Afternoon summary

  • Johnson has argued that his levelling up plans will “take the pressure off parts of the overheating south-east”. The claim is significant because the Conservatives have been struggling to explain why levelling up would support their wealthier supporters, particularly in the home counties. (See 9.56am.)

And here is an analysis from my colleague Aubrey Allegretti, with key points from the speech, and why they are significant.


Here are verdicts on Boris Johnson’s speech from five more commentators.

Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times (paywall) says Johnson cannot ignore economic reality forever. He says:

Perhaps most concerning for Tories should be the signs that Johnson, in his glib dismissal of challenges, is beginning to evince a Thatcherite belief in his invulnerability. Doggedness is admirable, but a refusal to heed warnings because they are coming from the wrong people carries costs.

His closing speech was an ebullient and effective tour de force. But the optimistic vision is outpacing reality. Panic buying is a warning that the public does not trust the government’s ability to manage the seismic changes it seeks to visit on the economy. The fear lurking even among Tory strategists is that voters may conclude he is all destination and no map.

Stephen Bush in the New Statesman says this could be the high watermark of Johnsonism.

Nonetheless, we might be witnessing the high watermark of “Johnsonism”. What wasn’t in the speech was as significant as what was. We now have a pretty clear idea of what Johnson means by “levelling up”: it’s equality of opportunity and a diffusion of high-quality jobs and career opportunities outside London and England’s other great cities. But we are far from having an idea of what levers Johnson will pull to deliver that, and how much money he is going to spend on it and where.

James Forsyth at the Spectator says Johnson has left no political space for Labour.

Johnson’s political aim was clear. To sprawl across the centre-ground, to ensure that to outflank him you have to go pretty far to the left on economics and the right on culture. He was the NHS lover who opposes cancel culture ...

At the end of this conference season it is clear that the biggest threat to Johnson is events, not Keir Starmer or some internal rival. He dominates his own party and when the Tories are raising taxes to put more money into the NHS it is hard to see what political space is left for Labour. The danger for Johnson, though, is that energy prices push up inflation and that voters start to feel their living standards being squeezed. If that happens, Johnson would find those circumstances a far more serious threat to his electoral coalition than any of Starmer’s attacks on him.

Andrew Gimson at ConservativeHome says Johnson has “a gift amounting to genius for making humdrum projects sound adventurous, enjoyable, even poetic”.

This was, in its way, one of the most brilliant performances I can remember from a British politician. Nobody in modern times has used humour so effectively to raise his followers’ morale, assert his personal primacy and ridicule his rivals.

But what is left? What will be remembered? Not much, perhaps.

And these are from the Times’ Matt Chorley.

My take on the Johnson speech

✅ finally got to celebrate election win
✅ optimism works - for members & country
✅ still the funniest politician in U.K.
❌total lack of policy for any of the urgent crises
❌higher wages gamble is a gamble
❌To anyone outside, sounds deluded

— Matt Chorley (@MattChorley) October 6, 2021

It is possible to find yourself laughing at some of the gags while also thinking “are you actually taking the piss?”

Pig farmers, logistics firms, UC claimants, gas bill payers, motorists, turkey eaters - fine to annoy them individually but collectively that’s a lot of people.

— Matt Chorley (@MattChorley) October 6, 2021

Too often I’ve predicted that the schtick is wearing thin.

But this stuff matters. And a joke about beavers isn’t going to keep the lights on, reform social care, put food on the table or reverse decades of economic problems.

— Matt Chorley (@MattChorley) October 6, 2021


Here is the verdict on Boris Johnson’s speech from today’s Guardian Comment panel. There are contributions from Justine Greening, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Simon Jenkins, James Johnson and Nesrine Malik.

Boris Johnson walked on stage to the soundtrack of Blue Cassette, by the indie band Friendly Fires, before he gave his speech. The band are furious.

— Friendly Fires (@FriendlyFires) October 6, 2021


Thinktanks on the right have criticised Boris Johnson’s speech (see 3.19pm), and – more predictably – thinktanks and campaign groups on the left have done so too. Here are some of their comments.

From Torsten Bell, head of the Resolution Foundation, a thinktank focusing on low pay and inequality:

The prime minister kicked off his speech calling for a completely new economic strategy, but by the time he finished the country was none the wiser about what that would involve – beyond lower migration.

While lower migration will increase the relative wages of HGV drivers in the short term, it will do nothing to address the underlying problems of weak productivity growth and high inflation that are holding back the living standards of British families.

From Katie Schmuecker, deputy director of policy and partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the anti-poverty charity:

The prime minister’s attempt to strike an upbeat tone is completely at odds with the despair people are feeling and the cost-of-living crisis we are now facing. He has chosen to cut £20 a week from the incomes of millions including many who are in work as well as those who cannot work due to sickness, disability or caring responsibilities.

From Carys Roberts, executive director of the IPPR thinktank:

The prime minister promised to break with the past, but with today’s £20 universal credit cut we are seeing more of the same. To truly turn our back on the UK’s broken economic model, the prime minister should have announced a transformative economic agenda.

From Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group:

The prime minister’s vocabulary was action-packed but the big action for struggling families has been a universal credit cut that leaves them without enough to live on. The opportunity the prime minister speaks of will feel like a vanishing light for these families – in their millions.


Greater Manchester police have paid a leading Bahraini human rights activist thousands of pounds in settlement of a claim he brought against them after they barred him from entry to the 2019 Conservative party conference where he was due to speak at a fringe event.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, had been due to speak at an event by the charity Freedom from Torture and the Conservative thinktank Bright Blue about his experience of torture during Bahrain’s 2011 Arab spring uprising.

Along with the payout, Greater Manchester police have agreed to policy changes around party conference accreditation.

News of the payout has emerged after Windrush activists were turned away from the Conservative party conference this week.

In the settlement the chief constable of Greater Manchester police recognised that the force’s decision to exclude Alwadaei was unlawful and violated his rights under human rights laws.

Alwadaei said: “Being refused entry to the conference felt like an attempt to censor me, particularly as I was attending to discuss the UK government’s support for the Bahraini regime, which has subjected me and countless others to horrific acts of torture.”

UPDATE: A GMP spokesperson said:

We accept the concerns raised by Mr Alwadaei regarding the decision to refuse accreditation to the 2019 Conservative party conference and the subsequent appeal process.

Following legal discussions between both parties, an out of court financial settlement has been agreed in this case.


The latest edition of the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast is out. Rowena Mason and Heather Stewart dissect the prime minister’s speech at Conservative party conference. Plus, Aubrey Allegretti looks at why some Tory MPs are warning the party over its plans to level up the country.

Boris Johnson’s revived policy of £3,000 bonuses for new science and maths teachers willing to work in English regions with a shortage (see 1.22pm) has received muted praise.

Natalie Perera of the Education Policy Institute said:

Our research has uncovered severe shortages of teachers in subjects such as maths and physics, especially in disadvantaged areas of the country, where they are far less likely to have a degree in the subject they teach.

The government’s move to reinstate targeted payments that aim to get teachers into challenging areas is therefore a welcome move – albeit one that has come late in the day.

The government adopted our recommendations in 2019 when it originally introduced the policy, only to scrap it in 2020 – a decision which was very short-sighted given the precarious position of the teacher labour market at the time.

The previous scheme paid maths and science teachers up to £7,500 if they were willing to work in areas of relative disadvantage, such as Blackpool and Derby.

How old is the policy of cash sweeteners to attract maths and science graduates? In 2005 trainee maths and science teachers also received “golden hellos” – but a more generous £5,000, which was in turn worth more in real terms 16 years ago.


Boris Johnson joined by his wife Carrie on stage after delivering his keynote speech at the Conservative conference.
Boris Johnson joined by his wife Carrie on stage after delivering his keynote speech at the Conservative conference. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

And here is some trade union reaction to Boris Johnson’s speech.

From France O’Grady, the TUC general secretary:

If Boris Johnson was serious about levelling up Britain, he wouldn’t be slashing universal credit in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

The PM is in no position to lecture people on wages when he is holding down the pay of millions of key workers in the public sector.

And when he is doing nothing to fix the gaping hole in local authority budgets that has resulted in most social care workers being paid less than the real living wage.

As the country’s biggest employer, the government should be setting an example on paying staff properly – not skimping on wages.

My advice to the PM is simple. The best way to level up pay and conditions across the country is to give workers and their unions more bargaining power at work.

From Unite’s new general secretary, Sharon Graham:

Without serious action, this speech is nothing more than headline chasing by a prime minister desperate to deflect from the serious and growing cost-of-living crisis happening on his watch.

If the prime minister genuinely wants to reverse the years of insecurity and falling wages, then he knows what to do about it: establish sector bargaining to put a solid floor underneath workers’ earnings and stop the never-ending race to the bottom.

From Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA transport union:

As ever, this political jester came up with nothing but hot air.

We had slogans over specifics at a time when costs are rising, inflation is a real worry, universal credit is reduced for millions, there are widespread food and fuel shortages and a very real climate crisis.


Johnson's speech condemned by Thatcherite thinktanks as 'vacuous and economically illiterate''

In some respects Boris Johnson was presenting himself as the heir to Margaret Thatcher in his conference speech, as he claimed to have the “guts” to address problems bedevilling the British economy for decades (see 9.17am), but rightwing Thatcherites in thinktanks and campaign groups have been among the strongest critics of the speech.

Mark Littlewood, who runs the Institute of Economic Affairs, accused Johnson of just offering “more state intervention and spending”. He said:

The prime minister says he wants a high wage economy. That requires gains in productivity, which we would see if the government started deregulating rather than over-regulating.

He says he wants a low-tax economy, but his government is likely to oversee the highest burden of tax since the Attlee postwar socialist government.

Unnecessarily restricting the supply of labour may lead to wage increases, but these will be passed on in price increases. A strategy to make things more expensive will not create a genuinely high-wage economy, merely the illusion of one.

