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Boris Johnson economic recovery speech. Photo: Number 10

Boris Johnson economic recovery speech. Photo: Number 10

Boris Johnson’s pathetic attempt to compare himself to Roosevelt will fool nobody as the gap grows between his rhetoric and reality, argues Sean Ledwith

Even Boris Johnson himself seems to have become tired of his enfeebled Churchill tribute act. Yesterday, with the obligatory hard hat, he resorted to the rhetoric of another twentieth century leader in an attempt to reheat the momentum of his ailing administration. Speaking in Dudley as he announced a supposedly new tranche of public investments, Johnson plagiarised the phrase made famous by US President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s:

'It sounds positively Rooseveltian. It sounds like a New Deal. All I can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be, because that is what the times demand. A government that is powerful and determined and that puts its arms around people at a time of crisis'

It is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at the Prime Minister’s pathetic historical comparison. FDR was able to mobilise the resources of the US state on a gargantuan scale in a bid to drag the country out of the Great Depression with iconic construction projects such as the Hoover Dam, New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and the Florida Keys Highway.

The total investment was estimated to be 40% of GDP. Johnson’s lame imitation is an assortment of leaky school roofs that should already have been fixed and hospitals that he has already promised in the last election.

Sick joke

His less-than-New Deal comes to a paltry 0.2% of UK GDP; that’s 200 times less ambitious than the Roosevelt version. Johnson’s hollow bluster is also exposed by Angela Merkel’s stimulus package for her economy consisting of £130 billion or 4% of German GDP. As one meme, circulating on social media derisively put it:

'First he thinks he’s Churchill. And now Roosevelt. But in reality he is not even Bob the Builder'

Johnson’s bluster about a government ‘putting its arms around the people in a time of crisis’ is a sick joke in the week that a BBC analysis showed that his government’s management of the pandemic has made it the worst hit country in the G7 group of developed economies. On three separate measurements of impact, the UK comes out at the bottom of the league table. On just one of these indicators, we have 65 covid-related deaths per 100 000 people, versus 58 for Italy, 44 for France and 38 for the US. 

The even lower figures for Germany, Canada and Japan are a damning verdict on Johnson’s criminal incompetence. As the UK was one of the last of the G7 countries to be hit by the virus as it spread around the globe, his dilatory response at the outset of the crisis clearly condemned tens of thousands of Britons to an unnecessary death.

Fear in Leicester

Roosevelt’s oratorical command also created the phrase he used to launch the New Deal and which still resonates: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

In contrast, Johnson’s calamitous handling of the corona crisis has left millions of UK citizens still cowering in fear of the virus at a time when many other countries are loosening lockdown with a reasonable degree of safety.

The people of Leicester now find themselves with at least an additional two weeks of lockdown anxiety thanks to a localised outbreak. 36 other councils in England are on a watchlist of potential corona resurges.

Civic officials in Leicester have complained that central government has utterly failed to supply them with the appropriate data to manage the situation. Mayor Peter Soulsby criticised how Matt Hancock and the Health Department had kept him in the dark about the virus surge in the city:

'I wish they had taken a more speedy decision rather than leave it 11 days from the Secretary of State’s first announcement to confirming there was going to be action. That’s a long gap and a long time for the virus to spread'

Primary schools in the city will be forced to close as Hancock belatedly admitted “children can transmit the disease, although they are unlikely to get ill from the disease, we think that the safest thing to do is to close the schools”.

At virtually the same time Johnson and his Education Secretary Gavin Williamson were blindly committing to a reckless full reopening of all schools across the country next term. According to leaked reports, the reopening plan to be officially announced soon will be based on the effective abandoning of social distancing in classrooms.

The potential for a crippling second wave of the virus in the winter could hardly be greater. The gap between the rhetoric of this government and the reality of the threat from the virus is threatening to add to the already appalling death toll

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History and Sociology at York College, where he is also UCU branch secretary. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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