Britain needs big ideas for big problems, but its leaders don’t appear to have any | Isabel Hardman

Britain needs big ideas for big problems, but its leaders don’t appear to have any | Isabel Hardman

If Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer harbour grand ambitions about tackling climate change, crime and inequality, they should do something about them

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer both pitched up in Scotland last week for two-day trips that were supposed to show that the two leaders have important things to say about the union and the big issues that face the UK. On the surface, Starmer had a more successful visit: unlike Johnson, he didn’t decide to launch his own Edinburgh fringe show complete with the sort of jokes that would empty even the smaller-capacity venues that this year’s Covid-secure event is running. The prime minister’s quip about Margaret Thatcher giving Britain an “early start” in decarbonisation by closing so many coal mines is the only thing anyone will remember of this foray north of the border. Then again, the only thing of note that Starmer managed to say was that he thought Labour should be proud of what Tony Blair, the only Labour politician to have won an election for the party since the 1970s, had achieved. It might challenge some in his movement, but it’s hardly radical stuff.

Both men have a clear grasp of the big issues facing the country. Neither seems able to say anything that remotely matches up to those challenges. Johnson’s climate spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, has been doing the heavy lifting on the need for governments to be far more ambitious as the Cop26 summit in Glasgow approaches, but she also found herself being sucked into performing her own one-woman fringe show with a monologue on how it’s not that easy being green. While Stratton has been candid about the problems with the electric car charging network for a family such as hers, Johnson’s contribution to the debate has been to set everyone off on an angry row about the damage his own party did to mining communities in the 1980s.

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