Boris Johnson government’s 2021 budget aims to build back after the pandemic

The business community’s fears that Johnson was more interested in delivering a hard version of Brexit that Euroskeptics could celebrate than mitigating pain for firms were not alleviated when he entered Downing Street in 2019.

“This government does not seem to have shown much interest in what business thinks but instead focused almost entirely on winning and retaining Red Wall voters,” says Vicky Pryce, a leading economist based in London.

The “Red Wall” she refers to is a colloquial term for a handful of parliamentary seats that traditionally support the opposition Labour Party but voted to leave the EU in 2016. Most research shows that these people support left-wing economic ideas like high state spending but backed Brexit because of socially conservative ideas like limiting migration and retaining sovereignty.

Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University and a leading scholar of the Conservative Party, says that after Brexit, Johnson realized that being the party of business wasn’t going to win over these voters who he and his party would need to win a majority in any post-Brexit election.

“The new voter coalition meant that the Conservatives needed to be seen less as the party of big business and more as the party that understood why Leave won and would deliver Brexit,” he says.

This worked brilliantly for Johnson in the 2019 election, when he bulldozed through the Brexit deadlock and won a number of Red Wall seats en route to a landslide victory.

“At that point in history, the reality of Brexit was more hypothetical than tangible but also by far the biggest issue voters thought the country was facing,” says Bale. That gave Johnson the green light to make everything, including the concerns of business, a secondary priority to electoral success.

This approach to the economy followed Johnson into Downing Street. Businesses were largely ignored during the process of negotiating a trade deal with the EU and kept in the dark about its terms until days before implementation.

“Big companies have been able to swallow the hit to some extent, but overnight, exporting to EU countries became a lot harder for smaller businesses,” says Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors.

Worse, Johnson’s government has, some believe, laid the blame for these difficulties at the door of those small businesses, accusing them of not paying workers enough in order to attract staff or not taking advantage of new trading opportunities in the wider world.

“A nation’s economy cannot turn on a hairpin, it takes time to adapt. The EU was easy to trade with because it was nearby, and we were in a trading bloc. Flipping a model to exporting to unfamiliar, distant countries about which we don’t know as much cannot happen overnight,” Barker adds.

No one could have predicted the Covid-19 pandemic would bite as hard as it did, but experts fear Johnson is taking a familiar politics first, economics second approach to the UK’s recovery. On Wednesday, Sunak announced some tax cuts for businesses and funds for skills investment, but he also reduced taxes on draught beer.

Earlier this year, the government announced a series of tax hikes to plug the gap on social and health care. While more money for care is largely popular with the public, business groups have warned that this would reduce investment and make life very difficult for smaller companies.

These additional burdens come as costs for small businesses in all sorts of areas.

“There are higher costs for things like raw materials and a strained supply chain, to which the UK is more exposed to because of Brexit,” says Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chamber of Commerce.

Any confidence felt in the business community earlier this year has slipped, as the pandemic refuses to end. With the recovery stalling, the UK economy is expected to regain its pre-pandemic size months later than many other developed countries.

Britain's finance minister Rishi Sunak.

“There is complacency in Westminster over the underlying strength of our economic recovery. We are seeing government tighten fiscal policy ahead of other nations despite clear signs of headwinds,” Thiru adds.

The fact that the Conservative Party, the traditional party of the small business owner, is treating the community as troublemakers who are getting in the way of politics is nothing short of remarkable.

This is, after all, the party of wealth creation that privatized so much of the public sector in the 1980s. Its most famous leader, Margaret Thatcher, created the conditions that made the City of London one of the most extraordinary financial centers in the world.

However, when you consider the political project that Johnson and his party are undertaking, it all makes more sense. They are trying to fundamentally transform the UK into a different type of country, where a highly-skilled British workforce takes jobs that would have previously been filled by immigrants.

Business is more than happy to go along with this, but wishes the government would acknowledge this is a long-term project that cannot be implemented without inevitable short-term consequences.

In an age of self-interest, Boris Johnson's secret COP26 weapon may have to be shame

Barker says “this government seems to get exasperated with business” as it wants business to adapt to this new model as quickly as possible. “If companies are experiencing labor shortages, the government position is often that it’s their fault as they should be paying more or should have been better prepared — ignoring the fact it’s a process.”

Bale thinks the government’s short-term thinking could backfire. “There is a danger that the government focusses too much on its new electoral coalition and loses small business owners badly affected by Brexit’s downsides. And if the impact on business starts to measurably affect the people who work for those companies, at some point it might come back to haunt Johnson.”

A lot has happened in the UK since the 2016 Brexit vote. However, the Conservative Party’s pivot towards ideas that would have been unthinkable in the 1980s has been one of the least predictable.

