The PM’s speech was designed to reignite the enthusiasm of party members – but he quickly got a reality check, says Beth Rigby.
It was a speech without the audience he had hoped for, in a year no one had anticipated.
What should have been a Conservative Party victory rally for Boris Johnson on Tuesday turned instead into an attempt to steady the ship after some very rocky weeks.
The prime minister used his annual conference speech to answer directly those questioning his health and ability to do the job – dismissing claims he’d lost his “mojo”.
He also sought to reset his credentials as a true blue Conservative by talking up fiscal responsibility and the role of private enterprise, rather than the state, in the post-coronavirus rebuild.
At the centrepiece of his speech was a 10-year vision in which the prime minister promised to build a “new Jerusalem” out of the devastation of this pandemic.
This, he said, would be done by fixing the injustice of care home funding; transforming the sclerotic planning system; turning generation rent into generation buy; fixing the housing market; providing offshore wind to power every home in Britain; and giving one-on-one teaching to exceptional pupils.
Mr Johnson scattered around pledges and policies like confetti.
Nearly all were familiar – apart from the £160m of investment in ports and factories for offshore wind.
But the honeymoon period for Mr Johnson is over.
No sooner had he tried to lift spirits by imagining a Britain after COVID-19, he was brought firmly back into the here and now when figures released show a surge in infection rates with 14,542 new cases.
From soaring rhetoric to a reality check.
It will be on how the prime minister handles coronavirus in the coming weeks that he’ll be judged, as communities, businesses, families and individuals try to navigate the second wave of a pandemic that threatens to race out of control.
But with polls showing his popularity is falling both with the public and with the party, he perhaps wanted to deliver a rallying call of old, where he could capture his audience’s imagination and reignite the enthusiasm of those party members and voters that backed him to become Conservative Party leader and then to remain as prime minister
The optimistic prime minister tried today to lift not just his party but the nation, too.
But by glossing over the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in his speech he glossed over the more pressing concerns of his public.
Nearly a third of the country are in local lockdowns, and millions of people could lose their jobs as the furlough scheme is wound up.
A return to normal feels a long way off and his 10-year plan out of touch.