Boris Johnson’s rhetoric is always optimistic and enterprising, but insofar as there were actual policies behind it, they seemed to involve yet more state intervention and spending.

The Adam Smith Institute, another free-market thinktank, said that Johnson’s speech was “vacuous and economically illiterate”, that it set out “an agenda for levelling down”, and that the PM’s policies were inflationary.

"Boris’ rhetoric was bombastic but vacuous and economically illiterate."

Commenting on Boris Johnson's #CPC21 final speech, our Head of Research Matthew Lesh says:

— Adam Smith Institute (@ASI) October 6, 2021

The IEA and the ASI were both very influential on Tory policymaking in the Thatcher era but both have little or no clout with No 10 now.

And the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which campaigns for low government spending, has also criticised the speech. Its chief executive, John O’Connell, said:

We’re a long way away from the PM’s high-wage, low-tax economy.

Taxpayers deserve to know how the prime minister plans to get to the economy of opportunity he talks up.

If Boris wants to build back better, he needs to set out a roadmap to cut taxes, raise living standards and boost growth.

The TPA is normally quite supportive towards the Tories.


CBI says Johnson's economic policies could stoke inflation

Boris Johnson’s speech has failed to inspire business groups, who are sceptical of the platform he set out.

The CBI says Johnson’s economic policies could stoke inflation. Tony Danker, its director general, said:

The prime minister has set out a compelling vision for our economy. High wages, high skills, high investment and high growth.

But the PM has only stated his ambition on wages. This needs to be backed up by action on skills, on investment and on productivity.

Ambition on wages without action on investment and productivity is ultimately just a pathway for higher prices.

Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said Johnson had not explained how he would deliver the economic improvements he is proposing. She said:

There is much in the prime minister’s ambition for the future of the United Kingdom which should be rightly applauded, but what businesses urgently need are answers to the problems they are facing in the here and now.

Firms are dealing with a cumulative crisis in business conditions as supply chains crumple, prices soar, taxes rise and labour shortages hit new heights.

The economic recovery is on shaky ground and if it stalls then the private sector investment and tax revenues that the prime minister wants to fuel his vision will be in short supply.

And Mike Cherry, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, also said the PM did not have a plan for growth.

Our Chairman, Mike Cherry, reacts to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's speech at the #CPC21.

— FSB (@fsb_policy) October 6, 2021

These responses are not wholly surprising because one of the themes of the week has been how the Conservatives are becoming an anti-business party. This started with Brexit, a policy opposed by mainstream business, but now Johnson escalating his anti-business rhetoric rather than seeking to dial it down.


PM's 'vacuous' speech ignored many crises facing UK, says Labour

Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party chair, has described Boris Johnson’s speech as vacuous. In a statement she said:

Boris Johnson’s vacuous speech summed up this whole Conservative conference. The PM talked more about beavers than he did about action to tackle the multiple crises facing working people up and down the country.

Far from getting a grip on the spiralling costs of energy, fuel and food, the Tories are actively making things worse – cutting incomes today for 6 million families by over £1,000 a year.

Britain deserves a fairer, greener and more secure future. Last week Labour set out how we can get there. This week it’s clear that after over a decade in power the Conservatives don’t have a clue.


Boris Johnson delivering his leader’s speech.
Boris Johnson delivering his leader’s speech. Photograph: James Veysey/REX/Shutterstock

Johnson's speech 'waffle and deflection', says SNP

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, has dismissed Boris Johnson’s speech as “waffle and deflection”. In a statement he said:

Boris Johnson’s shameless attempt to shift the blame onto anyone but himself will do nothing to fix the crisis he has caused with his disastrous hard Brexit and cruel Tory cuts.

For all the waffle and deflection, the prime minister cannot escape the fact that millions of families are poorer and worse off as a direct result of his government’s damaging policies.

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 prime minister is the ultimate snake oil salesman with empty promises of jam tomorrow, when in reality his Brexit deal has been a disaster - costing Scotland billions of pounds, causing UK exports to collapse, hitting businesses by millions a week, and resulting in rising prices, severe staffing shortages and empty supermarket shelves.

Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, has also commissioned a “deep-dive” investigation into persistent absenteeism in schools in England, amid concerns that a growing number of pupils have become disengaged from their studies altogether and have stopped attending post-Covid.

Attendance rates were at 95% pre-pandemic, but are now down to 90%, though Covid-related absence only accounted for 2.5% of absences last week.

Zahawi told the World at One that he wanted to work with schools and Ofsted to try to learn from their inspections how some schools managed to keep attendance up while others with a similar demographic struggled with attendance.


Zahawi admits 'levelling up premium' for teachers new version of old policy

On the World at One Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, was asked if the “levelling up premium” for maths and science teachers announced by the prime minister today (see 1.22pm) was effectively just a U-turn, or a return to an old policy. He did not deny it. He replied:

If we have policies that work, I’m a pragmatist when it comes to these things; if something has worked, then why not, when you have teacher shortages in core subjects, focused very much on particular parts of the country that really need them, focused very much on years 1 to 5, then let’s try and encourage those teachers to stay in the profession or join the profession. So it is a good announcement.

