The prime minister should be ditching the economic doctrine that is causing so much misery. Instead, he is using Brexit to supercharge it

Today’s Conservative party is the opposite of what it pretends to be. Boris Johnson’s great crusade, he claimed, was to level up Britain. Coronavirus affects everyone, but not equally. Wealthier folk can shrug off the economic shock; the poor cannot. The best way to help those at the very bottom of society is to give them money directly. Whether it’s to feed hungry children or to ensure hundreds of thousands don’t slip into poverty by not cutting benefits from their current level, Mr Johnson seems unwilling to stump up the cash.

Yet the government seems unconcerned about losing £26bn because companies can’t pay back the Covid loans that the state guaranteed. It is puzzling that ministers cannot find a fraction of that for the poor. What is at stake is a conservative principle of personal responsibility: it is up to parents to feed their children and to get the cash to run their lives. Clinging to such ideas in the teeth of a pandemic appears foolish. But Mr Johnson’s skill in politics has been to reconcile apparently irreconcilable ideas.

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