Boris Johnson. Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article Boris Johnson. Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

In his speech to Tory party conference, Johnson offered no route out of the catastrophe his government is causing, argues Terina Hine

In his upbeat address to the virtual Tory conference, Boris Johnson painted post-pandemic Britain as the new Jerusalem. But the speech provided more bluff and bluster, with a side serving of floating windmills, than clarity on where the government might be headed next.

Not only was there barely a mention of Brexit or the possible break-up of the Union, but almost nothing on the main issue of the day: the Covid-19 heath crisis and its economic fallout.

There was nothing on jobs, on the second wave or how the government might address the catastrophe that is test and trace.

As ministers remain unable to answer questions about the billions spent on Excel spreadsheets, the PM chose this opportunity to make more moonshot promises. His focus was on fixing pretty much everything but the failing Covid testing system – energy, transport, education, housing, social care.

The main announcement, trailed all morning, was the big green energy investment, which in fact amounts to a paltry £160 million worth of investment in offshore wind. Without even a nod in the direction of onshore wind – a significantly cheaper alternative abandoned by the Cameron government – as Johnson was keen to “harvest the gusts” like “Drake, Raleigh and Nelson”. After all, he said, “we aren’t embarrassed to sing old songs about how Britannia rules the waves.”

Compare this to last year’s Labour pledge of £83 billion for publicly-run wind farms where all profit was to be reinvested. With only £160m worth of investment the blue-green deal will fast run out of energy.

But, having been in power for ten years, the government says it is at last about to fix the broken social care system.

Apparently, it intends to “fix the injustice of care home funding, bringing the magic of averages to the rescue of millions.” Johnson is not simply channelling his inner Churchill here but appears to be hinting that an insurance-based system is on the horizon. So yet more privatisation of the welfare state.

On housing the PM invoked Thatcherite policies, promising to promote homeownership and enable first time buyers to borrow up to 95% of the value of a property. Haven’t we been here before? The irresponsibility of promoting lending in this way brings back memories of the 2008 crash. In a climate of insecure employment and the prediction of a new housing market crash this is not the answer. A properly regulated rental market and secure social housing would be a sensible alternative. 

But then if 2020 has taught us one thing, it’s that Tories don’t learn from past mistakes.

Johnson’s full on endorsement of the private sector in the government’s Covid strategy was truly astonishing. He helpfully informed us that the private sector, not the state, produces PPE, ventilators and vaccines, yet failed to mention state investment in research, or the huge profits made by pharmaceutical companies which gets filtered out of the NHS and into private hands.

There was no mention either of the total mess that the private sector has made of the testing system, nor that NHS labs have been restricted by the preference given to the private Lighthouse labs.

But what we are witnessing is not the free market but crony capitalism. Serco, Sitel, Deloitte, etc have all pocketed billions for failure. If the free market was working these companies would have gone out of business, the state reimbursed and Dido Harding sacked.

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