I despise Boris Johnson. Hardly surprising for a life long socialist. But he is Prime Minister. He remains one of the most popular politicians in the country. He has a large majority in Parliament. The opposition is trailing in the polls, making him favourite to win the next election. He did break the log jam on Brexit and take us out of the EU. He talks about Global Britain, Building Back Better, Levelling Up and creating a high wage economy with a skilled workforce. Next month he hosts the UN Conference on Climate Change, COP 26.
So when he addressed his party conference yesterday he could expect his words to be reported around the world. They would assuredly be front page news for most of the British press and feature heavily in our media news broadcasts. So what was his message to Britain, and perhaps more importantly, his message to the world?
I did not listen to him speak but I have read his speech in full and I am disappointed but not surprised. There were the usual jokes and references to his classical education. Knockabout routines attacking the Labour Party. Some of his claims were contradictory, such as taking back control of our borders by sanctioning eight new freeports, which, almost by definition, sit outside our borders. Some of his claims were quite bizarre. Like when he presented the evacuation from Kabul Airport as some kind of triumph.
At other times he was lying, nothing new for Johnson who is a serial offender when it comes to the assault on truth.
No other government brokered a deal such as this government did with AstraZeneca so that the Oxford vaccine has been distributed at cost around the world, more than a billion low cost vaccines invented in Britain, saving millions of lives.Boris Johnson’s Keynote Speech – We’re getting on with the job | CPC21 Speeches (conservatives.com)
I assume he is referring to the COVAX scheme to provide vaccines to low income countries, which is spearheaded by WHO, Gavi, and CEPI. CEPI funded 300 million doses of Astra Zeneca for distribution at cost to low income countries. COVAX has 160 participating countries including China, USA and India as well as the UK. The biggest problem facing COVAX is that it has the money to buy vaccines but there is a supply problem because rich countries like the UK bought hundreds of millions of doses and have been slow to release their surplus vaccines to the world.
Having dissed the entire international community he then devotes a single sentence to the COP26 summit on climate change that will require an even higher level of international cooperation. Boasting about British exceptionalism to the detriment of your neighbours is not the way to to establish your credentials as a global leader.
Back to the UK. I could find only two specific policy commitments. One was to establish a £3000 premium to maths and science teachers to teach in deprived areas. This was an old policy from 2019, scrapped during the pandemic. Only then it was £5000. So that’s a cut, then. He also boasted of raising teachers’ starting salaries to £30000. That was a pledge made in 2019. Now it is scheduled for 2022. If I was a teacher I would not bank on it.
And he hinted that dementia care in nursing homes for old people with Alzheimers would be funded by the NHS. Just a hint. No commitment. So that was it. Lying about what he had done. Promises for the future. And nothing concrete for now.
Preaching to the choir
Of course Johnson was not addressing the world, or even the nation. His speech was aimed at the party faithful. Its only purpose was to boost Johnson in preparation for another election victory. And while he delivered his rose-tinted view of Britain’s prospects in the world, millions of people woke up to increased poverty thanks to his cut to Universal Credit – the poorest six million households in the country now contributing £6 billion in lost income to Johnson’s so-called “levelling up.” The petrol queues continue. The hike in gas prices is driving more families to the brink and threatening businesses.
So you would expect the Labour Party and the Unions to have a field day. They would be out there exposing his lies and proclaiming the progressive policies that are needed, not just to save the UK, but to save the planet from climate catastrophe. And you know what, I struggled to find many quotes. But here goes:
The Right were not impressed
bombastic but vacuous and economically illiterateAdam Smith Institute
The public will soon tire of Boris’s banter if the government does not get a grip of mounting crises: price rises, tax rises, fuel shortages, labour shortages. There was nothing new in this speech, no inspiring new vision or policyConservative think tank, Bright Blue
Ambition on wages without action on investment and productivity is ultimately just a pathway for higher pricesCBI
It’s a relief to hear the prime minister speak positively about the business community. But it’s equally remarkable to hear the benefits of a low-tax economy vaunted when the government has just signed off a hike in national insurance contributions … which we estimate will cost at least 50,000 jobs.Federation of Small Businesses
what businesses urgently need are answers to the problems they are facing in the here and now. Firms are dealing with a cumulative crisis in business conditions as supply chains crumple, prices soar, taxes rise and labour shortages hit new heights.British Chambers of Commerce
But what about the left?
Here’s one from the TUC.
If Boris Johnson was serious about levelling up Britain, he wouldn’t be slashing universal credit in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. The PM is in no position to lecture people on wages when he is holding down the pay of millions of key workers in the public sector.
Fighting talk. So I look forward to the unions coming together to call a general strike in support of the government’s expressed desire for employers to increase wages!
And the Labour Party? Last week Starmer said that Johnson was not bad. He was trivial. Labour spokespeople today repeated that he was trivial, adding in vacuous for good measure.
Boris Johnson’s vacuous speech summed up this whole Conservative conference. The PM talked more about beavers than he did about action to tackle the multiple crises facing working people up and down the country.Anneliese Dodds, Labour Party Chair
Just like the good old days. Remember the slogans on those demonstrations?
Maggie Maggie Maggie Vac U Ous!
No. Me neither.
But the worst aspect of his speech, and the one that was seriously misrepresented by the British media as an attack on businesses for using cheap foreign labour to undermine wages, was this.
We are not going back to the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills, and low productivity, all of it enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration. And the answer to the present stresses and strains which are mainly a function of growth and economic revival is not to reach for that same old lever of uncontrolled immigration to keep wages low. The answer is to control immigration, to allow people of talent to come to this country, but not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people, in skills and in the equipment the facilities the machinery they need to do their jobs.
This was Johnson attacking immigration for causing low wages. Not the bosses. Foreigners. This was Johnson being racist again. And again, nobody is calling him out for it.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Never voting Labour again.