About those Brexit benefits, Mr McCartney

The Prime Minister’s speech at the Conservative conference was big on rhetoric but had little to say of substance and people are beginning to notice.

The Prime Minister’s keynote speech to the Conservative conference was a typical word salad aimed at his core support and concentrated on hammering home his new 3 word slogan “Build Back Better” along with its variations: Build Back Butter, Build Back Burger, Build Back Batter, Build Back Bitter and – unforgettably – Build Back Beaver. 

On the day of the speech itself, 122 more Covid-related deaths  and 40,000 new infections were recorded. No one noticed: everyone’s attention was focused on what Johnson was going to say about ‘levelling up’, what it meant and how it would restore the UK’s economy. 

It didn’t take long for Tory loyalists to swing in behind their leader with fulsome messages of praise and support. “Fabulous speech,” gushed Selaine Saxby, MP for North Devon. “Joyous and vibrant..he really brought some fun,” trilled Kate Andrews of The Spectator. “Getting on with the job,” oozed Karl McCartney, MP for Lincoln. We’ll come back to Mr McCartney shortly. 

Fantasy world

These instant responses were quickly drowned out by those living in reality rather than the fantasy world of Conservative party politics. They were looking in vain for details of a plan and the policies to go with it. While they did so, farmers were beginning a cull of pigs because of a lack of skilled staff to deal with them in slaughterhouses. The wholesale price of gas jumped 40% in a single day, shortages of fuel caused panic buying and fights between motorists while the government cut the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit. 

Respected organisations including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Child Poverty Action Group, Save The Children and the Resolution Foundation warned this would “plunge thousands more into poverty.” The right-wing, free-market enthusiasts at The Adam Smith Institute no less described the speech as ‘economically illiterate’. No wonder. 

No wonder too that Iain Martin in The Times called Johnson “a man standing at the bar of the Titanic, ordering another round of drinks and regaling his fellow passengers with funny stories shortly after midnight when it is just about to become clear there aren’t enough lifeboats”. The Question Time audience (‘carefully selected to be representative of a Conservative, Brexit-voting audience’, according to Fiona Bruce) tore into the dishonesty of the speech the day after it was made. They could see the lies.

Three times guilty

It took a real zealot to support the speech so let’s go back to Mr McCartney. He’s an enthusiastic Brexit supporter, like his fellow Lincolnshire MPs, and is none too keen for his activities to be closely examined. In the same week as he was telling Lincoln residents all was well, Business Insider broke the story that he’d been found guilty of breaching parliamentary rules three times over declaring his interests. His expenses claims almost certainly cost him his seat in 2017 and he made the news for his apparent endorsement of a far-right group associated with Sir Oswald Mosley, before saying he wasn’t aware of the group’s background.

With such a curriculum vitae, it’s legitimate to wonder about the benefits his support has brought to Lincoln. 

All part of the Brexit benefits plan

As we’ve seen, he was quick to support Johnson’s claims that everything was part of the plan. He praised the proposal to ‘cut immigration in order to boost working wages’ even though whole industries, especially in Lincolnshire, are crying out for visa restrictions to be eased because of labour shortages. He enthused about ‘key infrastructure projects’ without saying what they were, where they would be or how they would benefit the city he represents. He does acknowledge the Towns Fund but Lincoln only gets £19m, a mere snip compared, say, with winning a generous contract for providing useless PPE. 

Perhaps he was thinking about how the University of Lincoln has been identified as a major engine for regeneration not just of the city but of the East Midlands region (something that has nothing to do with the levelling up claims). Perhaps he meant the proposed nuclear waste dump (which no-one locally wants) near the Lincolnshire coast (an area he doesn’t represent), which took a step closer when the county council joined a working party to explore the project’s feasibility further. Who knows? Mr McCartney doesn’t do much by way of detail. 

He doesn’t seem to have mentioned the struggles faced by exporters such as SuperFOIL because of non-tariff barriers he voted for. He hasn’t commented on the staffing problems faced by bus companies. He’s had nothing to say about the challenges faced by farmers and hauliers or the rising energy prices, tax increases, benefit cuts and food shortages facing his constituents. As each day goes by, more and more voters see precious little evidence either of improving skills and wages.

Shape up or ship out

Mr McCartney may well feel there’s nothing he can say, but his colleague, Grimsby MP Lia Nici is much more sanguine. She’s already warned that her voters will be expecting to see things improve or she’ll be out. Both of them have to face the reality that they were elected on a promise to ‘get Brexit done.’ If those sunlit uplands don’t materialise, the electorate will pass judgement.

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