By William James
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised on Tuesday to transform Britain rather than settle for the “status quo” after the coronavirus crisis by building more new homes, improving education, fighting crime and boosting the green economy.
In a speech aimed at rallying his Conservative Party, which has become increasingly critical of its leader, Johnson laid out his vision for Britain, where deep-rooted inequality has been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Using his own battle with weight loss which made a bout of COVID-19 more difficult to overcome as a metaphor for changing Britain, he listed the areas he wanted to tackle – housing, education, jobs, climate change and crime.
But he offered few clues on funding and opposition parties criticised the speech for being the “usual bluster” with scarce detail on how he would protect jobs or get control over the increasing number of coronavirus infections.
“We’ve been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo and to think that life can go on as it was before the plague,” he told the Conservative Party’s virtual conference.
“It will not, because history teaches us that events of this magnitude, wars, famines, plagues, events that affect the vast bulk of humanity, as this virus has, they don’t just come and go … We can’t now define the mission of this country as merely to restore normality. That isn’t good enough.”
Hitting back at critics who say he has both lost control of the coronavirus pandemic in Britain and struggled since suffering from COVID-19, Johnson said suggestions he had lost his “mojo” was “self-evident drivel”.
“The kind of seditious propaganda that you’d 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, adding he was sticking with the diet after losing 26 pounds.
His speech was aimed at those who suggest that the former London mayor has no vision for Britain with him repeating his pledge to build back better with a focus on the green economy.
“Now, as we build back better we must build back greener. So we are committing to new ambitious targets and investment into wind power to accelerate our progress towards net zero emissions by 2050,” he said.
A 160 million-pound ($ 207 million) investment in ports and factories is part of a drive to quadruple Britain’s offshore wind capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2030, around half of Britain’s electricity capacity now from all sources.
He also promised to build more homes and make them more accessible to younger people, and to improve education.
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said he had offered “the usual bluster and no plan for the months ahead”.
“The British people needed to hear the Prime Minister set out how he and his government will get a grip of the crisis,” she said in a statement.
“We end this Conservative conference as we started it: with a shambolic testing system, millions of jobs at risk and an incompetent government that has lost control of this virus and is holding Britain back.”