For all the talk of recovery, Johnson is clearly banking on the economy being fundamentally changed: fairer, greener, more productive. And the gamble he is taking is placing himself and his government at the center of that recovery. It’s a big bet to make in a country whose politics has been so volatile at a time the world’s been turned on its head.

But Johnson is nothing if not single-minded and ambitious.

Griffin Johnson on the ‘Inevitable’ TikTok Drama and How He’s Using It to Build a Business

a young boy wearing a hat: CUL PS Griffin Johnson

© Courtesy of Griffin Johnson
CUL PS Griffin Johnson

“Social media fame doesn’t really last that long, so I’m just using it right now to spin off into business and becoming an avid entrepreneur.”

COVID-19 has impacted every facet of the workforce, including TikTok influencers who thrive on collaboration. “It’s really hard because people want content,” Griffin Johnson told Newsweek. Fortunately, Johnson, who has more than 15 million followers across multiple platforms, lives with other influencers as part of a group called Sway House. “We’re all close, so I’m very blessed and fortunate.” Of the influencers, Johnson was perhaps the best equipped to deal with the pandemic: before TikTok fame he was studying to be a nurse. “When it first started, I thought it would be something around the realm of the flu. But then it started getting really serious.” For him, it’s been about finding a balance. “I’m not perfect, but I try my best to restrict going out and being in contact with other people.” Even so, Griffin still has “a bunch of stuff in the works,” including a potential new reality show “based around taking viral content and adding inside jokes.” At the end of the day, the key to making it is to “make sure you’re doing something really, really different.”

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How do you handle it when people question TikTokers’ authenticity?

To be honest, I do understand it. TikTok is a 15-second platform, where people can just dance or whatever, they don’t really show personality or long-form content. So I get where some of Hollywood comes from. For me personally, I’ve converted this TikTok following to every platform, including businesses, YouTube and even some of our own shows and stuff.

How do you avoid the drama that so often haunts TikTok influencers?

I actually don’t avoid the drama. I used to try, but it just got to a point when I got to a certain amount of followers that it was just inevitable. Everything you do is tracked so closely, and not only that, but people feed on the drama. So if you don’t stay in it a little bit, then you don’t keep your name relevant. It keeps your name up on the top of the charts and in people’s mouths and that keeps them thinking about you. So now I just make jokes out of it. Like, I don’t care at all. I used to care, and it used to bother me, but now it’s just like, whatever, another day.

How are you turning your success in social media into other ventures?

So we’ve done a lot of investing, traded a few companies, there’s a couple that I can’t say because we’re currently building them out. There’s a bunch of stuff in the works. I also have a couple of YouTube shows that are coming out that I’ve been working on pretty diligently. I have a couple of podcasts that are doing really well. Definitely, a lot more is coming soon.

Before TikTok fame, you were studying to be a nurse? What inspired you to go that route?

I’ve always had a very strong interest in medical work. I actually wanted to do anesthesia, and nursing was just a part of the mission. I may end up going back. I was in it for two-and-a-half years and already have a pretty good understanding of it. So it’s always a possibility.

Considering your nursing background, how did you respond when the pandemic hit?

There’s been a lot of stuff in the news and press about people going out and partying. For me, I’ve been living in a house where there are some things that went down, some parties or whatever. I avoided all of it. I’m obviously aware of how serious it is. It’s just about being safe. There are still meetings and there have been a couple of things—obviously, I’m not perfect—but I try my best to restrict going out and be in contact with other people.

a man wearing a hat: Courtesy of Griffin Johnson

© Courtesy of Griffin Johnson
Courtesy of Griffin Johnson

How do you create your content amidst the pandemic and the restrictions of the pandemic?

It’s really hard because people want content, but at the same time, you make content and they complain. So it’s lose, lose either way. Luckily, with Sway House, we have a group, we’re all close and we all live together, so I’m very blessed and fortunate to have that, but it makes it very difficult for sure.

Where do you see your career in 10 years?

Obviously, the social media fame doesn’t really last that long, so I’m just using it right now to spin off into business and becoming an avid entrepreneur and being well-known in the space of investing. I see myself being into venture or starting my own company and running it by then, or having exited and starting, hopefully, my second or third company.

You’re working on an upcoming reaction-based show. Can you tell us more about that?

It’s very like Tosh.0 meets Ridiculousness hybrid that’s based around taking viral content and adding inside jokes and bring light to a lot of videos, especially on TikTok.

What sort of advice would you have for up-and-coming content creators?

I view TikTok as a business. A lot of people now are trying to become what Sway is now. The real answer is we found TikTok early and we were able to get in there before anyone else was in the market. We were able to plant our roots and build something in a fresh market. Now people are trying to do that in a space where there are 100 million-plus users every month. My best advice would be to make sure you’re doing something really, really different. Because at this point, it’s either A, luck, or B, because you’re very, very different from anything anyone else has seen on the app. Like a very strange or weird idea that makes you one of a kind.

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