First Churchill, now Roo­sevelt: John­son prom­ises ‘UK New Deal’

PM to lay claim to vi­sion on par with US pres­i­dent dur­ing Great De­pres­sion

The Guardian - - Front Page - Heather Stewart Larry El­liott

Boris John­son will seek to wrap him­self in the man­tle of one of the most revered Amer­i­can pres­i­dents in mod­ern times to­day as he at­tempts to re­fo­cus his premier­ship by promis­ing a “New Deal” for Bri­tain in re­sponse to the coro­n­avirus crisis.

Ac­cord­ing to pre-re­leased ex­tracts, John­son’s speech will high­light projects worth £5bn, which he will “ac­cel­er­ate”, in­clud­ing im­prove­ments to schools and hos­pi­tals, and “shovel ready” schemes such as parks im­prove­ments.

Speak­ing in the West Mid­lands, he will claim his am­bi­tions to re­build Bri­tain echo the achieve­ments of Franklin D Roo­sevelt (FDR), who car­ried out a whole­sale re­con­struc­tion of the US econ­omy in re­sponse the Great De­pres­sion and is re­mem­bered for large-scale projects such as the Hoover Dam.

But crit­ics of the prime min­is­ter are likely to high­light that there is no new money in the an­nounce­ment.

Some ob­servers de­rided John­son’s sug­ges­tion that his plan bore any re­sem­blance to the 1930s White House. “The no­tion that he’s going to turn him­self into FDR seems ab­so­lutely fan­ci­ful,” said Pro­fes­sor Anand Menon, of the think­tank UK in a Chang­ing Europe.

“FDR sur­rounded him­self with ex­perts, and drew on what they had to say, in a way that Boris John­son so far has not.”

To­day’s speech comes af­ter a bruis­ing few weeks for John­son per­son­ally and his gov­ern­ment, with poll rat­ings for both slump­ing as head­lines were dom­i­nated by Do­minic Cum­mings’ cross-coun­try drive dur­ing lock­down, John­son’s U-turn over free school meals, and al­le­ga­tions of cash-for­favours against Robert Jen­rick.

While Down­ing Street in­sisted John­son’s speech was not part of a re­launch, No 10 is keen to re­store their grip on the news agenda with up­beat mes­sag­ing about the fu­ture.

John­son will say: “It sounds pos­i­tively Roo­sevel­tian. It sounds like a New Deal. All I

‘It sounds like a New Deal … if so, that is how it is meant to be’ Boris John­son High­light­ing his plans

can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be, be­cause that is what the times de­mand. A gov­ern­ment that is pow­er­ful and de­ter­mined and that puts its arms around peo­ple at a time of crisis.”

He will add: “This is a gov­ern­ment that is wholly com­mit­ted not just to de­feat­ing coro­n­avirus but to us­ing this crisis fi­nally to tackle this coun­try’s great un­re­solved chal­lenges of the last three decades.”

De­spite in­ter­na­tional mon­e­tary fund fore­casts sug­gest­ing the UK is on track for one of the worst eco­nomic down­turns in the G7, John­son will in­sist: “We will not just bounce back, we will bounce for­ward.”

Among the projects the prime min­is­ter is ex­pected to high­light are bridge repairs in Sandwell, dig­i­tal up­grades to courts, and im­prove­ments to lo­cal high streets. He will also prom­ise £1.5bn for hos­pi­tal main­te­nance.

To un­der­score his green cre­den­tials, John­son will recom­mit to plant­ing more than 75,000 acres of trees a year by 2025 – and pledge £40m to boost lo­cal con­ser­va­tion projects and cre­ate 3,000 jobs, in­clud­ing new con­ser­va­tion rangers.

How­ever, the Green party’s MP, Caro­line Lu­cas, said: “The point about Roo­sevelt’s New Deal was that it was vi­sion­ary – for the 1930s. Ninety years on, we need a dif­fer­ent vi­sion so not a new deal, but a new deal and that has to go far be­yond tree-plant­ing, wel­come though that is.”

John­son’s spend­ing an­nounce­ments are in­tended to show that the gov­ern­ment is stick­ing to its lev­el­lingup agenda de­spite the im­pact of the Covid-19 pan­demic.

His lan­guage about parts of the coun­try be­ing ne­glected echoes that used by Jeremy Cor­byn, who said many of those who backed Brexit in 2016 were from “places that have been left be­hind” – many of which went on to vote Tory in De­cem­ber.

White­hall sources said the prime min­is­ter’s speech would fo­cus on the medium and longer term needs of the econ­omy and that the chan­cel­lor, Rishi Su­nak, would be pro­vid­ing short­term sup­port for growth in his sum­mer up­date next month. “This is part of the same over­all eco­nomic plan and the fi­nanc­ing of it”, one said.

The Trea­sury has been work­ing closely with No 10 on John­son’s pack­age, which does not in­volve new spend­ing but will al­lo­cate some of the £600bn-plus that Su­nak ear­marked in his March bud­get for cap­i­tal projects over the next five years.

The chan­cel­lor be­lieves the gov­ern­ment should show that it can spend the sums al­ready pledged – the high­est net in­vest­ment since 1955 ad­justed for in­fla­tion – be­fore in­creas­ing the in­fra­struc­ture bud­get fur­ther. The in­di­vid­ual pledges have met the Trea­sury’s value for money tests.

The chan­cel­lor has been en­cour­aged by the signs that the de­ci­sion to open non-es­sen­tial shops in Eng­land from 15 June has led to a big­ger in­crease in spend­ing than he ex­pected.

De­spite calls for him to an­nounce a blan­ket cut in VAT, Su­nak is keener on mea­sures that boost em­ploy­ment and tar­get sup­port at sec­tors such as hos­pi­tal­ity, which have been hit hard by the lock­down.

The shadow chan­cel­lor, An­neliese Dodds, urged John­son to show “a laser-like fo­cus on pre­vent­ing fur­ther job losses and sup­port­ing fu­ture em­ploy­ment”. Labour has been call­ing for a “bud­get for jobs” to re­duce lay­offs in the com­ing months.

The chan­cel­lor is billing his sum­mer state­ment as the sec­ond phase of a three-part re­sponse to Covid-19, af­ter the emer­gency sup­port pro­vided in the spring and ahead of the bud­get and a au­tumn spend­ing re­view.

Last week, John­son an­nounced plans for pubs, restau­rants and ho­tels to re­open on Satur­day, in a move gov­ern­ment sci­en­tific ad­vis­ers con­ceded was “not risk-free”.

Min­is­ters have also been stung by the back­lash from par­ents against the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to en­sure more chil­dren could go back to school.

Later this week, the ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary, Gavin Wil­liamson, is ex­pected to an­nounce more de­tails of the gov­ern­ment’s plans for get­ting all chil­dren back to school in Septem­ber.

John­son’s prom­ise of more money for in­fra­struc­ture comes along­side a shake-up of White­hall ma­chin­ery, which has al­ready seen the de­par­ture an­nounced of the cab­i­net sec­re­tary, Mark Sed­will, with more changes ex­pected in the com­ing days.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: CHRIS FAIRWEATHE­R/HUW EVANS/REX/SHUTTERSTO­CK

▼ Chil­dren on their first day back at Wil­liamstown pri­mary school in south Wales

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