AS far as political conference speeches go this one by Boris Johnson was nothing more than a keynote speech delivered to the Brexit-loving hard right in the Conservative Party which was, in the words of former Conservative Party leadership contender Rory Stewart, “peddling false optimism.”
Devoid of policy, substance, detail, and vision there was no mention about support for the growing mental health crisis across the UK, no mention how the government would improve public safety especially for women in light of the Sarah Everard murder, a policy U turn on supporting the housebuilding industry across England and Wales and a token monetary gesture to incentivise new teachers to work in underprivileged areas.
Swapping effective policies for token gestures seems to be a key feature of Johnson’s leadership style. The PM talked about how they will fix the growing social health care crisis but the reality is that what they are proposing won’t even touch the side-lines of what is needed.
In what can only be described as a weak attempt to convey Conservative compassion (two words I thought I would never write in the same sentence) Johnson spoke about the NHS and the need to invest in it. He invoked the spirit of Margaret Thatcher saying that she would have done the same thing as him and used that as a reason for the increase in National Insurance.
This is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors approach, underpinned by the prospect of an early election, to come across as being on the side of ordinary working people.
This half-hearted attempt illustrates that at the core of the Johnson administration there is no vision for a better Britain, the levelling up agenda is nothing more than a sound bite and has all the hallmarks of George Osborne’s ‘northern powerhouse’ which went nowhere. If I were a Tory MP in the north of England/Scotland I would be worried about keeping my seat at the next election given that the Universal Credit uplift has now come to an end which will put thousands of families into hardship and poverty.
This uncaring Conservative prime minister was more focused on addressing the party faithful with a subtext validating Brexit that resulted in Johnson continuing to downplay any concerns about rising inflation and the impact it will have on the economy, suggesting that businesses will pick up the tab in the event of no government intervention.
This out of touch prime minister is so far removed from the reality of what is actually happening in Britain right now. No turkeys at Christmas, logistical problems, empty supermarket shelves, problems with the petrol supply and clearly no plan for the NHS which will come under immense pressure in a matter of weeks – these will all come back to haunt Mr Johnson and will be a key factor in the next election, which is likely to be in 2023.
Devoid of policy and a vision for the UK, in true Johnson style the sound bites where out in full force – Build Back Better, Build Back Batter and we even had Build Back Beaver with the Conservative Party loyalists laughing but the question to ask is are they laughing with him or laughing at him?
My money is on the latter as this is a leader who is tolerated but the minute he starts to go down in the opinion polls he will be dropped in favour of Rishi Sunak who is getting support behind the scenes and is seen as being more competent.
It’s clear that Johnson has taken the Conservative Party into unchartered waters with increasing tax which is fundamentally against Tory ideology with a chancellor who is more aligned with traditional Conservative values and advocated the fiscal tightening and austerity measures under David Cameron which in turn was inherited by Theresa May.
With the cost of living likely to increase and many families across the UK likely to feel the impact, it’s only a matter of time before people start to look for an alternative government. This is where the Labour Party have a window of opportunity to demonstrate to the people of Britain that they can be trusted with the country’s finances and to safeguard families from poverty and businesses from disaster. The crucial factor in the next election is coming down to trust.
Barrie Cunning is managing director of Pentland Communications and a former Scottish Labour Parliamentary candidate
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