“Usual bluster and no plan”: Rayner slams PM’s conference speech

Elliot Chappell

Angela Rayner has criticised the Prime Minister following his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference today and argued that he delivered the “usual bluster and no plan for the months ahead”.

Boris Johnson used his remote address to speak about the UK in a post-Covid world, reiterating many of the promises already made but not yet delivered by government, including “levelling up” and fixing the “injustice of care home funding”.

Johnson repeated his 2019 general election manifesto pledge to encourage a new market in long-term fixed rate mortgages in an effort to “fix our broken housing market”.

He said the government would enable “buyers the chance to take out a long-term, fixed-rate mortgage of up to 95% of the value of the home – vastly reducing the size of the deposit and giving the chance of home ownership”.

The Prime Minister also confirmed the government’s commitment, briefed earlier today, to ensure that every home in the country is powered by offshore wind within the next ten years.

“Your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle – the whole lot of them will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands,” he said.

“As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind – a place of almost limitless resource, but in the case of wind without, the carbon emissions and without the damage to the environment.”

The Prime Minister also used the speech to attack Labour for arguing that “everything can be funded by ‘Uncle Sugar’, the taxpayer”. He went on to praise the private sector and its contribution in the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: “It isn’t the state that produces the new drugs and the therapies that we’re now using. It isn’t the state that will hold the intellectual property of the vaccine if and when we get one…

“It was the private sector with its rational interest in innovation, competition and market share and, yes, sales. We must not draw the wrong economic conclusions from this crisis.”

In the course of the speech, he accused Labour of “sniping from the sidelines” during Covid, continuing to “flirt” with people who seek to undermine the union, secretly working to reverse Brexit and not supporting the UK’s armed forces.

Johnson also used today as a chance to reject suggestions that he had “lost his mojo” as a result of contracting coronavirus earlier this year, dismissing the idea as “drivel”.

But he did tell viewers this afternoon that the reason he had such a negative experience of the virus was as a result of being too fat, and explained that he has lost 20lbs since his illness.

Commenting soon afterwards, Rayner said: “The British people needed to hear the Prime Minister set out how he and his government will get a grip of the crisis. Instead we got the usual bluster and no plan for the months ahead.

“We end this Conservative conference as we started it: with a shambolic testing system, millions of jobs at risk and an incompetent government that has lost control of this virus and is holding Britain back.”

Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy slammed Johnson as “not up to the job” of being Prime Minister on social media in response to the speech.

He declared that the UK needs leadership in the pandemic, but instead has a “pound-shop Donald Trump waffling about losing weight, spouting mindless rhetoric and failing to recognise his own catastrophic mistakes”.

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s pledge on offshore wind, shadow energy and green new deal minister Alan Whitehead declared that “today’s announcement is big on style but sorely lacking in substance”.

He highlighted that although Johnson claimed offshore wind would power every home within the next ten years, the target of 40GW outlined by the Prime Minister in his speech is only half of what will be needed by 2030.

Whitehead added: “He also didn’t set out how the current grid system will be updated to cope with energy generation on that scale. Currently wind farms are all individually linked to the grid – the equivalent of every single house having a cable to the mains grid rather than a local relay station.

“And crucially, offshore wind energy alone simply cannot do what the Prime Minister is saying. To power every home by 2030 we need other forms of low-carbon energy generation too, to offset the variability of wind, like solar, tidal lagoons, biomass stations and hydrogen.”

The speech from Johnson today received widespread criticism from commentators for its lack of policy detail, being described as “alphabet soup of a speech” by one and “empty headline pitches” to distract the country from Covid by another.

Responding to the speech this afternoon, GMB national secretary Jude Brimble said: “The Prime Minister loves to promise the grass is greener in the sunlit uplands – without any kind of proper plan. It’s not going to wash anymore.”

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea urged the government to roll out green energy plans more parts of the economy and described decarbonising electricity as “only part of the challenge”.

She added: “Let’s hope the Prime Minister’s pledge of more wind power is not just his usual hot air and bluster, which ​won’t be enough to keep the lights on or warm ​the nation’s homes. Firm action ​is needed, and fast.”

General secretary of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw Paddy Lillis stressed that while Johnson said he wants Britain to “build back better”, he “failed to offer any comfort or help for the retail industry”.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady emphasised that the UK is in a jobs crisis, and argued that “this reality seemed missing from Boris Johnson’s speech”. She called on the Prime Minister to “do far more to stop redundancies”.

O’Grady also welcomed the new investment in offshore wind announced, but pointed out that the government needs to create “many more good jobs” and urged greater investment in green transport and infrastructure.

Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also took to social media to criticise the Prime Minister’s address, arguing that it was “possibly the most delusional Prime Ministerial speech in the history of our country”.

He added: “Johnson ignores the rising number of people dying from Covid, people losing their jobs and a new round of austerity being planned. This was an extremely misjudged attempt to avoid the real world.”

Rishi Sunak made his own speech to the conference on Monday. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds accused the Chancellor of having “nothing new to say” on how the UK will handle the Covid economic crisis.

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