- SKY NEWS - SEP, 2021 - Beth Rigby -
The election victory of 2019 handed Boris Johnson the biggest parliamentary majority of any Conservative prime minister since Margaret Thatcher and with it a chance to reshape modern Britain in a way she had four decades earlier.
Then came COVID.
The Johnson administration soon ditched the ambitions for building post-Brexit Britain as it became engulfed in trying to get to grips with the biggest public health crisis to hit our nation - and the world - in a century.
For the past 18 months, Mr Johnson and his team has been embroiled in a health, economic and social crisis, that has cost so much - financially, educationally, socially, emotionally. The country has a £300bn deficit, children across England have lost at least 61 days of school, the NHS waiting list for England stood at 5.45 million people in June 2020, and could, according to the health secretary, soar to 13 million in the coming months.
But with nearly 65% of the population now fully vaccinated, COVID restrictions lifted and the relationship between cases and deaths far weaker that it was in the summer, No 10 is the midst of what one senior figure describes as a "six -month transition" from being a country - and government - completely immersed in firefighting a pandemic to the beginning of a reset for a Johnsonian administration that has yet to really get going.
And this autumn will be the moment when Boris Johnson reveals what prime minister he really wants to be, as he takes tax and spending decisions that will set the terms of the next general election.
Is the Johnsonian government one of an expanding state to better fund the NHS, pay for more public services and fix social care, complete with the tax rises that entails?
Or does he instead choose to consolidate the public finances, push big policy decisions into the next parliamentary term - confident he can win the next election - and aim at being a smaller-state, lower-tax Conservative PM?
He must weigh up the public's appetite for a shift in public spending and revenue raising, and make the calculation of whether he can sell breaking tax and spend promises it to his parliamentary party in the short term, as well as his coalition of red wall and blue shire voters when the next election comes around in 2024. The Conservatives have traditionally been a party of fiscal responsibility, low taxation and a small state. How radical is Mr Johnson really prepared to be?
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