Boris Johnson vows ‘Rooseveltian’ revolution to get UK economy out of coronavirus ‘nightmare’
Boris Johnson again distanced himself from the austerity programme launched by his predecessor David Cameron. (PA)
Boris Johnson has promised to launch a “Rooseveltian” public spending programme in a bid to help Britain recover from the “nightmare” of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of a major speech on Tuesday, the Prime Minister pointed to the example of US president Franklin D Roosevelt, who kicked off the ‘New Deal’ to bring America back from the brink of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
But he insisted that the programme of public spending cuts imposed by David Cameron and George Osborne in the wake of the last financial crisis “wasn’t actually austerity”.
Mr Johnson on Monday unveiled a decade-long package of investment for school buildings in England, and is expected to spell out further measures in a speech in Dudley on Tuesday.
The move comes amid a wider attempt to reset the Government’s agenda, with the country’s top civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill announcing his departure on Sunday night and the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings vowing that a “hard rain” will fall on Whitehall in the wake of the pandemic.
Mr Johnson told Times Radio that he wanted an “interventionist” programme to “build the nation back to health”.
“You have to be careful and the chancellor will be setting out our plans in the the spending review, and in the autumn,” the PM said.
“But in the end, what you can't do I think at this moment is go back to what people called austerity.
“I mean it wasn't actually austerity but people called it austerity. And I think that would be a mistake.
“This is a moment to give our country the skills, the infrastructure, the long term investment. That's why we’re putting money now into education.”
And he added: “I think this is the moment for a Rooseveltian approach to the UK, really moving forward...
“I do think that the investment will pay off, because this is, as I say, a very, very dynamic, very productive economy.
“And the way to get UK business confidence is to give the private sector the confidence to invest in capital, in skills, and people... And that's what we're gonna do.”
The reference to FDA is the second time in recent days that the late US statesman has been mentioned by the Government, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove using a major speech on Whitehall reform to point to the recovery from the Great Depression and say that "a change in structure, ambition and organisation” of government itself is needed.
Elsewhere in his interview, Mr Johnson was pressed on the exit of Sir Mark Sedwill, who will step down as Cabinet Secretary, head of the civil service and national security adviser in the coming months.
His exit, which comes after a string of negative briefings about his performance in the media, has sparked accusations from the union for senior Whitehall officials that those in Number 10 had “sought to undermine Sir Mark’s position”.
The Prime Minister said the outgoing mandarin had “given incredible service to this country”, having taken on “virtually every job you can possibly imagine” and seeing the Government “though all sorts of very tough stuff”.
But, pressed on whether Sir Mark had been briefed against, Mr Johnson would only say: “People brief all kinds of things into the newspapers, or newspapers report all kinds of things.
“All I can tell you is Mark was an oustanding servant to this country and will continue to be so.”
Mr Johnson also heaped praise on his top Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings — a longstanding critic of the civil service who has vowed to shake up Whitehall in the coming months.
The PM said he had “excellent advisors” and was “delighted by the work that they do”.
“Dom's outstanding, but you know what we want to do is work on a big, big programme to build the nation back to health,” he said.
Mr Johnson said of Covid-19: “This has been a disaster, right? Let's not mince our words, I mean this has been an absolute nightmare for the country that the country has gone through a profound shock.
“But in those moments you have the opportunity to change and to do things better. And we really really want to build back better, to do things differently, to invest in infrastructure, transport, broadband, you name it.”
LABOUR DEMANDS ‘SOLID’ RECOVERY
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Monday meanwhile urged the Government to ensure that any economic recovery is built on “solid foundations”, as the party pointed out that public capital investment per person had fallen in seven of England’s nine regions over the past decade.
“For much of the country, the Tories’ record on building and investment has been a lost decade,” the Labour leader said.
And Sir Keir added: “Our recovery from the coronavirus crisis needs to match the scale of the challenge. It must be built on solid foundations. It has to work for the whole country and end the deep injustices across the country.
“We are on the cusp of one of the biggest economic crises we have ever seen. The Government must immediately prioritise protecting people’s lives and livelihoods. That’s why Labour has called for a ‘Back to Work’ Budget that has a laser-like focus on one thing – jobs, jobs, jobs.”