First Churchill, now Roosevelt: Johnson promises ‘UK New Deal’
PM to lay claim to vision on par with US president during Great Depression
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.
▼ Children on their first day back at Williamstown primary school in south Wales