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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to defeat coronavirus and build a better country over the next decade in his leader’s speech to the virtual Conservative Party conference. Evoking the UK’s recovery from World War 2, he said he wanted to build a “new Jerusalem”, with opportunity for all, improved housing and healthcare. He promised the Government will roll out new 95 percent mortgages for first-time buyers, invest in offshore wind and “explore the value of” one-to-one tuition in schools.
While Britons responded positively to the speech, political commentator Stephen Bush argued it is “hard to reconcile” with the words of Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivered earlier this week.
Mr Sunak warned that, ultimately, all these extraordinary coronavirus measures need to be paid for, and that there is a real cost to increasing the national debt in the manner he has done.
Mr Bush wrote in a recent report: “Whether you think Mr Sunak is right, right about the overall problem but wrong on the timing, or simply wrong is neither here nor there.
“What matters is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does believe that these measures need to be paid for and that this has real implications for the government’s agenda.
“What matters too is that whether or not you think the debt accrued during this crisis is worth worrying about, the long-term costs as far as our collective mental health and the particular challenges that will be experienced by essentially every school-age child during this crisis are very real.”
According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), for the current financial year (April 2020 to April 2021), the coronavirus bill could be anywhere from £263billion to £391billion.
Before the crisis, the Government was expecting to borrow about £55billion for the whole financial year, but it borrowed £128billion in the first three months alone.
Mr Bush noted: “Westminster’s memory of the fraught personal relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown means that people are perhaps too keen to read into the fact that Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak have a warm personal relationship.
“There are two problems with this: the first is that practically everybody who meets Mr Sunak has a warm personal relationship with him; the second is that Mr Blair and Mr Brown agreed on the big political issues of the day. That’s what made them so effective, just as the most important thing about the Cameron-Osborne duopoly wasn’t that they were close personal friends, but that they were closely politically aligned.
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“That lack of political alignment between the Government’s two biggest figures is why there is a gap between the lockdown measures across the country and the economic support provided – and that gap will not only grow to dominate the Government’s political life, but will have continued real-world consequences for all of us, too.”
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s continuous infighting with his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, heavily damaged Number 10.
Lord John Prescott, who served as deputy for Mr Blair, said after the 2010 general election: “We lost the election when we started attacking each other internally about Brown and Blair.”
The levels of distrust and infighting between the two men came into the open that year, after Mr Blair published his memoirs ‘A Journey’.
The former Prime Minister used his book to expose Mr Brown as a manipulative and “maddening” figure, who pushed him to his limits over the cash-for-honours scandal.
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Mr Blair claimed that his former Chancellor put “relentless personal pressure” on him during his time in Downing Street.
He admitted that he repeatedly considered sacking Mr Brown but failed to identify anyone who could replace him and eventually concluded that he was better “inside and constrained” than “outside and let loose”.
He described Mr Brown as a “maddening figure” who was not capable of being a “normal bloke” sort of politician, but conceded that he possessed an acute “analytical intelligence” which stood him in good stead as Chancellor.
He wrote: “My failure to [remove him] was not a lack of courage…It was because I believed, despite it all, despite my own feelings at times, that he was the best chancellor for the country.”
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