Boris Johnson pledges to ‘rebuild Britain’ from ‘darkest moments’ of Covid as he tries to raise Tory hopes

Published: 6 October 2020, 3:35 PM

Post Desk : Boris Johnson today promised to rebuild the nation from the “darkest moments” of the Covid-19 pandemic with policies including more one-to-one teaching, better support for care homes and a drive to build housing and billions of pounds for new infrastructure.

In a Tory Party conference speech delivered to an empty studio, the Prime Minister said that the Government would use the crisis of the “plague” to create a better country.

“After all we have been through it isn’t enough just to go back to normal,” Mr Johnson said. “We have lost too much. We have mourned too many.”

“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,” he said.

In a speech that was heavy on hopeful rhetoric but lighter on detailed policy announcements or foreign policies, Mr Johnson said Britain would see off the virus “just as this country has seen off every alien invader for the last thousand years”.

The Prime Minister began with some rueful comments about the lack of an audience to what otherwise would have been a post-election conference victory speech. “There is no one to clap or heckle, and I don’t know about you but I have had more than enough of this disease that attacks so many of the greatest things about our country: our pubs, our clubs, our football, our theatre and all the gossipy gregariousness and love of human contact that drives the creativity of our economy.”

He also revealed how much weight he has lost since being ill with Covid-19 — some 26 lbs. He joked: “And I am going to continue that diet, because you’ve got to search for the hero inside yourself.”

Mr Johnson appeared to give a hint of long-term tax cuts, stressing that he wanted to see Britain “becoming more competitive, both in tax and regulation”.

That seemed to jar with Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s focus on “balancing the books” in his conference speech yesterday , and this morning he refused to rule out tax hikes. “I can’t comment on future tax policy outside fiscal events,” said Mr Sunak.

The Prime Minister praised the role of the private sector during the pandemic, saying it was not the state that provided gloves and masks but businesses. “We need to make this the best place to start a business, the best to invest,” he said.

But the central theme was that the pandemic was “the time to learn and improve on the world that went before”.

“If you looked more carefully you could see — and indeed many of us said so — that the UK economy had some chronic underlying problems: long-term failure to tackle the deficit in skills, inadequate transport infrastructure, not enough homes people could afford to buy, especially young people, and far too many people, across the whole country, who felt ignored and left out, that the government was not on their side,” he said.

“We are resolving not to go back to 2019, but to do better.”

He promised: “We will fix the injustice of care home funding, bringing the magic of averages to the rescue of millions. Covid has shone a spotlight on the difficulties of that sector in all parts of the UK — and to build back better we must respond, care for the carers as they care for us.”

Mr Johnson promised to crack down on drugs gangs and crime lords by taking on “Lefty human rights lawyers and other do-gooders”.

He said he would seek to “lift people’s incomes” and raise productivity through “having great public services on which everyone — families, business, investors — can rely”.

A lesson from the pandemic, he said, was the “transformational” value of giving struggling pupils individual teaching. “And I want to take further an idea that we have tried in the pandemic, and explore the value of one-to-one teaching, both for pupils who are in danger of falling behind, and for those who are of exceptional abilities.”

He finished: “I know that it seems tough now, when we are tackling the indignities and cruelty and absurdity of the disease, but I believe it is a measure of the greatness of this country that we are simply not going to let it hold us back or slow us down, and we are certainly not going to let it get us down, not for a moment, because even in the darkest moments we can see the bright future ahead, we can see how to build it, and we are going to build it together.”

As Mr Johnson was speaking, a major Tory rebellion was building against the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants . MPs hope to overturn the measure that they say wrecks businesses and causes crowding after hours.