Boris Johnson’s end of term address to Tory MPs offered a preview of what the government wants its agenda to be this autumn. He told the backbench 1922 committee that his generation had ‘had it far, far easier’ in terms of getting on the housing ladder. He argued that they had to ‘build, build, build’ to ensure that the younger generation had the same opportunities. He emphasised that nothing could be more Conservative than that.
The Prime Minister’s tone suggests that he is preparing to face down any backbench opposition to the government’s planning reforms, which are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.
In a sign of the mounting concern in government about polls indicating a rise in support for Scottish independence, Johnson told his MPs that they had to campaign for the Union every day. He stressed that the break-up of the Union wouldn’t just be catastrophic for Scotland but for the rest of the UK too. It would also be a disaster for his premiership: prime ministers can survive many things but not the break-up of the country they lead.
On China, Johnson stressed that the UK had to ‘call China out’ on its treatment of the Uyghur Muslims, Hong Kong and some of its investments in this country. But he also struck a pragmatic note, telling Tory MPs that there was no way that China was not going to be a major part of their children and grandchildren’s lives. This is, perhaps, the biggest difference from the first Cold War: the Chinese economic system looks more sustainable than the Soviet one.
But, of course, the political agenda this autumn will be determined by what is happening with coronavirus. If the virus remains in retreat, the government will be able to turn to this new agenda. But if it comes roaring back, the only issue in town will be how to handle the second spike.