The Government’s first two years have been at once tragic, inspiring, extremely testing and, thanks to the pandemic, very expensive.
We have weathered many storms and have to our credit Brexit, world leadership in Covid vaccination and the AUKUS defence pact against Chinese expansion in the Far East and Pacific.
But I would be failing in my duty if I did not warn you that we face a daunting winter and an extremely challenging future. The Government’s job is probably the toughest since the Second World War. It is not merely to repair our Covid-ravaged finances, we are confronted with the urgent need for a massive repair and reform programme for all our social services while trying to hold the UK together.
It falls to us to begin rebuilding the UK economically and socially, spreading opportunity more evenly across the land and, consistent with security of supply, providing a greener and more secure future for the people.
This cannot be completed in the next three years of our elected tenure. But we shall be judged at the next election by the kind of fist we make of it, starting now.
Our prime task is to repair the nation’s finances starting with a £300bn budget deficit and rising inflation. That can only be done responsibly with a growing economy, a tight hold on spending and – yes – some tax increases where unavoidable.
I am acutely aware that this party stands for small government and low taxes.
But we cannot ignore the fact that the longer we live on tick the longer we prolong uncertainty and vulnerability. To paraphrase my distinguished predecessor, I can today offer you only “toil, tears and sweat”, without, I hope, the blood.
With the understanding and supportive efforts of the responsible majority, we can make it. The heroism of front-line NHS staff in the pandemic battle points the way ahead. Our national repair programme has four main elements:
1. Securing economic recovery, taking the opportunity afforded by Brexit to liberate the entrepreneur and promote investment and growth.
2. Helping children to make up lost time through Covid and so developing higher and further education that we provide the skills for the technology that will drive economic growth.
3. While catching up with the National Health Service treatment backlog, integrating the care system into a reformed and more efficient NHS.
4. Launching an all-out war on crime that has put our children under siege from drug barons and corrupters, ended young lives with knives, damaged the forces of law and order and handicapped the economy.
Success would raise our standing in the world which has been boosted by Brexit.
We are a truly free-trading, outward looking people as our long post-Brexit tally of trade agreements demonstrates. Our internationalism has been reinforced by the recent AUKUS agreement.
It is, however, true that we need to repair our relations with a petty-minded Europe, and especially France, since we had the temerity to Brexit.
To do that, we have to end the unconstitutional interference with Northern Ireland trade and the concocted fish war in the Channel and seek to concentrate EU minds on essentials.
In any rational world the one overriding essential is our collective security through NATO in alliance with the USA against a predatory Putin.
In setting out the mammoth task facing us – and, of course, many other governments across the world – I am conscious that not everything we have done over the past two years has escaped public criticism.
It would have been astonishing if it had, given that we were fighting an unknown virus without an immediate antidote.
We have substantially won that battle.
Now comes the next challenge. We shall not win it if vested interests, whether trade unions or rampant capitalists, remain fixed on their own narrow concerns.
We need to restore the old-fashioned concept of public service in our services and institutions. Whether we like it or not, we are inter-dependent. We are either all in this fight for a better future or we are holding it back.
Do you want a part in the renewal of the UK or are you content to sit on the sidelines and criticise?
The choice is yours, but you must recognise that sitting it out hurts those who can bear it least. Let’s go for it.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app, receive exclusive members-only offers and access to all premium content and columns. Click here to subscribe.