Boris Johnson delivered his speech at the annual Conservative party conference last week, where he outlined plans for Britain to build back better and level up the country
Plans to level up the country were part of the Conservative manifesto back in the 2019 general election and were one of the main themes within Johnson’s conference speech.
The prime minister pledged to reduce the inequality between places and regions within the United Kingdom and address the north and south divide.
He said that “levelling up works for the whole country, and is the right and responsible policy because it helps to take the pressure off parts of the overheating South East, while simultaneously offering hope and opportunity to those areas that have felt left behind.”
Johnson was adamant that he would have the guts to address and tackle problems that his predecessors ignored, like social care. He also mentioned the success of the vaccine rollout, where he suggested that because of the rollout, “the United Kingdom is the most open economy” and has had “the fastest growth in the G7.” The prime minister also attacked the Labour party by saying that “they dislike academic competition… decapitating the tall poppies and taxing the rich till the pips squeak.” He also called Keir Starmer “captain hindsight” and criticised cancel culture and those that were “rewriting history.” The prime minister ended the speech by saying how the United Kingdom has a unique spirit with praise towards the England football team, tennis star Emma Raducanu and the Olympic and Paralympics teams.
As party conference season ends, it is time to reflect on if Johnson’s conference speech was a success or not.
Specifically, if his levelling up pledge is genuine or not.
Let’s turn to our journalists and see what they think of Johnson’s conference speech.
Actions speak louder than slogans!
Many were excited for Boris Johnson and what he would deliver at the Conservative party conference. Despite this excitement, the prime minister failed to give optimism to the country, and those listening in heard repeated slogans, contradicting statements, and a new language is formed. By the end of his speech, we were laughing at the prime minister rather than with him. This speech should confirm that Johnson is all talk with little to no walk.
A quick google search, and you will find that he is leading a government that is levelling down the country, not up. Cutting universal credit by £20 a week, increasing taxes on working people and not increasing wages is the opposite of building back better and levelling up the country. Johnson thinks throwing slogans like a boomerang and repeating them will convince the country that he is up for the job as the leader of this country, but actions speak louder than slogans. The reality is that without the help of Dominic Cummings, the corporate media and the first past the post system, Johnson would be nowhere near the levers of power.
And to top it all off, Johnson blames the European Union, the public and the private sector for the mess he has caused. So much for individual responsibility that he and his party claim to be all about, whilst being the total opposite. Once people realise that Johnson and this government is all talk and no walk, have no guts and are unconservative, they will all be sent to orbit where they belong. And with Starmer delivering a solid message and a clear vision that will save lives, it will be clear that the Labour party are the ones going to level up the country, not the Conservatives.
Boris Johnson has been talking about “levelling up” since at least the 2019 election, but critics say he hasn’t sufficiently explained what it is.
His first in-person Tory conference speech on Wednesday was a major chance for the prime minister to put meat on the bones of the slogan he’s now been using for years.
The idea is yet to cut through: polling by Opinium in August 2021 found that just 1 in 5 people are clear what “levelling up” actually means.
Many will agree that Boris speech was low on policy. In fact, business leaders and think tanks described his party conference speech as “economically illiterate” hours after he finished. Whilst there appears to be broad consensus on this, it is debatable whether this actually matters. Boris is the king of optics and the optics of the Conservative party conference compared to the Labours’ matters
Labours conference, was dry, serious and uptight. These adjectives are also pejoratives frequently levelled at Labour leader Kier Starmer. Even though Starmer sought to hammer home that his premiership would be about work and the decency of work, the most salient moments of his speech came when he was putting downs hecklers. That was the most exciting part. It’s hard not to leave that conference with the takeaway that despite Starmer’s attempt to put a full stop next to Jeremy Corbyn, much labour in-fighting remains.
Boris on the other hand was boisterous and funny. You would be forgiven for not remembering the backdrop to this speech. The fact that the universal credit uplift program was being cut; a change in policy that would affect more than 5.8 million people and According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). They explained that the cut would plunge half a million more people into poverty, including 200,000 children. Johnson was able to circumnavigate this reality by making people feel good. Something he is an expert in doing. He spoke about many regions of the UK finally getting attention, structural investment and made jokes about Michael Gove’s dancing. He was in full display as a showman. This is a many that now sits above British politics, seemingly able to do no wrong.