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The Prime Minister's Conference Speech

Good morning conference, I want to begin by thanking you for everything you did at the election, pounding the streets in the middle of winter, prodding leaflets through the letterbox and into the jaws of dogs, to save this country from socialism and to win this party the biggest election victory in a generation.

I was going to say how great it is to be here in Birmingham but the fact is that we are not in Birmingham. This is not a conference hall, and alas I can’t see any of you in front of me.

There is no one to clap or heckle, and I don’t know about you but I have had more than enough of this disease that attacks not only human beings but so many of the greatest things about our country: our pubs, our clubs, our football, our theatre and all the gossipy gregariousness and love of human contact that drives the creativity of our economy.

So I want to thank you all for zooming in, and I can tell you that your government is working night and day to repel this virus, and we will succeed, just as this country has seen off every alien invader for the last thousand years and we will succeed by collective effort, by following the guidance and with the help of weekly and almost daily improvements in the medicine and the science, we will ensure that next time we meet it will be face to face and cheek by jowl, and we are working for the day when life will be back to normal, flying in a plane will be back to normal, and hairdressers will no longer look as though they are handling radioactive isotopes, and when we can go and see our loved ones in care homes, and when we no longer have to greet each other by touching elbows as in some giant national version of the Birdie dance.

I know the people of this country are going to defeat this virus because I have seen how the country has responded before, with the energy and self-sacrifice of the NHS, the care workers, the armed forces – the spirit that was incarnated in the bounding, boundless devotion of Captain Tom Moore.

But after all we have been through it isn’t enough just to go back to normal. We have lost too much. We have mourned too many.

We have been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo ante – to think that life can go on as it was before the plague; and it will not. Because history teaches us that events of this magnitude - wars famines, plagues, events that affect the vast bulk of humanity, as this virus has – they do not just come and go.

They are more often than not the trigger for an acceleration of social and economic change, because we human beings will not simply content ourselves with a repair job.

We see these moments as the time to learn and to improve on the world that went before.

That is why this government will build back better.

And to explain what I mean by build back better, I will use a medical metaphor.

I have read a lot of nonsense recently, about how my own bout of Covid has somehow robbed me of my mojo. And of course this is self-evident drivel, the kind of seditious propaganda that you would expect from people who don’t want this government to succeed, who wanted to stop us delivering Brexit and all our other manifesto pledges – and I can tell you that no power on earth was and is going to do that – and I could refute these critics of my athletic abilities in any way they want: arm-wrestle, leg-wrestle, Cumberland wrestle, sprint-off, you name it.

And yet I have to admit the reason I had such a nasty experience with the disease is that although I was superficially in the pink of health when I caught it I had a very common underlying condition.

My friends, I was too fat. And I have since lost 26 lbs, and you can imagine that in bags of sugar and I am going to continue that diet, because you’ve got to search for the hero inside yourself in the hope that that individual is considerably slimmer, and when you look at the general economic condition of this country when we went into lockdown there was a similarity because we were on the face of it in pretty good shape.

We had a record number of people in jobs. We had record low unemployment. We were seeing growing exports; and the only reason as Rishi Sunak pointed out in the last few months that we have been able to cope with the cost of the pandemic – to look after jobs and livelihoods in the way that we have – is that in the previous years we had sensible conservative management of the public finances.

And yet if you looked more carefully you could see – and indeed many of us said so at the time – that the UK economy had some chronic underlying problems: long-term failure to tackle the deficit in skills, inadequate transport infrastructure, not enough homes people could afford to buy, especially young people – and far too many people, across the whole country, who felt ignored and left out, that the government was not on their side; and so we cannot now define the mission of this country as merely to restore normality.

That isn’t good enough.

In the depths of the second world war, in 1942 when just about everything had gone wrong, the government sketched out a vision of the post war new Jerusalem that they wanted to build. And that is what we are doing now – in the teeth of this pandemic.

We are resolving not to go back to 2019, but to do better: to reform our system of government, to renew our infrastructure; to spread opportunity more widely and fairly and to create the conditions for a dynamic recovery that is led not by the state but by free enterprise.

We need to move fast, not just to deal with the immediate economic fall out, but because after 12 years of relative anaemia we need to lift the trend rate of growth. We need to lift people’s incomes, not just go back to where we were.

And it is clear from Covid that we need the economic robustness to deal with whatever the next cosmic spanner may be hurtling towards us in the dark; and the only way to ensure true resilience and long term prosperity is to raise the overall productivity of the country – and the bedrock of national productivity is of course something that we are responsible for, having great public services on which everyone – families, business, investors – can rely.

That means first a great health service; and so it is right that this government is pressing on with its plan for 48 hospitals. Count them. That’s the eight already underway, and then 40 more between now and 2030.

We need to get on with recruiting the 50,000 more nurses – and I am proud that we have 14,000 more since this government came into office; 14,000 more nurses now, under this Conservative government in the last year – and yet that isn’t enough.

We have seen the frantic global scrabble for vaccines, for therapies – and so now we are doubling our funding for all types of revolutionary scientific breakthroughs, with a national Advanced Research and Projects Agency; and while we are at it we will do what all governments have shirked for decades.

We will fix the injustice of care home funding, bringing the magic of averages to the rescue of millions.