LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to “get on with the job” of uniting and levelling up the UK, in a speech to the Conservative Party conference.
In an upbeat address peppered with jokes, but light on new policy, the prime minister claimed a high-wage, high-skilled economy was being created in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic.
According to a BBC report, he also defended tax rises to pay for the NHS and vowed to fix social care. The 45-minute speech was his first to a conference since the pandemic began.
In it, the prime minister said the overwhelming Conservative general election victory in 2019 placed an onus on his government to deliver change demanded by voters.
The main theme of his speech was “levelling up”, with the PM saying that reducing gaps between regions would ease pressure on south-eastern England, while boosting places that felt left behind.
He also repeated pledges set out at during his party’s conference this week in Manchester to crack down on crime, improve transport links and broadband, and reform the housing market.
And he sought to reassure Tories anxious about plans to increase National Insurance to pay for the NHS and social care by claiming it was what predecessor Margaret Thatcher would have done, if the economy had been hit by a “meteorite” like the pandemic.
“She would have wagged her finger and said that more borrowing now is just higher interest rates and even higher taxes later,” he said.
The Conservative conference has taken place amid concerns over rising inflation, supply chain problems, and petrol and worker shortages.
But Mr Johnson insisted that the present problems were the result of an economic rebound in the wake of Covid shutdowns.
He added that controls on immigration represented the “change that people voted for” in the 2016 Brexit referendum, while also promising to end declining home ownership among young people by building more housing.
He announced a £3,000-a-year bonus for teachers, as an incentive for struggling areas of England to recruit maths and science specialists. The policy replaces a similar nationwide scheme that has recently been phased out.
Downing Street said the new “levelling up premium” would cost £60m, but no details have yet been given over which areas will qualify. “There is no reason why the inhabitants of one part of the country should be geographically fated to be poorer than others,” Mr Johnson said.
‘John Bon Govi’
The prime minister also mocked Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, whom he has frequently dubbed “Captain Hindsight”. “If Columbus had listened to Captain Hindsight, he’d be famous for discovering Tenerife,” he joked.
He also referred to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who was recently photographed dancing in an Aberdeen nightclub, as “Jon Bon Govi” – an allusion to the rock star Jon Bon Jovi.