Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are yet to face each other on the same stage.
– Angry ships in the night –
Instead, their campaigns seem to exist in parallel worlds – even the sparring is kept at arm’s length. Backers of the two fight proxy wars on the airwaves, with the candidates themselves apparently above such base behaviour as actual political debate.
To be fair to Hunt, he did have a go at it, but it’s all gone rather wrong. It turns out, he wasn’t meant to refer to October 31 as a “fake deadline” but to Johnson’s pledge of Brexit by Halloween, come what may, as a “fake promise”.
– Send in the proxies –
Instead, he’s opened himself up to attack from the Brexiteers in Team Boris, with one of Johnson’s outriders, Dominic Raab, asking how long Hunt would let “this paralysis” go on for. Raab suggested in another radio interview that Hunt was too “pliant” to get a better deal.
That came after Matt Hancock, who performed an early and spectacular handbrake turn to join Johnson’s crew, claimed to have spent 2018 cleaning up Hunt’s mess over the junior doctors’ strike. Winning that confrontation is a key part of the now-Foreign Secretary’s sale’s pitch.
Still, it’s not all “blue-on-blue” bickering, and this morning we have some more actual policy to dig into.
– ‘Did you know that I like business?’ –
Hunt has promised to wipe out the student debts of anyone who starts a company and employs more than 10 people for five years. It’s hard to say how big the take up on that would be – currently, only 1 per cent of graduates start their own business – but it’s part of his attempt to be the pro-business candidate.
Johnson, meanwhile, has waded in with a far more substantial pledge. He’s revived Vote Leave’s proposal of an “Australian-style” points-based immigration system. He was light on the details – much to the ire of immigration hawks – but the basics are that migrant-hopefuls would be awarded points on the basis of their ability to speak English, education, age, experience and skills among other things. More points equal a better chance of being accepted.
– Pointless points –
The proposal is nothing new in UK politics, and something similar was attempted a decade ago for non-EU migrants. But the efficacy of such a system is questionable. Australia and Canada, two pioneers of points-based immigration, have had to make big changes but still find that migrants are more likely to be unemployed than locals. The Government, it turns out, isn’t good at picking workers on behalf of businesses.
And, as the critics were pointing out yesterday, having a points-based system says nothing about your actual objectives. Canada, for example, has more than double the migration rate per capita of the UK.
– Hey, big spender –
Before yesterday’s promises, the Institute for Fiscal Studies released its costings of the candidates’ pledges. Hunt’s come out as by far the more expensive at between £40 and £46 billion pounds. He wants to cut corporation tax, raise defence spending and lift the national insurance threshold.
The cost of Johnson’s proposals, meanwhile, were put at between £25 and £36 billion. They include raising the thresholds for both national insurance and the 40p rate of income tax. The former, more expensive promise was made only after Johnson was told his plans would actually raise taxes in Scotland.
It’s still over a week before ballot papers go out to the members, and the first head-to-head debate won’t take place until July 9. In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with proxy wars.