The Tory leader’s unique presentational skills enabled Mr Johnson to present an optimistic vision for a post-Brexit and post-pandemic Britain that ignored the many difficulties facing families.
Yet these challenges are immediate. They are also real – the speech coinciding with the £20 a week uplift to Unviersal Credit coming to an end – and the fact that no mention of this did a disservice to the nation’s poorest families.
The PM might think that bluster and jocularity is the best way to make policy – and those in the Manchester venue appeared to concur – but the audience watching at home should be forgiven if they took a more cringeworthy view.
For, while many still prefer Mr Johnson to Sir Keir Starmer, and remain benevolent to the PM because of Covid, they will have been disarmed by the few reassuring words over the cost of living crisis.
They will be rightly perturbed that how the Tory leader is playing down concerns about mounting labour shortages in key sectors of the economy – his flippancy at the weekend over the cull of pigs now underway spoke volumes.
And they will view the PM as all talk and no action on levelling up. Having built up expectations of a major announcement on rail services, he limited this to six perfunctory words – “we will do Northern Powerhouse Rail” – that take the issue no further forward than his assurance, when campaigning for the Tory leadership in July 2019, that he will be the leader who gets “Northern Powerhouse Rail done”.
Mr Johnson began his remarks with this message: “Let’s get going.” He now needs to do so on all policy fronts if this speech is to genuinely change Britain for the better. That’s the test.
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