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Build Back Better – Johnson’s conference speech

Public Affairs

By Tim Le Couilliard, Public Affairs

As is customary at the end of party conferences (albeit in the loosest possible term this year), the Leader of the Conservative Party, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, delivered his keynote speech earlier today. Rather than appearing in front of a packed crowd in Birmingham, the Prime Minister presented his speech virtually, standing at a podium in front of the words “Build Back Better,” a motto now synonymous with the Conservative Party, the new “Strong and Stable,” as it were

Of course, this is the first party conference since the 2019 landslide election win for the Conservatives. Much has happened since then of course, but the Prime Minister began by thanking all those who helped campaign and vote for his party back in December – “saving this country from socialism.” Of course, party conferences are usually a celebration for the incumbent government, and Johnson was keen to make sure this was not a break from that tradition. There was, of course, no live audience, however, and Johnson put it, there was “no one to clap or to heckle,” which is usually the fun of such an event. 

In many ways, the speech was as one would expect from a Conservative leader – key buzz words such as homeownership, Brexit, the Union, private sector, high skilled / low crime, British culture were all included – describing Britain as “the greatest place on earth”.  A prime opportunity to attack Labour, Johnson described them as “sniping from the side-lines” throughout the pandemic. There are all themes that, had there been a live audience, would sure have received much standing and applause from the Conservative faithful. He promised that next year’s conference would be face-to-face… 

To matters in hand, Johnson stated that he had “more than enough of this disease,” with his government working “night and day to repel the virus”, declaring that “we will succeed just as this country has seen off every alien invader in a thousand years.” 

Not wishing to dwell on the virus, Johnson declared that “history teaches us that events of the magnitude of the pandemic are the trigger for the acceleration for social and economic change” – the “Build Back Better.” Vowing not to make the recovery just a “repair job”, Johnson said that he sees this as the time for improvement. 

Keen to announce that he had not lost his mojo, Johnson said that it was “drivel” to read that he has, blaming propaganda of those who don’t want the government to succeed. He accepted, verbatim, that his underlying condition that led him to have had a bad dose of Coronavirus was “that I was too fat.” Since his hospitalisation, the Prime Minister says that he has lost 26 pounds, owing it to a better diet and the (well publicised) personal training routine. Certainly, this was a Prime Minister attempting to prove his physical fitness to lead, much in the same way his counterpart in the US is doing likewise. 

Johnson used his own example as a metaphor for the UK prior to Covid-19. Just like the PM being superficially fit and in “good shape”, the country had (pre-coronavirus) record numbers of employment and growing exports.  But, the UK economy, by Johnson’s own admission, had “chronic underlying problems” – a long term deficit in skills, problems with infrastructure, housing, for example. Hence why Johnson, so keen to reiterate ‘Build Back Better” - rather than restoring normality, but to “do better,” with a “dynamic recovery led by free enterprise,” promising “great public services that everyone: family’s, businesses, investors, can rely on.” 

This includes supporting the NHS, with hospitals, nurses, scientific breakthroughs, care home funding; saying that “Covid has shone the spotlight” on the sector., Johnson reiterated the Conservative mantra of combating crime, promising to fulfil the manifesto of 20,000 new officers on the street, as well as changing the criminal justice system. Outlining a vision of “basic social justice,” he also detailed the support inputs being prepared for the education system, with support to further education as well as at younger levels. He also promised additional improvements with transport links and energy-efficient measures, with more set to be announced.  

Noting that following the pandemic, old jobs are lost, but new jobs are created, Johnson has promised free training to adults without A-levels in vital skills. This led him on to the key theme of the speech: Wind Energy, predicting “hundreds of thousands, if not millions of jobs.” 

He announced that, as of today, the government has “decided to become the world leader in low-cost green power generation – offshore wind”, with a target that in ten years’ time, wind would power every home in the country with the target rising from 30GW to 40GW - “As Saudi Arabia is to oil; the UK is to wind”.  £160 million is being invested in ports and factories across the country to manufacture the turbines. The UK’s wind economy is being built on a good grounding – having already the largest offshore wind capacity in the world. Johnson was keen to infuse his virtual audience, stating that it was wind that powered the Drakes and the Nelsons of British history, and so will once again power the country. 

Johnson promised to create an environment for individuals and companies to flourish with a highly skilled, low crime economy. Whilst promising massive government support, Johnson did say that there comes a point when the government must step back, and let the private sector “get on with it” with its “rational interest” – citing much of the response to Covid to the private sector. 

He accepted that he, and the chancellor, have had to make choices that no Conservative government ever would want to take – such as mass state intervention, spending and civil liberty incursions, but stated that, simply, there was no alternative. He stated that the left may see this as progress, but that the government wants, once again, to “Build Back Better”. Promising people to own, not just build, with a desire to improve homeownership – with support for first-time buyer’s deposits as well as reforms to the planning system. Aiming for the biggest expanse of homeownership since the 1980s. 

The rest of the speech included statements on an united United Kingdom, as well as a vow to support British history. He noted that the UK is soon to host the G7 and COP 26; all things that would have been sure to raise quite the roar should there have been an audience present. He painted a picture of the future.