THIS week I want to suggest something I do not usually do – which is suggest Herald readers actually read in full a speech given by the prime minister.
Boris’s ‘Build, build, build’ speech this week is the most important speech he has made since the election.
Whether you are a supporter or opponent, it is worth reading because it sets out clearly the direction he intends to take our country in the next four years.
Some will quibble the money committed did not match up to the rhetoric of a Rooseveltian ‘New Deal.’ Others will say it contained promises, such as planning law reform, made by previous prime ministers – although that doesn’t make it any less right to pursue.
But the significance of this speech was that, as we face up to the enormous challenge of putting the economy on its feet, Boris explicitly rejected austerity.
He was right to do so. I say that as someone who was part of the government that introduced painful cuts in public spending in 2010 after the financial crisis.
We were right to do so at that time – and because as a result we became the fastest-growing economy in the G7, I was able to negotiate a £20 billion funding increase for the NHS, the largest in its history.
That funding boost showed the approach we took was not driven by small state ideology – as does the fact we did it in coalition with the Liberal Democrats who, like the Conservatives, recognised we had few options in the wake of a the largest financial recession since the Second World War.
But this time is different. Coronavirus will be a deep but shorter-lived shock to an economy that is in much better shape than it was in 2010.
And it comes in the wake of the Brexit vote and the many divisions it uncovered between the prosperous south east and the rest of the country.
That is why the prime minister highlighted the injustice that means a pupil from a London state school is now 50 per cent more likely to go to a top university than a pupil from the West Midlands.
It is why he is pressing on with his plan for 20,000 police officers, which is one reason why Waverley police numbers will double this year.
It is why he promised something I have long campaigned for, proper reform of the social care system.
And it is why he once again stressed it needs to be a green recovery – something we are determined to achieve with a remodelled town centre in Farnham.
An intention to deliver a plan is not the same as a plan successfully delivered. There is a long way to go – and I am sure many of us will disagree with individual decisions taken along the way.
But the intention is clear: to foster an economic recovery that brings the country together and heals social divisions. After the terrible crisis we are slowly emerging from, that is surely an aspiration we can welcome.
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