Katy Balls

Can Boris’s relaunch escape the Leicester lockdown?

Can Boris's relaunch escape the Leicester lockdown?
Photo by PAUL ELLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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Boris Johnson had hoped to use today's speech in Dudley to draw a line under the past 14 weeks of lockdown and return to his election agenda. However, with the government announcing overnight that Leicester is to go into a local lockdown, the ongoing challenge of coronavirus isn't far away. The Prime Minister acknowledged that some might think his speech on Britain after Covid 'premature' but he said it was not sustainable to 'simply to be prisoners of this crisis'. Instead, the country must 'slowly and cautiously' come out of hibernation.

Reflecting on the crisis, Johnson did not go so far as to say mistakes had been made. Instead, he said he knew 'there are plenty of things that people say and will say that we got wrong'. He attempted to focus on the positive – pointing to the things he thought the government had got right: the speed that new hospitals had been built, the success of the ventilator challenge (even though they weren't needed) and UK drug trials. 

Returning to his 'levelling up' agenda, Johnson channelled his inner Roosevelt as he presented his 'new deal' – with an acceleration of £5 billion worth of spending on infrastructure projects. Johnson said: 

I am conscious, as I say all this, that it sounds like a prodigious amount of government intervention, it sounds like a new deal. And all I can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be because that is what the times demand... because it is time now, not just for a new deal, but a fair deal for the British people.

The Prime Minister said there would be no return to austerity as he hinted there would be further spending to come as the government attempts to restart the economy. Some of the measures – including funding for schools – had already been trailed while others were straight from the Tory manifesto. 

In the Q&A that followed, Johnson was asked whether the measures were really such a big deal given that, compared to the spending blitz Roosevelt embarked on in the wake of the great depression, £5 billion is a drop in the ocean. But despite the packaging of today's measures, the point of the speech wasn't to say the government is changing tack. Instead, it's to say that despite a global pandemic and an economic shock that would stop many governments in their tracks, Johnson's government plans to press on regardless. Whether or not he is able to do this, however, rests on keeping the virus under control. While the main political action today is in Dudley, what will determine the government's success is in Leicester. 

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor. She is also a columnist for the i paper.

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