. Empowering people to take control over the things that affect their daily lives cannot be done from the top down.

Last week, the Co-operative Party launched our policy platform for the General Election – the ideas and priorities we hope to see at the top of the next Parliament’s to do list. We have been the voice for co-operative values and principles in the places where decisions are made and laws are made. As co-operators, we believe that the principles that lie behind successful co‑operatives – democratic control by customers and workers, and a fair share of the wealth we create together – ought to extend to the wider economy and our society. As Labour’s sister party, we campaign for a government that puts these shared values into practice.

Our policy platform has community power at its heart, because the co-operative movement, founded on shop floors and factory production lines, knows that power should flow from the bottom up. Today, this principle holds strong – decisions are best made by the people impacted the most by them, and services work best when the service users have a voice. Our policy platform is clear: this means shifting power from Whitehall to local government, but it also means looking beyond the town hall. Co-operative approaches are about placing power directly in the hands of people and communities.


There are many great examples of Co-operative councillors and local communities taking the lead on this. Co-operative councils like Oldham and Plymouth have pioneered new working relationships with residents, underpinned by a genuine commitment to working with communities rather than merely doing things to them.

Building a fairer future is, by definition, a bottom-up endeavour. Oldham, Plymouth and examples like the Elephant Project in Greater Manchester, where people with experience of disadvantage are involved in decision-making, or buses in Witney run by Co-operative councillors and the local community – are the building blocks of creating a better politics and a fairer economy.

This thread runs through our work over the last few years on community wealth building too – keeping wealth circulating in local economies through growing the local co-operative sector. Worker-owned businesses thriving at the expense of global corporate giants and private outsourcers. Assets owned by communities – from pubs to post offices to rooftop solar panels.

And it runs through our work in Westminster too – with Co-operative MPs and peers calling for parents, not private business, to own and run nurseries; for the stewards of our countryside to be farmers rather than big landowners; and for workers to have a stake in their workplaces and a share of the profit.

Far from being ignored, as suggested in last week’s article on community power, our work has never been more relevant and our co-operative voice is louder than ever.

Anna Birley is policy offer at the Co-operative party.