This is from Sam Freedman, a former Department for Education adviser.

The £3k for teachers isn't a new policy. It was a policy launched in 2019 and recently scrapped. This is actually a u-turn to bring it back for maths and science! (Acknowledging that recruitment has gone off a cliff due to wider labour shortages.)

— Sam Freedman (@Samfr) October 6, 2021

And this is from the Independent’s Rob Merrick.

So Boris Johnson has….

+ Axed a £5,000 bonus scheme to send teachers to struggling areas

+ And now announced a £3,000 bonus scheme to send teachers to struggling areas

…..and hailed it as ‘levelling up'

— Rob Merrick (@Rob_Merrick) October 6, 2021

Boris Johnson's speech - verdict from Twitter commentariat

And here is some reaction to the speech from political journalists and commentators.

From the Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman

Boris Johnson now squats like a giant toad across British politics. He has expanded the Overton window in both directions. Praising bankers and drug companies, while tight on immigration and woke history. Cheered for lauding the NHS and pro LGBT. Where does Labour find a gap?

— Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) October 6, 2021

From the Spectator’s James Forsyth

That was a very Boris Johnson speech. No attempt to fit with the usual rules of Prime Ministerial rhetoric. But, as his time as Foreign Secretary showed, it doesn’t work for him when he tries to conform. So, he has clearly decided to stick with the approach that got him to No10

— James Forsyth (@JGForsyth) October 6, 2021

From the Times’ George Grylls

The most important policy announcement in that speech was arguably a policy retraction.

Boris Johnson says that government will stop “jamming” homes in South East.

Echoes what Gove said earlier this week about planning reforms.

— George Grylls (@georgegrylls) October 6, 2021

From ITV’s Robert Peston

.@BorisJohnson speech condensed from 45 mins to 20 secs: I’ll defend our history against woke censorship; I’ll build houses but not where they would upset Tory supporters; Starmer was unpatriotic by challenging me during Covid; we can’t “level up” if we let in unskilled…

— Robert Peston (@Peston) October 6, 2021

migrants. Plus this stuff I wrote about at greater length

— Robert Peston (@Peston) October 6, 2021

From the Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar

Boris Johnson sets out his simple, populist narrative for the country. Broad brush optimism rather than any detail.

But the danger of his boosterism is that the gap between the rhetoric and the reality for people becomes ever more stark, and he sounds out of touch

— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) October 6, 2021

From my colleague Jessica Elgot

One of the key themes of this speech is its extraordinary revisionism - no more so than the portrayal of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul as a great triumph because we had to conduct an airlift to get our citizens out

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) October 6, 2021

From Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall

Thoughts on that speech and conf season more genrally

Leaders' speeches rarely remembered. That one might be. Either as a magnificent piece of political positioning where the PM made the problems of his signature policy into virtue or a Callaghanesque "Crisis, what crisis" x 10.

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) October 6, 2021

From the BBC’s Sima Kotecha

V good point from @iainjwatson - as ppl are lining up outside petrol stations, as ppl are having universal credit allowance cut, as pigs are being killed due to labour shortages, and as prices are rising above some wages, the PM’s optimistic tone won’t have resonated with every1

— Sima Kotecha (@sima_kotecha) October 6, 2021

From the i’s Paul Waugh

Another shaggy dog story from the Old English sheepdog who occupies No10.

Upbeat, but tin-eared. Real risk of forgetting that complacency is the Tories' Kryptonite.

My snap analysis on the PM's 'speech'.

— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) October 6, 2021

From Politics Home’s Kate Proctor

Boris Johnson's speech:
- about mission, not policy
- praising capitalism + bashing the left
- boundless optimism and jokes the party/ministers love
- £3k for maths + science teachers who work in poor areas...already criticised
- Aukus a benefit of Brexit, also debatable

— Kate Proctor (@Kate_M_Proctor) October 6, 2021

From my colleague Owen Jones

Boris Johnson's speech was classic clown style over substance while his government empties the pockets of the poor

But it underlines the hole Starmer has dug for himself: Johnson painted him as a chameleon and Labour as a party at war, both because Starmer abandoned his promises

— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) October 6, 2021

Watching Boris Johnson do his optimistic sunny uplands schtick, while, say, imposing a real terms pay cut on the nurses who carried us through catastrophe grates.

But the Tories are offering a clear vision, however deceitful it is, while Labour has no cut through message.

— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) October 6, 2021

The full text of Boris Johnson’s speech is not on the Conservative party’s website yet, but the Spectator has published it here.

From the Independent’s Jon Stone

Tory press office insisting Boris Johnson’s speech transcript has been sent out to journalists, but nobody seems to have got it. after some confusion turns out it has gone straight into everyone's ‘junk’ folder (this isn’t a joke it actually happened)

— Jon Stone (@joncstone) October 6, 2021

This is from Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, on Boris Johnson’s speech.

Boris Johnson might as well have made that speech in a parallel universe. 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.

