The prime minister has urged party members not to draw the “wrong economic conclusion” from the coronavirus crisis as he warns the state must “stand back” from its expanded role.
Speaking at the Conservative party conference today (October 6), Boris Johnson said the government had been “forced” by the pandemic to expand the role of the state in a way that went “against [its] instincts”.
He said: “We must be clear that there comes a moment when the state must stand back and let the private sector get on with it. We must not draw the wrong economic conclusion from this crisis.
“Rishi Sunak [...] has come up with some brilliant expedients to help business to protect jobs and livelihoods but let’s face it, he has done things that no Conservative chancellor would have wanted to do except in times of war or disaster.
“This government has been forced by the pandemic into [...] an expansion of the role of the state – from lockdown enforcement to the many bail-outs and subsidies – that go against our instincts, but we accept them because there is simply no reasonable alternative.”
Mr Johnson said there were people “on the left” who thought everything should be funded by the taxpayer and regarded the state expansion throughout the coronavirus crisis as “progress”.
Promoting the free market instead of state support, he added: “I have a simple message for those on the left, who think everything can be funded by uncle sugar the taxpayer.
“It isn’t the state that produces the new drugs and therapies we are using. It isn’t the state that will hold the intellectual property of the vaccine, if and when we get one. It wasn’t the state that made the gloves and masks and ventilators that we needed at such speed.
“It was the private sector, with its rational interest in innovation and competition and market share and, yes, sales.”
The government has provided unprecedented state support for households and businesses throughout the coronavirus crisis, with business loans and the furlough scheme helping firms stay afloat and retain staff.
Official figures published last month showed government borrowing totalled £173.7bn between April and August, the highest amount since records began.
But yesterday chancellor Rishi Sunak promised to “always balance the books”, stressing that the Conservative party could not “simply borrow its way out of any hole”.
Today, Mr Johnson pledged to “build back better” post-coronavirus, arguing that merely restoring normality was “not good enough”.
The prime minister said when plunged into lockdown in March, the UK economy was “on the face of it, in pretty good shape”.
He said: “We had a record number of people in jobs. We had record low unemployment. We were seeing growing exports.
“And yet if you looked more carefully you could see [...] 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.”