James Forsyth

Boris Johnson’s upbeat defence of labour shortages

Boris Johnson’s upbeat defence of labour shortages
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Boris Johnson hadn’t been on the Today programme for two years. His interview this morning was, as so many of his interviews are, a testy affair. Johnson gave typically long answers, much to Nick Robinson’s frustration – at one point, he simply said ‘stop talking, Prime Minister’, a phrase that is bound to cause a row. Johnson at the end asked what the point was of him giving an interview if he couldn’t talk, but those listening will have known what Robinson meant. Johnson’s style is to bulldoze through questions by sheer weight of words.

But that aside, what was most striking about the interview was how upbeat Johnson was about the current situation. He dismissed the idea that there is a crisis, saying we are simply seeing ‘stresses and strains’ in supply chains because the pipes of the global economy are unfreezing after lockdown. He dismissed the worries of Simon Wolfson, the Brexit supporting boss of Next, about a lack of workers by suggesting that the labour shortages were a sign of ‘economic robustness’.

Johnson is determined to run with the current worker shortages, believing that they’ll lead to wages rising and will allow him to say that Brexit is delivering bigger pay packets. This approach is not without risk, though. There are two dangers. One is that the economy cannot make this adjustment without considerable disruption – and how tolerant will the public be of shortages? Second is that raising wages without an increase in productivity risks an inflationary spiral when combined with soaring energy prices. But at the moment Johnson is planning to stick to the message that the answer to the current problems is for employers to increase wages.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.

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