Its a lovely day tomorrow. tomorrow is a lovely day. boris johnson was channelling his inner vera lynn as he borrowed a sentiment from the wartime singer for his conservative party conference speech. the prime minister did not quote the song directly but this was the tune he was humming.
To hear his speech on tuesday morning, one might imagine the uk was now past the pandemic and already looking into the future. dancing crowds were out on the streets, if not hugging then at least shaking hands again, as they celebrated victory over covid day.
Admittedly he did talk about the fight to defeat the virus. but when he said he had had enough of this disease, we saw a man yearning to talk about that lovely tomorrow.
Nonetheless, mr johnsons instincts were wise. optimism is his best mode. he knows better than anyone that the uk is heading towards a hard winter and that he is facing mounting criticism over his handling of the crisis. his goal, then, is to point his party and the nations eyes to the spring and to a better future that only he can deliver.
With characteristic zest he tried to paint that lovely day tomorrow. it was a new clean, green, wind-powered world where in just 10 years time people would arrive at airports in their zero-carbon jets, flash their blue passports (paper passports still not very futuristic), drive hydrogen trucks and be teleported between meetings something like that anyway.
The country would build back better with a series of plans that by happy chance were exactly the ones in his manifesto before the crisis broke. they include easier mortgages for the young and improved training for the jobs of tomorrow, most of which appear to be in windmills.
Comparing post-pandemic britain to his own brush with the virus, he reminded his virtual audience that he had been too fat, and that like him, the country had to get leaner, fitter and more productive. well, leaner and fitter anyway. it was also a way of rebutting suggestions that the virus had cost him his mojo. had the event been live, press-ups might have followed and he clearly missed his audience. mr johnson is a man who feeds off the energy of a crowd. while his performance was typically exuberant, one could see him yearning for a response.
A live gathering would especially have enjoyed the well-aimed swipes at labour and its leader keir starmer, and the robust defence of pride in british culture and history. tory advisers clearly feel the pms jibe of calling sir keir captain hindsight for his after-the-fact criticism of the governments covid crisis management is hitting home.
The attack on labour led into the most compelling passage as he warned that, while the government had stepped in for the crisis, the state was not a long-term answer. he followed with a trenchant restatement of tory belief in the private sector and of turning the uk into a lower tax, lower regulation economy. it is what his party wants to hear and he will know that it is hearing it mostly from his chancellor and potential successor, rishi sunak. curiously, though, he also likened his plans for a better tomorrow to the postwar programme of the attlee government, which heralded a huge increase in the role of the state.
Conference speeches are always high-level, so much will depend on the detail of his policies. mr johnsons message was that conservative instincts make his party better placed to shape the post-covid future. but first we have to be post-covid and the big question is how much the crisis response has shaken voters faith in his ability to deliver that future.
Still, mr johnsons song was of better times, a bluer, greener world on the other side of night. come and feast your tear-dimmed eyes, on tomorrows clear blue skies. if today your heart is weary, if evry little thing looks gray, just forget your troubles and learn to say, tomorrow is a lovely day.