— Ed Davey MP 🔶🇪🇺 (@EdwardJDavey) October 6, 2021

Details of 'levelling up premium' for maths and science teachers

The Conservatives have sent out a briefing note on the one policy announcement in Boris Johnson’s speech: the “levelling up premium” for maths and science teachers going to underprivileged areas. (See 11.57am.) Here is an extract.

Teachers will be given levelling-up premiums of up to £3,000 per teacher, to improve teacher quality and support disadvantaged children, the prime minister has announced today.

Based on rigorous research, these premiums will help with recruitment and retention of specialist teachers in shortage subjects, in the schools and areas that need them most.

Covid has caused major disruption to the education system, meaning disadvantaged schools are more likely to face teacher supply and retention issues – which in turn can undermine teaching quality and affect pupils who are already struggling.

That is why the government will target teachers in years 1 to 5 (early-career teachers) in four core subjects facing the greatest supply challenges (maths, physics, chemistry and computing).

Levelling-up premiums will help to address teacher supply challenges and improve teacher quality through retaining teachers who have gained those valuable first years of experience in the classroom.

The Tories are briefing that £60m will be allocated for this.

But there are also claims that it is little more than a less generous version of a scheme that was announced two years ago.


Boris Johnson’s speech – snap verdict

One of Jeremy Corbyn’s aides once told me that Corbyn always gives essentially the same speech, and it is true. That’s why, despite his huge popularity with his fans, no one has ever published a volume of his collected speeches. Boris Johnson’s hero is Winston Churchill, whose collected speeches used to be an essential item on any well-stocked bookshelf in a home in Britain. But that will never happen for Johnson because, like Corbyn, he basically just gives the same speech every time. The jokes may evolve, but the performance - and the overall pitch - doesn’t.

As usual, there was no attempt to place the speech in any context, to relate it to what is happening in the world today. There was only a cursory mention of the fuel crisis, and no reference to the universal credit cut happening this week. A host of serious problems sitting on the desk of the PM, such as the Northern Ireland protocol, were ignored completely. Johnson showed no interest in sustaining an argument much further than could be compressed in a tweet. As usual, the whole thing sounded like an impromptu after-dinner speech; this is a classic Johnson conceit, although, of course, to convincingly sound improvised takes a lot of rehearsal.

But what you do get from a Johnson speech are jokes and positivity. This speech had only one tiny announcement (see 11.57am), an audacious argument about the economy that he has been making all week (see 9.17am) and some fresh, pro-nimby spin on levelling up (see 9.56am). There was critique of Keir Starmer as a hijacked cruise liner captain (see 12.09pm). But in so far as there was political substance in it, it was smothered in fluff, cheery Tory waffle. This is what the Conservative party was voting for when they made Johnson leader, and most of them seem to still like it.

Johnson’s critics will despair that the prime minister of the day can deliver a speech so shallow. What they object to most is Johnson’s lack of seriousness. But the danger is that they are making a category error. One of the secrets of Johnson’s success has been to view politics not so much as statesmanship, but as a branch of the entertainment industry (he applied the same approach to journalism), and to gamble that excessive geniality and positivity trumps everything. History and common sense suggest that, at some point, reality as experienced by 65 million people will prevail, but Johnson’s approach has worked for him so far and perhaps it will for longer.

Boris Johnson delivering his speech.
Boris Johnson delivering his speech. Photograph: James McCauley/REX/Shutterstock


Johnson ends speech saying he wants to unleash Olympic spirit

Johnson is now talking about Emma Raducanu, and Team GB’s success at the Olympics.

And that happened even though the UK has just 0.8% of the world’s population – despite his and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s best efforts (they both have six children, although in Johnson’s case rumours persist there could be more).

Johnson say it was “incredible” Britain did so well at the Olympics and Paralympics. He goes on:

That shows our values, not only the achievement of those elite athletes but a country that is proud to be a trailblazer, to judge people not by where they come from, but by their spirit, and by what is inside them.

That is the spirit that is the same across this country, in every town and village and city, that can be found in the hearts and minds of kids growing up everywhere. And that is the spirit, we are going to unleash.

And that’s it. The speech is over.


Johnson says people are attacking the values of Britain.

When people attacked Churchill as a racist, Johnson was, he says, at first tempted to ignore them.

But when he realised they really did want to rewrite the national story, he took the threat seriously.

He says in his last message to his ministers, Churchill said “man is spirit”. He says he thinks that is right.

He says the only countries to have produced more than 100 unicorns – start-ups worth $100m – are the US, China and UK.


Johnson says Aukus is an example of what the UK can achieve outside the EU. He says it is obviously a good idea the Labour conference voted against it. The UK, the US and Australian have joined together to stand up for democracy and free trade,

He says very few countries could have pulled off the Kabul airlift.

Johnson says the government has persuaded the US to accept British beef. “Build back beef,” he says.

Johnson says that Labour opposed the lifting of Covid restrictions. If Starmer had been in charge, we would still be in lockdown, he says. If Columbus had listened to him, he would have only discovered Tenerife.

