The Prime Minister took to the stage in Dudley to announce a bold plan to invest an additional £5 billion to kickstart Britain’s post-pandemic economic recovery. Johnson added that as a consequence of this investment ‘we will not just bounce back, we will bounce forward’ from the economic downturn that the pandemic has forced upon us.
The West Midlands town is of significant importance to Boris Johnson’s government because both of Dudley’s constituencies are now blue blotches in the once impenetrable red-wall. But, more importantly, if the government bring tangible economic benefits to places like Dudley, it will have succeeded in its manifesto pledge to ‘level up’ the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister started his Dudley Speech by reiterating that the threat posed by coronavirus remained ‘rampant’ and that the government ‘owe’ a discussion on its failures to the families of the tens of thousands of people who have sadly lost their lives.
Nonetheless, Johnson added that the British people cannot continue to be ‘prisoners’ to the crisis and championed the successes of the nation’s fight against the pandemic. The Prime Minister claimed that the speed in which the Nightingale Hospitals were completed, and the inventiveness of Britain’s private sector to combat the shortages of ventilators are two great examples of Britain’s ingenuity in response to the deadly virus.
The Prime Minister added, however, that the virus has exacerbated concerns and fears about the economy. He described the current situation as like waiting between the ‘flash of lightning and the thunderclap’.
The government, who proclaimed themselves as the ‘People’s Government’ in the wake of their monumental victory last December, have decided to use this moment to plan their response to other economic challenges facing the United Kingdom, notably their levelling up agenda.
The Prime Minister announced that his government would enact upon their manifesto pledges, and that included higher levels of spending than his Tory predecessors in Number 10. He added that this would be an antidote to parts of our ‘country [that] have felt left-behind, neglected, [and] unloved’.
This is starkly different from the Conservative government that delivered the tough austerity measures needed after the 2008 financial crash, or for that matter, Stanley Baldwin’s approach to the Wall Street Crash almost a century ago. However, the PM explained the ‘world has moved on since 2008’, and as such, the government was to adopt Roosevellian measures, rather than introduce similar measures to that of Baldwin or Cameron.
All evidence suggests that Johnson’s assumption is right. Britain has changed. Recent polling from The Times showed that Britons vehemently oppose spending cuts and would instead prefer to increase the already all-time high national tax burden. This was in complete contrast to the polling conducted during 2008 when Britain experienced similar levels of economic turbulence.
However, the PM felt obliged to reassure listeners that despite his huge spending pledges, he was ‘not a communist’ and instead he and his government wanted to ‘build people up’ rather than tear people down. He justified his divergence from what one may consider as the neoliberal economic consensus because of the exceptional times we are living in. The PM added that: ‘it is time now, not just for a new deal, but for a fair deal.’ Nevertheless, question marks have arisen over how the government can afford to splash so much cash.
Boris Johnson said that while his ‘instincts are to cut taxes wherever possible’ and it was imperative to have a ‘competitive’ taxation system as Britain departs from the constrictive pillars of the European Union, it was essential that Britain used this moment to inject spending into the economy. Even after pressure from Sky News’ political editor, Beth Rigby, the PM refused to comment as to whether taxes would increase or decrease.
Next week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak will announce his detailed recovery package. It will confirm or potentially deny the recent speculation of cuts to VAT and the idea floated that a ‘bounty’ could be offered to companies to incentivise businesses to take on apprentices. The government will also produce plans into how to solve problems regarding social care, an issue that the PM said had been ‘flunked’ by previous governments.
Today’s additional pledge means that the PM has promised almost £200 billion worth of spending, notably on education and infrastructure. Even more will be spent on the NHS, in what the PM claimed was ‘the biggest ever programme of funding the NHS’ has ever seen, including the promise to build an additional twenty hospitals.
Throughout the Dudley speech, the PM made implicit references to how his government is working towards creating one united nation. He not only claimed that the Union has ‘done more than show its worth’ during the pandemic, but also made clear that regional investment plans like HS2 and the reversal of the Beeching cuts would go ahead unhindered.
Finally, the PM set out plans to introduce the ‘most radical reform of our housing plan’ since Clement Attlee’s government rebuilt Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War. Johnson cited that Britain has consistently fallen behind many other nations in western Europe, including Germany, France and the Netherlands, in building houses.
Project speed will make it easier to build new properties because it will ‘scythe through red tape’ and prevent delays to housing developments that previous governments have failed to address. This includes allowing empty buildings to be easily transformed into new homes. Furthermore, the PM has published plans to relax red tape in a bid to support the great British high street. As a result old retail buildings will be turned into cafés and other outlets without being subject to current planning permission rules.
By J Walters