Boris Johnson attacks 'woke' plans to rewrite British history
Boris Johnson used his speech to the Conservative conference speech to attack “woke” plans to rewrite the UK’s history and promised that his party would defend the country’s “cultural inheritance”.
The prime minister also used the speech to defend the National Insurance hike, telling Tory members it would have been backed by Margaret Thatcher.
He said it was part of the government’s plan to reshape society and move away from low wages and low skills.
The prime minister’s address to the party faithful was heavy on jokes, but only featured one England only policy announcement, a new £3,000 “levelling up premium” to send the best maths and science teachers to the places that need them most.
There was a huge appetite for the speech in the Manchester conference hall, with delegates starting to queue to get in at 6.30am, five hours before it was due to begin.
The prime minister even had his own bespoke arena for the address, which allowed him to be nearly surrounded by supporters.
He told Tory members: “We should never forget, people around the world admire this country for its history and traditions. They love the groovy new architecture, and the fashion, music, and all the rest of it.
“They like it for the way it emerges organically from a vast inherited conglomerate of culture and tradition. And we Conservatives, understand the need for both, and how each nourishes the other and we attack and deny our history at our peril.
“When they began to attack Churchill as a racist I was minded to ignore them. It was only 20 years ago BBC audiences overwhelmingly voted him the greatest Briton of all time. He helped to defeat a regime after all that was defined by one of the most vicious racisms the world has ever seen.
“But as time has gone by it's become clear to me that this isn't just a joke, they really do want to rewrite our national story starting with Hereward the Woke.”
Two years ago, Green MSP Ross Greer sparked controversy after he described the wartime leader as a "white supremacist" and a "mass murderer."
At the time, he told the BBC: "The trouble is that here in the UK, we are almost only allowed to talk about Churchill through the prism of not just the Second World War, but the war in Europe.
"Churchill was a man who declared, in his view, the Aryan race would triumph, he described Indians as a beastly people with a beastly religion - and when a mass famine broke out in India, for which he was significantly to blame, the Bengal famine, he said it was their own fault because they bred like rabbits."
Elsewhere in his speech, the Prime Minister said the £12 billion raised from the manifesto-breaking hike to National Insurance would address the "tide of anxiety" being experienced in the NHS.
In a personal moment during the speech, Johnson recalled lying in a hospital bed last year and seeing a hole in the ground, noting: "They seemed to be digging a hole for something or indeed someone, possibly me.
"But the NHS saved me and our wonderful nurses pulled my chestnuts out of that Tartarean pit and I went back on a visit the other day and I saw that the hole had been filled in with three or four gleaming storeys of a new paediatrics unit.
"And there you have a metaphor for how we must build back better now.
"We have a huge hole in the public finances, we spent £407 billion on Covid support and our debt now stands at over £2 trillion, and waiting lists will almost certainly go up before they come down.
"Covid pushed out the great bow wave of cases and people did not or could not seek help, and that wave is now coming back - a tide of anxiety washing into every A&E and every GP.
"Your hip replacement, your mother's surgery, and this is the priority of the British people."
Johnson said Thatcher would “not have ignored the meteorite that has just crashed through the public finances.”
He added: "She would have wagged her finger and said 'more borrowing now is just higher interest rates, and even higher taxes later'."
Johnson didn’t directly refer to the skill shortages that have left supermarket shelves low on stock and healthy pigs being slaughter, but he did say changes to the economy after Brexit will at times be "difficult" but insisted they will result in a fairer "low tax" system and end the “broken model” of low wages and low skills.
"That's the direction in which the country is going now - towards a high-wage, high-skilled, high-productivity and, yes, thereby a low-tax economy. That is what the people of this country need and deserve.
"Yes, it will take time, and sometimes it will be difficult, but that is the change that people voted for in 2016."
He said: “We are not going back to the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills and low productivity, all of it enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration.
“The answer is to control immigration, to allow people of talent to come to this country but not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people, in skills and in the equipment or machinery they need to do their jobs.”
He said that his government would implement “the greatest project that any government can embark on” by “uniting and levelling up across the UK”.
“There is no reason why the inhabitants of one part of the country should be geographically fated to be poorer than others,” he said. “Or why people should feel they have to move away from their loved ones or communities to reach their potential.”
Levelling up, he said, “helps to take the pressure off parts of the overheating south east, while simultaneously offering hope and opportunity to those areas that have felt left behind”.
There were few mentions of Scotland in the speech, apart from a dig at Michael Gove’s dancing in a sweaty “boites de nuit” in Aberdeen and at SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford’s claims to be a humble crofter.
He also launched an attack on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, comparing him to “a seriously rattled bus conductor, pushed this way and that by a Corbynista mob of sellotape-spectacled sans-culottes”.
"Or the skipper of a cruise liner that's been captured by Somali pirates, desperately trying to negotiate a change of course and then changing his mind," he added.
Ian Blackford described Johnson's speech as "waffle and deflection".
He said: "The Tory rank and file might have had a good laugh - but it is at everyone else’s expense. Outside in the real world, no one whose universal credit is being cut today by this cruel Tory government is laughing.
"The only way to keep Scotland safe from Tory cuts and the long-term damage of Brexit is to become an independent country, with the full powers needed to regain our place in Europe and build a strong, fair and green recovery."
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said Johnson "might as well have made that speech in a parallel universe."
He added: "Nothing for struggling families facing Universal Credit cuts and soaring bills, nothing for businesses on the brink of bankruptcy and nothing for our nation’s carers. Totally out of touch."