Conservative conference: Boris Johnson says that Britain cannot go back to 'old normal' after coronavirus

People on a Northern Line train in London, after the 10pm curfew pubs and restaurants are subject to in order to combat the rise in coronavirus cases in England. [via The Independent]

Boris Johnson was accused of turning a blind eye to the immediate threat of Covid-driven unemployment and non-deal-Brexit, following his speech at the Conservative conference, which instead focused on Britain's hydrogen-powered trains and zero-carbon jets in 2030.

In his keynote address to the conference – forced online after the planned meeting in Birmingham was canceled due to Covid – the Prime Minister said that Britain could not "merely restore normality" once the pandemic had ended, but must "build back better."

Mr. Johnson said that he had "more than enough" of the disease and the restrictions on the social and economic life that it has brought, and said that he "knows" that the United Kingdom would defeat it-indicating that he expects the crisis to be over in time for the next Conservative conference in October 2021.

But he predicted that the pandemic would act as "the trigger for an acceleration of social and economic change" that would lead to a "bright future."

The PM promised to press ahead with the manifesto plans to introduce long-term fixed-rate mortgages on 5% of deposits to reverse the "disgraceful" decline in homeownership among the under-40s over the last decade.

He said the government would "explore" the possibility of one-to-one school education both for students who have fallen behind and those of exceptional abilities.

And he pledged to invest £160 m in the production of wind turbines to help the UK become "the world leader in low-cost, clean power generation" with offshore wind power in every home in the country by 2030.

Mr. Johnson effectively admitted that he was wrong to scoff at green energy, claiming that "some people said 20 years ago that it wouldn't pull the skin out of a rice pudding."

However, that phrase was actually used by Mr. Johnson himself seven years ago when he was mayor of London in 2013.

Although Downing Street claimed, after the social media overturn, that the PM was "tongue in cheek" about his former comments, he did not make it clear in his speech that he was actually criticizing his own record.
Setting out his plans to "build back better" after the Covid crisis, Mr. Johnson said, "After all we've been through, it's not enough to go back to normal. We've lost too much of it. We've been mourning too many.

"We've been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo ante – to think that life can go on like it was before the plague; and it won't.

The PM said that the UK was suffering from "chronic underlying problems" even before the virus hit, with poor skills, inadequate transport infrastructure, inadequate homes, and "far too many people ... who felt ignored and left out."

"Because history teaches us that events of this magnitude — war famines, plagues, events that affect the vast majority of humanity as this virus has — are not just coming and going.

"They are more often than not the trigger for the acceleration of social and economic change because we humans will not simply be content with a job of repair.

"We see these moments as the time to learn and improve the world that has gone before."

The PM said that the UK was suffering from "chronic underlying problems" even before the virus hit, with poor skills, inadequate transport infrastructure, inadequate homes, and "far too many people ... who felt ignored and left out."

"Now we can not define this country's mission as simply restoring normality," he said. "That's not good enough."

Reeling previous commitments to build or renovate 48 hospitals, to improve road and rail links, to recruit 50,000 nurses and 20,000 police officers, and to "fix the injustice of home care funding," Johnson said: "We are resolved not to go back to 2019, but to do better."

And he said that the key to a more prosperous future was to "raise the country's overall productivity."

He compared the situation with that of 1942 when a wartime government prepared to build a "new Jerusalem" when peace returned. In the event of a war, Clement Attlee's Labor Government, after defeating Churchill's conservatives in the 1945 election, was followed by the creation of the GSP and the modern welfare state.

Mr. Johnson, however, rejected the argument that the failure of the private sector-led test and trace system meant that the public sector should be driving the reconstruction of the United Kingdom after the pandemic.

He said that the severe lockdown restrictions imposed during the crisis, and the massive tax support provided by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, went against conservative "instincts" but were adopted because there was "no reasonable alternative."

He warned that maintaining high state spending after the pandemic would lead to "disaster" and said, "It must be clear that there is a time when the state must stand back and let the private sector get on with it ...

"We need to improve our recovery by becoming more competitive, both in tax and regulatory matters."

The PM also swung a "culture war" at Labour, saying, "We are proud of this country's culture and history and traditions-they literally want to pull down statues, rewrite our country's history, edit our national CV to make it look more politically correct."

And he claimed that the unidentified "they" were "secretly scheming to overturn the Mossad and take us back to the EU."

But Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said that Mr. Johnson offered "bluster" instead of a plan to deal with the country's immediate challenges.

"The British people needed to hear from the Prime Minister how he and his government are going to get a grip on the crisis," said Rayner.

"Instead, we've got the usual bluster and no plan for the months ahead.

"We're putting an end to this Conservative conference as we started it: a shambolic testing system, millions of jobs at risk, and an incompetent government that has lost control of this virus and is holding Britain back."

The leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster, Ian Blackford, said that the speech offered "absolutely nothing" to people who were afraid of their livelihoods as a result of the withdrawal of the furlough and the imminent transition to Replay.

"Boris Johnson has repeatedly shown himself to be arrogant, incompetent, untrustworthy, and not up to the job of the prime minister," Blackford said. "This speech did nothing to change that perception.

"The Prime Minister has offered absolutely nothing to the millions of people who are going to lose their jobs and see their incomes slashed as a result of the tory cuts to the furlough scheme and the impenetrable decision to impose extreme xenophobia in the midst of a pandemic."

And TUC Secretary General Frances O'Grady said:

"We have an unemployment crisis – with more job losses being reported every day. But this reality was missing from Boris Johnson's sunny speech.

Even the Institute of Directors warned that private firms were concerned about the "precarious" position of Britain's economy.

Policy Director Roger Barker said: "Business leaders will welcome the Prime Minister's vow to put the wind in the company's sales. But they are also acutely aware of the precarious state of the economy, with the imminent end of the furlough scheme and the end of the transition period for the breeze.


Publish : 2020-10-06 22:27:11

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