Johnson is now citing the move to net zero as a function of Tory optimism.

That’s the difference between this radical and optimistic Conservatism and a tired old Labour.

Keir Starmer looked like a “seriously rattled bus conductor”, he says.

He calls him “Captain Hindsight”, and also describes him as like “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”.


Johnson is now talking about Cop26. Government cannot tackle climate change alone, he says.

He recalls visiting a plant working on wind turbines.

The workers had the satisfaction of knowing that they were working on something that would save the planet, he says.

Johnson is now back on vaccines, and he says the lesson from the vaccine success was that it was a triumph of capitalism.

It was the private sector that made it possible. Behind those vaccines are companies and shareholders – I guess, bankers. You need deep pools of liquidity that had to be found in the City of London. It was capitalism that ensured we had a vaccine in less than a year, and the answer is not to attack the wealth creators, is to encourage them, because they are responsible for the aggregate increase in the country’s wealth that enables us to make this greater improvement and to level up everyone.


Johnson is now talking about the joys of home ownership, and being able to paint your front door any colour – although he can’t at No 10, he says.


This speech is going helter-skelter. He is veering from one topic to another, very quickly. Although scripted, it sounds as if it isn’t, and it is hard to write up.


Johnson is now talking about the importance of people going back to the office.

He says the government has a £640bn build back better programme.

And now he is talking about rewilding, and describing how beavers are returning to rivers. If that isn’t Conservatism, what is, he asks. “Build back beaver.”


Johnson boasts about the rollout of gigabit broadband, with a jibe about Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, and his croft in the Highlands.

Johnson announces levelling up premium for maths and science teachers moving to underprivileged areas

Johnson says today he is announcing a levelling up premium of £3,000 to send the best maths and science teachers to places that need them most.

Johnson says he is the great grandson of someone who fled from Turkey to the UK to be safe.

He says the UK will welcome refugees from Afghanistan.

But he says he wants to tackle human trafficking.


Johnson says crime has been falling - not just because the country has been locked up for half that time, he says.

He says he supports the Broken Windows theory of crime.

He quotes an expert who questioned why the government was bothered about pet theft. But if you can steal a pet, there will be no limit to your depravity, he says.

He praises Priti Patel for introducing tougher measures for motorway protesters.

And he accuses Labour of voting against tougher penalties for sexual offences. He says cowardly men are getting away with violence against women, and he will not stand for it.

Johnson says Labour wants to let people off if they are using drugs. That is an answer “straight from the powder rooms of north London”, he says.

Johnson claims Labour does not like levelling up.

And he claims that in Islington, under Labour, they even have races for children where no one wins. That is no preparation for life, let alone for the Olympics, he says.

Johnson says the UK has one of the most lopsided economies.

And the inequalities are within regions, not just between them, he says.

He says:

What monkey glands are they applying in Ribble Valley, what royal jelly, are they eating that they live seven years longer than the people of Blackpool, only 33 miles away.

He quotes Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, which is about the waste of opportunity.

He says Thomas Gray wrote that in Stoke Poges, which is now one of the richest villages in England.

He says levelling up will work for the whole country, because it will ease the pressure on places like Stoke Poges.

And he uses the passage released overnight. See 9.56am.

Johnson is now using the passage released overnight about the need for a new economic model. (See 9.17am.)

He says, for example, there should be truck stops for drivers so they do not have to urinate in the bushes.

He says that will lead to a high-wage economy.

But it will take time, he says.


Johnson says the Covid crisis was a “lightning flash illumination” of a problem left unaddressed for decades: social care.

He says delayed discharge has exacerbated the problem.

He says it is unfair that treatment for cancer is funded by the state, but treatment of Alzheimer’s is not.

And he says the government will use new technology to help; it will ensure electronic patient records can be easily shared between health and social care.


Johnson praises the vaccine rollout.

He recalls being in hospital last year, and seeing a hole being dug outside his window. Perhaps it was for him, he says.

Now there is a new paediatric unit there, he says.

He says the NHS is the priority of the British people.

Does anyone think funding the NHS should not be a priority?

And he says Margaret Thatcher would not have ignored the problem. And she would have opposed more borrowing to fund it.

He says the Tories are the party that have looked after the NHS for most of its history.

Johnson says the government opened up.

But it had to persuade people it was safe, so it sent top government representatives to show anyone could dance safely (Michael Gove).

As usual, Johnson’s speech is like one of his old Telegraph columns. It is full of florid, extravagant phrase-making. You’ll need to read the text to get the full flavour of it.

Boris Johnson starts. “Let’s get going,” he says.

He says it is amazing to be back here in person.

He pays tribute to Tories who have won in places the party has not won before, such as Hartlepool.


Johnson is arriving now, with his wife Carrie.

The warm-up video is now showing clips from the Covid crisis. Rishi Sunak is getting prominent billing, but the clip of Johnson saying in March 2020 that the country would turn the tide in 12 weeks has mysteriously been left out.

Now the video shows the moment Huw Edwards read out the exit poll in December 2019 saying the election was going to produce a Conservative majority.

