Robert Peston

Boris’s speech was all sunshine and no substance

Boris's speech was all sunshine and no substance
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Probably the most significant feature of Boris Johnson's speech at the Tory conference is what it said about him rather than what he said.

To put it another way, the Prime Minister seemed bouncier than he has in many months, thanks — he said — to shedding 26 pounds of flab since falling seriously ill with Covid-19. But this was not a speech that will be remembered for much else, partly because Johnson wants us to set our sights on 2030 whereas millions of us are more fixated on who will be in work or in decent health tomorrow.

Only some will be offended by Boris Johnson's 2030 country: the air clean, the people more tolerant and productive, the UK still four nations. But it was pretty much all hope rather than plan.

There were a few seemingly upgraded promises: two million long-term fixed-rate mortgages for young people; one-to-one tuition for those with learning difficulties and for young prodigies; offshore wind energy powering every device in every home; something about 'the magic of averages' finally providing decent affordable care to the elderly and frail.

But when his spokesperson was asked for more information on all or any of these promises, the reply each time was he did not yet have the detail. To take just one example, long-term housing loans for the young. How long would the interest rate be fixed? No answer. Who would underwrite the loans, banks or government? No answer. How big could they be? No clue.

At the moment, these loans, which the PM said would power the biggest expansion of homeownership since the 1980s, are as likely to come from the tooth fairy as the Treasury, for all the detail we were given.

There was, of course, a restatement of the Cummings and Johnson diagnosis of what's wrong with the UK: creaking infrastructure; not enough scientists, including foreign scientists; too much and the wrong kind of regulation.

The holy grail, Johnson said, was to raise our living standards and resilience by ending years of stagnating productivity. And who could argue with that?

But we can only see the shape of potentially useful policies, not costed programmes. And for what it's worth, he didn't even begin to engage with the Tory party's most important debate, how to finance his 'build back better' plan.

Amazingly, there was not one reference — not one — to the 'd' word, for Britain's record debts. Johnson wants shiny new everything — roads, rail, housing, hospitals, further education colleges, wind farms, high-tech manufacturing, a world-beating digital sector — but also lower taxes, a smaller state, and an energised and expanded private sector.

To put it politely, these are not compatible ambitions.

So perhaps the biggest surprise is that 15 months into his time as Prime Minister, no one seems to have pointed out to Boris Johnson that running the country is about making choices — or it's about humiliating failure.

Now listen to today's Coffee House Shots, where John Connolly talks to James Forsyth and Katy Balls about whether the PM's Tory conference speech overlooked the UK's coronavirus troubles.

Written byRobert Peston

Robert Peston is Political Editor of ITV News and host of the weekly political discussion show Peston. This post originally appeared on his ITV News blog

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