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    UK Politics Is Getting Boring. About Time


    Is common sense making a comeback in British politics?

    Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pragmatic, detail-oriented approach to government could hardly be more different from the reckless posturing of his two predecessors. And these days the Labour Party also has a moderate and methodical leader in Keir Starmer. The UK’s appetite for upheaval might be receding.

    Given the scale of the problems confronting the country — starting with Brexit but by no means confined to it — this might be too little, too late. Never mind. The shift is welcome nonetheless.

    Sunak recently appeared before a parliamentary committee to answer questions on topics ranging from immigration to high-speed trains. It was a notably calm and well-prepared performance, with none of the theatrics favored by Boris Johnson or the pointless provocations of Liz Truss during her subsequent brief tenure in No. 10.

    Above all, this measured approach is getting things done. The recent agreement with the European Union to modify post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland offers a workable solution to a problem that had seemed intractable. The government’s latest budget also went some way toward restoring confidence in its fiscal judgement. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt took care to show his numbers added up and brought forecasts by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, brusquely sidelined by the Truss government, back into the process. Those projections showed public debt slowly coming back under control and modestly faster growth, partly thanks to plans to boost investment with tax relief.

    For all that, the UK’s challenges are still daunting. Labor unrest still threatens the economy. The costs of Brexit continue to mount and are no longer seriously disputed. Trade volumes have been slower to recover in the UK since the pandemic than in comparable countries. Tax breaks won’t be enough to bring investment — lagging for years, then hammered by Brexit — back to where it should be. Until that changes, the country’s productivity growth, the key to its future prospects, will remain disappointing.

    Sadly, the country isn’t yet ready to think about reversing Brexit (even supposing the EU would be willing). But the warming of relations thanks partly to Sunak’s more businesslike approach can mitigate the damage, deal by deal. The government is rightly aiming for closer cooperation on a range of issues — including defense and security, financial services, and research and innovation.

    To put it mildly, surging optimism over Britain’s future would be premature. The Conservatives are still divided over Brexit and its consequences. Labour’s moderation under Starmer might yet be challenged, if its hard-left former leader Jeremy Corbyn — blocked from standing for the party at the next election — runs as an independent. Northern Ireland’s unionists aren’t yet reconciled to the Windsor Framework arrangements. And it’s too soon to judge whether Humza Yousaf, the newly elected leader of the Scottish National Party, can restore order to Scotland’s fractious devolved government.

    That’s a lot of caveats. Still, for the first time in years, British politics seems to care about competence more than grandstanding. It’s a start.

    More From Bloomberg Opinion:

    • UK Has No Margin For Error in Microsoft-Activision Deal: Chris Hughes

    • Prince Harry’s Tabloid Feud Is a Very British Affair: Matthew Brooker

    • Scotland’s New First Minister Inherits Sturgeon’s Lousy Legacy: Merryn Somerset Webb

    The Editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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