By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
Boris has been in India but he's also been displaying some topsy turvy positioning.
The last three days have not been Boris Johnson's finest. First came his flip flop on an In/Out referendum. Earlier this year – ahead of his re-election bid – he signed the People's Pledge and its call for a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. On Sunday he appeared to back-track. I've sought clarification from team Boris but received none.
On Monday he questioned Theresa May's immigration policies even though her clampdown on student numbers is essential to meeting the Tory manifesto commitment to bring net immigration to under 100,000. Few of the government's policies are more popular or more essential to ensure working class Britons are protected from low-skilled immigration. There is certainly a case for Britain's immigration procedures to be less bureaucratic but it is also a fact that last year's Home Office quota for higher skilled immigrants was not filled. Don't therefore believe stories about top firms being denied the talented people they need.
Yesterday Boris Johnson made his third wrong turn. For the last few days the arts establishment has been up in arms about government cuts. Rather than standing with the Government Boris has sided with the luvvies. In London's Evening Standard he warned about the danger off "choking off" creative and cultural London. "One of the key reasons that people come to London is for its arts and culture," he said, continuing: "Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
I see no reason why at a time of austerity that the arts should be protected* while budgets for the police and armed forces, for example, are being cut. What would Boris cut in order to ensure the arts industry is recession-proofed? I think he needs to tell us. Boris and London won a lot of extra funding from the Treasury in recent years – notably for Crossrail and the Olympics. He takes many unorthodox conservative positions but fiscal conservatism is non-negotiable for 99% of us. If he is to be taken seriously in the years ahead he can't back budget discipline in general and then fail to back the tough individual decisions necessary to deliver that discipline. It is said that he can't leave a room until he's made the people in it happy. Sometimes, in grown up government, you have to.
* Although Government funding for the arts is being cut from £452 million to £350 million the Culture Secretary Maria Miller and her predecessor Jeremy Hunt have arranged for Lottery funding to increase over the same period by £90 million. That means the cuts equal just two or three percentage points. The complaints from Boris and his friends in the arts are doubly unjustified therefore. Reacting to Boris Johnson's intervention a Government source said:
“As a classical scholar, Boris Johnson will know that Aesop was a keen story teller – indeed, The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg was one of his most famous fables. The irony is that so much of what we’re hearing from the arts world about the extent of cuts is fictional. National Lottery funding is making up virtually all of the grant in aid shortfall over the course of this parliament and the funding settlement for the arts is extremely generous given the dire economic situation which the Coalition Government inherited.”