There is a now a clip of Johnson praising the NHS.

And now a clip of Johnson talking about opportunity.

And next his “Get Brexit done” slogan from the 2019 campaign.

In the conference hall they are now showing a video, starting with a clip from the day Boris Johnson called the 2019 election.

Tory members waiting for Boris Johnson to arrive to deliver his speech.
Tory members waiting for Boris Johnson to arrive to deliver his speech. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Boris Johnson about to give conference speech

Boris Johnson will be speaking soon. There will be a live feed at the top of the blog shortly.

In the conference hall they are playing now ELO’s Mr Blue Sky.


Boris Johnson with his wife, Carrie, and his sister Rachel (right) heading for the conference hall a few minutes ago.
Boris Johnson with his wife, Carrie, and his sister Rachel (right) heading for the conference hall a few minutes ago.

Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Some sectors of economy experiencing 'real panic and despondency', says Next boss

Lord Wolfson, chief executive of Next and a Conservative peer, told the Today programme this morning that there is “real panic and despondency” in some business sectors over the impact of labour shortages.

In an interview yesterday Boris Johnson claimed Wolfson - and other business leaders - just wanted to allow uncontrolled immigration to carry on. This morning Wolfson said that Johnson was wrong, and that he (Wolfson) was proposing a more subtle solution. He said:

What I’ve suggested is that we have a market-led solution whereby businesses can get visas for the skills that they desperately need, but with two conditions.

The first is that they have to pay those people who are coming from overseas the same wages as they pay UK workers and over and above that they have to pay a visa tax on top of that, let’s say 7% of wages.

That way we can have a market-led solution that ensures that people aren’t being brought into the UK to undercut UK workers, because they’ll always be more expensive and it provides the skills that Britain desperately needs to keep its industries moving.

Wolfson said Johnson’s approach was leading to “queues at petrol stations and pigs being unnecessarily shot”, and that this was not constructive.

He said the problems for Next were “relatively mild” at the moment, although he said next-day deliveries might suffer.

But other companies were facing much more severe problems, he said. He went on:

When I talk to people who are in the restaurant industry or the hotel industry or the care home industry, there is real panic and despondency.

Lord Wolfson
Lord Wolfson Photograph: Next/PA

Yesterday the French EU affairs minister, Clément Beaune, said the EU could hit Britain and Jersey’s energy supply over the UK’s failure to provide sufficient fishing licences to French fishers. My colleague Daniel Boffey has the story.

Asked about the dispute today, Dominic Raab, the deputy PM and justice secretary, said the UK would remain “calm but resolute”. He told TalkRadio:

I don’t think war is on the cards and I spoke to the government of Jersey yesterday about this.

Of course, what the French need to adjust to is the new reality as we have left the EU, we have got a free trade deal; it includes scope on fishing but they can’t expect to have the kind of quotas they had previously, unlimited access.

Asked whether the government is responding with a Gallic shrug, Raab replied: “Maybe that’s the answer. I think we should be calm but resolute.”

Dominic Raab being interviewed this morning.
Dominic Raab being interviewed this morning. Photograph: BBC Breakfast

Tory conference attendees queuing for Boris Johnson’s speech at the Manchester Central conference centre.
Tory conference attendees queuing for Boris Johnson’s speech at the Manchester Central conference centre.

Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

In his interviews this morning Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister and justice secretary, defended the universal credit cut, saying the £20 per week uplift which has been removed was always intended to be a temporary Covid measure. He said:

The £400bn that the government has put in to supporting the economy, workers and the most vulnerable is just clearly unsustainable long term. The UC uplift was always going to be temporary.

Boris Johnson going for a run this morning.
Boris Johnson going for a run this morning. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The last night of conference tends to be the best night for partying, and there is some remarkable footage around this morning of senior Tories out celebrating.

John Johnston from Politics Home posted this clip on Twitter of Michael Gove, the levelling up minister, dancing with Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee.

Michael Gove and Tom Tugendhat are having a *great* time on the dance floor at Tory conference.

— John Johnston (@johnjohnstonmi) October 6, 2021

And the Mirror has a story with footage of Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, belting out Time of my Life at another party.

As the Mirror’s story points out, it won’t really be Time of my Life for the four million families affected by the £20 per week universal credit cut taking effect today. It is the biggest one-off welfare cut ever. The Resolution Foundation’s Torsten Bell has the numbers.

Tomorrow 4.4 million households, with 5.1m adults and 3.5m children, will see their incomes fall by £1,000 overnight. For 1 million households that will mean an immediate loss of over 10% of their income as we take the basic rate of benefits to its lowest level since 1990

— Torsten Bell (@TorstenBell) October 5, 2021

Whatever this is, it’s not building back better.

— Torsten Bell (@TorstenBell) October 5, 2021

A woman walking past an anti-Conservative billboard this morning near the Manchester Central convention centre, where the Tory conference is taking place. It was put up by the campaign group, Led by Donkeys.
A woman walking past an anti-Conservative billboard this morning near the Manchester Central convention centre, where the Tory conference is taking place. It was put up by the campaign group, Led by Donkeys. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Dominic Raab confuses meaning of misogyny in BBC interview

Dominic Raab has rejected misogyny a hate crime in the wake of the Sarah Everard murder, but then appeared confused about its meaning as he suggested it could apply to abuse against either women or men, my colleague Rowena Mason reports.

