IMAGINE Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had raised the possibility of building a £20 billion bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland in the run-up to the December 12 General Election. Can you picture the sneering mockery that would have brought?

There would have been utter hilarity over the perceived impossibility of the project and the wastefulness of a “tax-and-spend” Labour Party. In short, it would have triggered a torrent of the usual stereotypical criticism of Labour.

While it could hardly be said Boris Johnson’s confirmation this week that he is contemplating building such a bridge was greeted with universal enthusiasm – with many in Scotland who are fed up with his antics exasperated by the latest folly – the proposal was not entirely ridiculed.

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Yet there were those who derided utterly Mr Corbyn’s idea of providing free broadband. This would have been a big expense and would likely have upset private-sector players because the proposal involved some nationalisation. However, at least you could see potential benefits, in terms of productivity and social inclusion, the latter being particularly pertinent at a time when the Tories plan to wilfully limit the UK’s workforce by, as Mr Johnson puts it, bearing down on immigration. Free broadband was a proposal that was, at the very least, worthy of debate.

This is not to say that Mr Corbyn’s manifesto pledges were in their entirety ideal, in terms of public finances and the economy. The pledge to compensate some women over pension age changes amid the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign, for instance, looked particularly expensive, as well as dividing opinion.

And Mr Corbyn could have proposed radical measures, to combat some of the social and economic damage done by the Conservatives with their grim austerity, without spooking those in business in the way that he did.

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However, the fact that Mr Johnson’s bridge idea attracted a degree of relatively supportive coverage, and certainly received a much more positive hearing than that given to many big Labour policies ahead of the election, highlights a major problem in the UK. This is a problem of perception.

For all of the shambles of the last decade, the Tories are somehow still viewed by many as relatively good stewards of the economy and the public finances. This in many ways utterly beggars belief.

After all, underlying public sector net debt has spiralled to more than £1.8 trillion as the Conservatives’ ill-judged austerity programme and the Brexit shambles have choked off growth and thus hit tax revenues. This debt measure is up from around £1 trillion when the Tories came to power in the summer of 2010. It goes without saying that this is quite a jump.

For the Tories to claim they have been good stewards of the economy and the public finances over the last decade is laughable. Unfortunately, for many millions of people, the effects of Tory policies have been about as far from amusing and as unfair as you could get. And now the Tories are implementing a Brexit that their own forecasts show will damage the economy.

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Of course, the Tories have tended over the years to be like those companies which lack the imagination to do anything other than boost profits in the short term by cutting costs. These companies either do not get, or do not care about, the fact that such behaviour tends to damage the business over the medium and long term. Such companies fail to realise that investment can boost revenues, and that this is a better and more sustainable way to lift profits.

And so it has been with the Tory austerity, which has choked growth and thus weighed on Government tax receipts. Welfare spending has been cut savagely, not only to reduce spending but also, it has seemed, for ideological reasons.

The poorest in society, including the unemployed, have borne the brunt of austerity. And because many of these people have to spend all they have to live, the money the Tories have taken from them has been subtracted from aggregate demand, thus hammering the economy. The Tory value-added tax hike, of course, has had a similar impact.

Figures published this week by the Office for National Statistics have confirmed the UK economy ground to a halt in the fourth quarter, as business investment tumbled and consumer spending grew only marginally amid Brexit uncertainty.

Senior Tories, whether they say it publicly or not, must surely be aware of the dismal state of the UK economy.

So it is no surprise that we are reading regularly of big infrastructure projects being planned by the Conservatives, whether it is the fairly conventional high-speed rail proposal or the bizarre Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge, for which there seems to have been no demand and which appears aimed at somehow bolstering the Union.

There have been signs that January may have seen a return to slight growth for the UK economy. However, the expansion signalled by January survey evidence is very weak by historical standards. And economists and business groups are, even at this stage, questioning whether these nascent signs of a return to weak growth will ultimately amount to much.

There are very good reasons indeed for questioning the sustainability of any emerging growth.

It seems inevitable that Brexit-related uncertainty will only build as we move towards December and the close of the transition period that is currently cushioning the UK economy from the real impacts of leaving the European Union. All we had on January 31 was a technical Brexit, with the dismal effects of leaving the European single market still to come. And tough talk from Mr Johnson and his Government merely underlines the extraordinary challenges faced in trying to agree a deep free-trade deal over the next 10-and-a-half months, which is the Tories’ stated aim.

Many in the business community, seemingly relieved that the Conservatives prevailed over Mr Corbyn in the December election, seem to be giving Mr Johnson the benefit of the doubt at the moment. Sometimes to an astonishing extent. It will be interesting to see how long this lasts as worries over loss of frictionless trade become ever-greater. And companies will, as the year goes on, surely have to anticipate the hugely detrimental impact of the end of free movement of people between the UK and EU countries on their operations.

Of course, people’s view of the Conservatives being responsible and doing a good job when it comes to the economy and public finances is not a new problem. Remember the Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson boom and bust. Labour still lost the 1992 General Election even after this shambles.

Conservative Chancellor Kenneth Clarke thankfully proved a more adept pair of hands when it came to the economy. And Gordon Brown presided over an impressive UK economic performance for a long period, before the global financial crisis put paid to that. The Tories, of course, blamed Labour for the global financial crisis. As if the Conservatives would have regulated the financial sector to a greater extent than Labour.

The rest is history. The Liberal Democrats propped up David Cameron, who was unable to win an overall majority in the 2010 election. Since then, we have had relentless austerity from the Tories, a dismal UK economic performance and spiralling public sector net debt.

Mr Johnson seems to have decided his Government must throw money at things to try to get the UK out of its malaise, especially given even the Conservatives’ own forecasts show major future damage from Brexit. While infrastructure spending is not a bad idea, and was used by the Scottish Government in a timely manner and to good effect following the global financial crisis, the Boris bridge does not seem like the answer to anything.

Engineering feasibility aside, the bridge is not needed. If it could be done, it would be hugely expensive. And it would be a real waste of money. It is a far, far more ridiculous idea than anything proposed by Mr Corbyn in the run-up to the election.