Conservative party conference in Manchester: Boris Johnson promises ‘big bold decisions’
Boris Johnson has said he is ready to take “big, bold decisions” to rebuild the country after Covid as the Tory Party conference opens in Manchester - but Labour accused him of ‘chaos’ over the petrol supply crisis.
The Prime Minister was seen leaving the Midland Hotel as he arrived for the start of the annual gathering in ebullient mood buoyed up by opinion polls showing the Conservatives ahead of Labour.
In a statement released on Saturday he declared: “We didn’t go through Covid to go back to how things were before – to the status quo ante.
“Build back better means we want things to change and improve as we recover.
“That means taking the big, bold decisions on the priorities people care about – like on social care, on supporting jobs, on climate change, tackling crime and levelling up.”
But behind the optimism, Conservative MPs heading to the city are aware of a number of storm clouds gathering.
While the fuel crisis appears to be easing in much of the country, petrol retailers have warned that the situation is getting worse in London and the South East.
With long queues at many filling stations, military drivers will take to the roads on Monday in an effort to support the delivery of supplies to forecourts.
There are fears that the shortage of HGV drivers which triggered the crisis could lead to empty shelves in shops in the run up to Christmas.
Writing in The Sun, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer blamed Mr Johnson for the “chaos” accusing the Prime Minister of ignoring repeated warnings from the industry.
“Boris Johnson was warned about this crisis and he did nothing about it. Britain deserves better than this incompetence and total lack of leadership,” he said.
Some Tories, meanwhile, fear the Government is facing a “cost of living crisis” with many households struggling to make ends meet over the winter, threatening the Government’s all important “levelling up” agenda.
It follows the ending of the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift and the furlough scheme and the raising of the energy price cap at a time when many prices in the shops are going up.
Household budgets will take a further hit from next April when national insurance contributions rise by 1.25% to pay for the Government’s investment in the NHS and social care.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak sought to address some of the concerns with the announcement of a £500 million hardship fund for vulnerable families but it may not go far enough for some.
Former cabinet minister David Davis told The Observer: “You don’t level up by increasing the tax and cost of living on the working class. We have to be absolutely clear what levelling up means.”
On a visit to Leeds General Infirmary on Saturday, Mr Johnson insisted that wages were also going up with those of the least well off rising fastest.
He made clear that he was determined to resist further pressure from employers to address labour shortages by easing immigration rules.
“I think what the UK shouldn’t be doing is to continue to try to be a low-wage, low-skills, low-productivity economy,” he said.
“People don’t want that. They want us to be a well-paid, well-skilled, highly productive economy and that’s where we’re going.”
Meanwhile, party chairman Oliver Dowden is expected to use his opening address to the conference to refute Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner’s accusation that Tories are “scum”.
“I know that this is a fundamentally decent party,” Mr Dowden is expected to say. “You might not always hear it from our opponents, but I see it every day.”