Boris sets off on the COVID comeback trail

By Heather Jameson | 01 July 2020
  • Heather Jameson

Fresh from his latest bout of press-ups, complete with promises of gastric bands all round, the Prime Minister rocked up in Dudley this week, bouncing and boundless with plans to ‘build back better’.

Boris Johnson’s coronavirus epiphany, which saw him swing from a health-based libertarian to a prevention evangelist with all the enthusiasm of a reformed smoker, could be a welcome sign for local government, which has long-since recognised the value of early action. Or his enlightenment may only last as long as your average crash diet – roughly until snack time.

The Dudley speech was a mastery of political tub-thumpery, offering all things to all people and a raft of investment – to the tune of £5bn. He has promised to ‘double down on levelling up,’ opportunities and apprenticeships, and high skilled, high paid jobs. There was even a promise to sort out social care – all without ‘launching some punitive raid on the wealth creators’.

It is, he said, a New Deal. Haven’t we had one of those before?

But beyond the soundbites, much of the PM’s speech was a rehash of manifesto commitments and pre-announced cash. And as the BBC’s Laura Kuenssburg pointed out – it works out at £100 per person.

COVID-19 has put a gastric band on the economy, and meagre morsels will not be enough to plump it up again. This may be a welcome first step, but Franklyn D Roosevelt it is not. Without a ‘punitive raid’ – or tax, if you will – it’s hard to see how it’s all funded long term. See the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ inevitable analysis for details.

The PM is turning to the prospect of building his way out of the COVID-created economic slump. Not in itself a bad idea, but pouring cash into capital and infrastructure alone leaves little for the revenue – and for people. It’s got to be inclusive growth. It’s got to be job creation, online in time to rescue those falling out of the furlough scheme when it ends in the autumn.

And then there are the planning rules, eased to push bureaucratic jobsworths out of the way of the dynamic developers. The reality, Mr Johnson, may prove not to be quite that simple.

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