Build Back Better ready for Tory activists to wave in the hall where Boris Johnson will be delivering his speech.
Build Back Better ready for Tory activists to wave in the hall where Boris Johnson will be delivering his speech.
Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Johnson says levelling up will 'take pressure off parts of overheating south-east'

Conservative HQ also released overnight an extract from Boris Johnson’s speech about levelling up. Here it is.

There is no reason why the inhabitants of one part of the country should be geographically fated to be poorer than others.

Or why people should feel they have to move away from their loved ones, or communities to reach their potential ...

Levelling up works for the whole country - and is the right and responsible policy.

Because it 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 are all kinds of improvements you can make to people’s lives without diminishing anyone else, and they are the tools of levelling up. If you want the idea in a nutshell it is that you will find talent, genius, flair, imagination, enthusiasm – all of them evenly distributed around this country – but opportunity is not, and it is our mission as conservatives to promote opportunity with every tool we have.

The Conservatives have been struggling to define levelling up, and to show that it is more than a slogan, but there are two interesting lines in this passage that take the argument on a bit.

Johnson says levelling up means that you should not have to move away from where your family live to reach your potential. This is the definition of levelling up that Michael Gove, the new levelling up secretary, gave in an interview with the Sun last week, although Gove did not include it in his own speech on levelling up on Monday, perhaps because it would not be an easy goal to achieve.

Johnson also tries to argue that levelling up will benefit richer areas in the south. Yesterday, at a fringe meeting, Dominic Raab, the deputy PM (who represents a wealthy constituency in the south), tried a version of this argument, saying levelling up could reduce the “tax revenue pressure” that seats like the one he represents face. This sounded questionable, and it also amounted to predicting that his area would become less rich in relative terms compared to the rest of the UK - which might not make it a winning argument for his constituents.

Johnson is making a different argument; the south might benefit from levelling up, he is saying, because it will “take the pressure off parts of the overheating south east”. In other words, he is presenting levelling up as a mechanism for implementing southern nimbyism.

As the Guardian reports today, the government is planning for more new housebuilding to take place in the north of England.

At the Conservative conference in Manchester members are already queueing for a place in the hall for Boris Johnson’s speech.

Conservative members queuing at the conference for Boris Johnson’s speech.
Conservative members queuing at the conference for Boris Johnson’s speech. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

As my colleague Jessica Elgot explains in a conference roundup, while cabinet ministers have been forced to deliver their speech in what is essentially a small box, seating just 600, Johnson will deliver his speech on a different stage, built specially for the occasion, in another part of the Manchester Central complex.


Boris Johnson to claim new Tory economic model will end ‘decades of drift and dither’

Good morning. People follow politics mostly through the media, and journalists are predominantly interested in what’s new, what has not been said or done before, what we are learning for the first time. They don’t call it the news for nothing. But effective political campaigning depends on finding a message that might resonate with the public and then delivering it over, and over, and over, and over again, until the journalists are heartily sick of it (but also capable of reciting it in their sleep). Only then, political strategists argue, will the public at large start to notice.

And we’re told that is what we are getting today when Boris Johnson wraps up the Conservative conference with his speech. We are not expecting any major policy announcements, but instead Johnson will restate the rather ingenious, counter-intuitive but tenuous argument that he has been making all week. Faced with labour shortages that are causing empty shelves in the shops and petrol stations to run out of fuel, Johnson’s critics are saying this shows Brexit isn’t working, and a more conventional prime minister would be focusing on a short-term fix. But Johnson is arguing that this is essentially a good thing, not a bad thing, because it shows that the economy is finally embarking on a transition away from a low wage, high immigration model, towards a high wage, high skill, high productivity alternative.

According to extracts from the speech released in advance, Johnson will effectively blame some of his Tory and Labour predecessors for the old model, claiming that he is ending “decades of drift and dither”. He will say:

After decades of drift and dither this reforming government, this can do government that got Brexit done, is getting the vaccine rollout done and is going to get social care done.

We are dealing with the biggest underlying issues of our economy and society.

The problems that no government has had the guts to tackle before ...

Because we are embarking now on the change of direction that has been long overdue in the UK economy.

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.

And the answer … is not to reach for the same old lever of uncontrolled migration to keep wages low.

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.

And that is the direction in which this country is going - towards a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy that the people of this country need and deserve, in which everyone can take pride in their work and the quality of their work.

To deliver that change we will get on with our job of uniting and levelling up across the UK - the greatest project that any government can embark on.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.10am: Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary and former vaccine deployment minister, hosts a panel discussion on the vaccine rollout.

9.50am: Neil O’Brien, the levelling up minister, and Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley mayor, speak in a panel on levelling up.

11.30am: Boris Johnson delivers his speech.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at



Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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