Boris Johnson accepts 'difficult' times ahead in conference speech devoid of new major policies

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana sums up the main policies in Boris Johnson's speech and asked fellow Tories what they thought of it

Boris Johnson has accepted there will be "difficult" times ahead as he attempts to transition the UK to a high wage economy.

Appearing to address the increased cost of living caused by rising inflation, taxes and energy bills, the prime minister insisted to the Conservative Party conference that his levelling up plan will result in a fairer “low tax” system.

“That’s the direction in which the country is going now – towards a high-wage, high-skilled, high-productivity and, yes, thereby a low-tax economy. That is what the people of this country need and deserve," he said.

“Yes, it will take time, and sometimes it will be difficult, but that is the change that people voted for in 2016.”

The prime minister did not announce any major new policies in his key-note speech, but he did deliver a rallying cry to the party membership as he defended his tax hikes to fund health and social care reform.

The recurring theme of the PM's address to the membership was the idea of "levelling up" and "building back better".

One of the few new policy announcements was a £3,000 “levelling up premium” for talented maths, physics and chemistry teachers to go and work in areas which need them.

But rather than revealing major policies, he pointed to things he plans to achieve, such as improving the NHS, fixing the social care system, fighting crime, and cutting illegal immigration.

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Defending his National Insurance increase to pay for improvements to the NHS and the social care system, Mr Johnson said: "Does anyone seriously imagine that we should not now be raising the funding to sort it out?"

And he attacked previous governments for lacking the “guts” for major change as he pledged to fix the social care crisis following the coronavirus pandemic.

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After reminding members how he had "got Brexit done", the PM said his government would "get social care done and we’re going to get the biggest underlying issues of our economy and society – the problems that no government has had the guts to tackle".

He added: "Margaret Thatcher would not have ignored this meteorite that has just crashed through the public finances.

"She would have wagged her finger and said that more borrowing now is just higher interest rates and even higher taxes later."

The PM filled an auditorium for his Conservative conference speech with hundreds of members, many of which had been queuing to see his address from 6am.

He said his plan to level up the UK "means fighting crime, putting more police out on the beat and toughening sentences and rolling up the county lines drugs networks".

Addressing fresh concerns about violence against women, he added: “On behalf of the entire Government, I tell you this: we will not rest until we’ve increased the successful prosecutions for rape.

“Because too many lying, bullying, cowardly men are using the law’s delay to get away with violence against women, and we cannot and will not stand for it.”

And he backed the home secretary's plan to tackle environmental protesters in Insulate Britain, who have been causing huge disruption to Britons by blocking motorways.

“You know those people gluing themselves to roads – I don’t call them legitimate protesters like some Labour councillors," he said.

“I say they are a confounded nuisance who are blocking ambulances, stopping people going about their daily lives.

“I’m glad Priti is taking new powers to insulate them snuggly in prison where they belong.”