BoJo’s New Jerusalem Delusion
5 years ago to the day I was attending the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester and remember queuing a good hour to hear David Cameron's leader speech. Even though that conference was my last, the Tories jump to the fanatically Euro-sceptic right ensured I resigned my membership a few months later, I can’t deny that the atmosphere in the hall was electric. Cameron had secured a commons majority, something which had eluded Tory leaders since John Major in 1992 and the mood was triumphant. Given the scale of Boris Johnson’s election victory which delivered a majority not seen since the Thatcher years, with his love of the classics, Boris was probably hoping for a fanfare that would rival Caesar’s arrival into Rome.
What Boris got instead was quite different, a virtual conference and a speech delivered to an empty room. Listening to the speech you could be forgiven for thinking that the pandemic is over, a vaccine has been found and the country has come out the other end. Boris has either invented time travel or is voluntarily ignoring the fact that the country is still in the grips of the worse crisis since the Second World War. The problems with test and trace, the rationale behind the 10pm closing time and the inadequacies of the job support scheme – none of these were mentioned. Instead the PM focused on a rerun of his 2019 election campaign, an arena he is undoubtedly more comfortable in. However, this is not an election and his is not a campaigner, he’s the Prime Minister and considering we’re about to enter a winter of economic anxiety with redundancies soaring while the virus is still raging, the tone was not appropriate.
It has become almost a daily occurrence during the pandemic to draw parallels between the current crisis and Britain’s ‘finest hour’ during the Second World War. As an adherent Churchill fan Boris Johnson leaped at the chance to try and frame himself as a similar saviour of the nation, just as Churchill beat Hitler, so will Boris defeat Coronavirus. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with such an assessment; firstly, Boris has not defeated the virus. Secondly, unlike Boris, Churchill although optimistic was realistic with the British people about the potential peril they faced – most famously in his ‘never surrender’ address he confronted the real possibility that Britain could be invaded – we received no such realism from the Prime Minister yesterday.
The only thing which the PM did address was the concerns surrounding his health and whether he has fully recovered from his own battle with covid. To answer these Boris said that we he was willing to take part in an arm wrestle to settle the matter, which while comical was not exactly what the country or even his own party meant when they questioned his recent performance as PM. The importance of this speech cannot be underestimated; the Conservative Party is a fickle mistress and as has been seen throughout history can turn very quickly on a leader. Boris was selected as leader and PM because he was believed to be a winner, he delivered them the majority they wanted but has his usefulness run out?
So far it has been a very negative assessment, but it is worth pointing out that there were merits to the PM’s speech. It was definitely bold in its vision of a future Britain; no-one can deny that Boris has a clear idea of the country he wishes he was leading. He delivered some hard truths about the stagnation of Britain’s economic performance, its struggling productivity, over-reliance on the service industry and obsession with every young person going to university. There were ambitious plans to power every home by wind by 2030, roll out lifelong skills training and turn generation rent into ‘generation buy’. These are all commendable goals but we all question the PM’s ability to deliver on his vision, if the government’s response to PPE provision, A-Levels and the impending unemployment time bomb are anything to go by confidence remains low.
It would seem that Boris got lost in his own delusion of a New Jerusalem being built out of the ashes of the pandemic, forgetting that Britain is still in the grips of a catastrophe. This speech was ill-timed and would have been better suited to the 2021 conference when hopefully the country will be out of the pandemic and the vision of a new Britain will be desperately needed – the question remains though will Boris still be around to deliver it?