Boris Johnson laments too many virus deaths, predicts social and economic change

World | 6 Oct 2020 10:21 pm

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed claims that coronavirus has "robbed me of my mojo" as he set out promises on social care, green energy and housing in his Conservative Party conference speech, Sky News.

Johnson, speaking via a video stream to his party's members, launched a strident defence of the private sector as he vowed to "build back better" from the coronavirus crisis.

Declaring that he'd "had more than enough of this disease,'' Johnson promised Tory members that the next time they met it would be "face to face and cheek by jowl".

And he said they would not be having to greet each other by "touching elbows as in some giant national version of the Birdie dance".

But the prime minister added it "isn't enough to go back to normal" as the country had "lost too much" and "mourned too many.''

Johnson predicted the pandemic would be a "trigger for an acceleration of social and economic change, because we human beings will not simply content ourselves with a repair job.''

He despaired at the "chronic underlying problems" the UK had before the coronavirus crisis, as he resolved "not to go back to 2019, but to do better.''

Having been admitted to intensive care earlier this year when he contracted coronavirus himself, the prime minister admitted his own underlying condition was being "too fat" prior to catching the disease.

He revealed he has since lost 26lbs, almost two stone, and challenged "nonsense" suggestions he was still impacted by his illness.

"Of course this is self-evident drivel, the kind of seditious propaganda that you would expect from people who don't want this government to succeed, who wanted to stop us delivering Brexit and all our other manifesto pledges," he said.

In the most eye-catching of the prime minister's policy proposals in his address, Johnson reiterated his election manifesto promise to encourage a new market in long-term fixed-rate mortgages.

Johnson  said: "We need now to take forward one of the key proposals of our manifesto of 2019: giving young, first-time buyers the chance to take out a long-term, fixed-rate mortgage of up to 95 percent of the value of the home - vastly reducing the size of the deposit and giving the chance of home ownership - and all the joy and pride that goes with it - to millions that feel excluded.

"We believe that this policy could create two million more owner-occupiers - the biggest expansion of home ownership since the 1980s.

"We will help turn generation rent into generation buy."

In a hint at the possible introduction of an insurance-based scheme, Johnson also promised to "fix the injustice of care home funding" by "bringing the magic of averages to the rescue of millions".

"COVID has shone a spotlight on the difficulties of that sector in all parts of the UK - and to build back better we must respond, care for the carers as they care for us," he added.

In addition, the prime minister confirmed his pledge that offshore wind power would be powering every home in the country within 10 years.

"Your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle - the whole lot of them will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands," he said.

"As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind - a place of almost limitless resource, but in the case of wind, without the carbon emissions and without the damage to the environment."

Johnson also outlined the government's intent to explore the value of one-to-one teaching - as tried when the pandemic led to the shutting of schools - for pupils "in danger of falling behind, and for those who are of exceptional abilities".

Johnson branded Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer   as "Captain Hindsight" and opposition MPs as a "regiment of pot-shot, snipeshot fusiliers.''

And Johnson sought to put further distance between the Tories and their opponents in parliament.

Despite his government's intervention in the economy with support packages since the beginning of the virus crisis, the prime minister warned that "there comes a moment when the state must stand back and let the private sector get on with it".

"I have a simple message for those on the left, who think everything can be funded by uncle sugar the taxpayer," he said.

"It isn't the state that produces the new drugs and therapies we are using.

"It isn't the state that will hold the intellectual property of the vaccine, if and when we get one. It wasn't the state that made the gloves and masks and ventilators that we needed at such speed.

"It was the private sector, with its rational interest in innovation and competition and market share and, yes, sales.

"We must not draw the wrong economic conclusion from this crisis."

Having made a comparison with the British government outlining their post-Second World War vision even in the depths of conflict in 1942,  Johnson set out his vision of Britain in 2030.

He spoke of zero carbon jets, blue passports, digital IDs, electric taxis, and gigabit broadband.

"Even in the darkest moments we can see the bright future ahead, and we can see how to build it, and we are going to build it together," the prime minister said.

Responding to Johnson's speech, Sir Keir said: "I think that what NHS workers on the frontline and the country want from the prime minister is a frank acknowledgement that there are real problems with the government's approach.

"Everybody can see that infection rates are rising, lots of areas are under restrictions and don't seem to be coming out of it and the testing regime just isn't working - we've even lost tests in the last few days.

"So what I think people wanted was a frank acceptance that those problems are there and a roadmap to get out of where we are now.

"A roadmap from here to when we get a vaccination."-Photo: Sky News


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