Boris Johnson Pitched His Vision For the Future With His Party Conference Speech - But Failed To Tackle The Present
Boris Johnson insisted there was a "bright future" for the country in his conference speech
Boris Johnson pledged to deliver a "bright future" for Britain tomorrow, but failed to grasp the nettle on the biggest challenges facing the country today.
Delivering his second speech to the Conservative Party conference since becoming Prime Minister, and the first since winning an 80-seat majority in December, Mr Johnson would have hoped he could use the keynote address to update the party faithful on his manifesto pledge to "level-up" the country.
But amidst a growing controversy around the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis and the ongoing stalemate in the Brexit negotiations, the PM was instead forced to focus on his vision for how the country can recover from the pandemic and the impending economic recession it has triggered.
Rather than addressing the ongoing crisis within the test and trace system or the soaring case numbers in the UK, Mr Johnson's pitch to the "virtual" conference was a sweeping message of how he hoped the pandemic could be a "trigger" for change in the country, saying people would not be content with a "repair job" in the wake of the crisis".
"We have been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo ante – to think that life can go on as it was before the plague; and it will not. Because history teaches us that events of this magnitude – wars famines, plagues; events that affect the vast bulk of humanity, as this virus has – they do not just come and go," he said.
"They are more often than not the trigger for an acceleration of social and economic change, because we human beings will not simply content ourselves with a repair job.
"We see these moments as the time to learn and to improve on the world that went before."
When it came to the realites of the crisis, Mr Johnson could only declare he had "had enough of this disease" and insist to Tory members that the next time they met for conference they would be sitting "face to face and cheek by jowl", a far cry from his earlier promises that the UK would have returned to some kind of normality by Christmas.
He also took the opportunity to dispel suggestions his stint in intensive care after contracting the virus earlier this year had "robbed me of my mojo" branding the claims "self-evident drivel", but admitting he had been "too fat" when he had fallen ill.
"Of course this is self-evident drivel, the kind of seditious propaganda that you would expect from people who don't want this government to succeed, who wanted to stop us delivering Brexit and all our other manifesto pledges," he said.
"I can tell you no power on Earth was or is going to do that."
But his promise to "build back better" came in a speech which was notably light on policy, with Mr Johnson providing scant detail on how he intended to deliver his promises to fix the "injustice" of care home funding or provide one-to-one teaching "both for pupils who are falling behind, and for those who are of exceptional ability".
Having earlier trailled his plans to have all UK homes running on wind power by 2030, the PM's only other key pledge was to revive a 2019 manifesto committment to boost home ownership among young people by offering 95% mortages to first-time buyers saying it would transform "generation rent" into "generation buy".
But pressed on the plans just moments after his speech ended, the Prime Minister's official spokesperson was unable to provide any further detail on how the plans would be achieved.
Instead, the PM spent much of his 30-minute speech attempting to resuscitate his credentials among his supporters who are becoming increasingly frustrated with his coronavirus restrictions, namely the 10pm curfew and rule of six laws.
In a nod to the growing rebellion brewing among MPs to the plans, Mr Johnson said it was of "deep regret" that he had been forced to introduce the "erosion of liberties", but insisted there was "no reasonable alternative".
He peppered his speech with other Tory applause lines, branding Keir Starmer as "Captain Hindsight" over his attacks on the government's handling of the crisis and accusing Labour of wanting to scrap the role of the private sector.
"I have a simple message for all those on the left of the Labour Party who think everything can be funded by 'Uncle Sugar, the taxpayer'," he said.
"It isn't the State that produces the new drugs and therapies we are now using.
"It isn't the State that will hold the intellectual property of the vaccine, if and when we get one, it wasn't the State that made the gowns and the masks and the ventilators that we needed at such speed.
"It was the private sector with its rational interest in innovation and competition and market share and - yes - sales."
And in a further bid to delight the party faithful, he jumped into the ongoing row between Home Secretary Priti Patel and human rights lawyers, accusing them of having "hamstrung" the criminal justice system.
He added: "We’re also... stopping the whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by what the Home Secretary would doubtless – and rightly – call the lefty human rights lawyers, and other do-gooders."
The PM's bullish speech is likely to have steadied the nerves of the party faithful in the short term, but the strategic decision to focus on a horizon beyond coronavirus is unlikely to reassure the wider public abut his strategy to prepare the country for the grim winter that lies ahead.