Boris Johnson promises to ‘unite and level up’ the UK. Can he really achieve that?

14 December 2019

2:53 AM

14 December 2019

2:53 AM

Boris Johnson’s victory speech in Downing Street was aimed at the voters unsure about his government, whether they be the voters who backed his party for the first time, or Remainers who didn’t vote Tory. In an acknowledgement of how difficult it will have been for many traditionally Labour voters to turn away from their party, he said:

‘To all those who voted for us, for the first time, all those whose pencils may have wavered over the ballot and who heard the voices of their parents and grandparents whispering anxiously in their ears, I say thank you for the trust you have placed in us and in me and we will work round the clock to repay your trust and to deliver on your priorities.’

To Remainers, he vowed that ‘we in this One Nation Conservative government will never ignore your good and positive feelings of warmth and sympathy towards the other nations of Europe’.

This was an intentionally generous speech, and clearly so different to the aggressive tone that Theresa May took when she had a majority – and even more so after she’d lost it. Johnson can of course speak from the luxury of a majority of 80, knowing that he need not see the next few years as a frenzied battle, but as an opportunity to get what he wants done.

As for what he wants, the first promise was of course to get Brexit done, but after that, the Prime Minister also promised a focus on the NHS, saying this was the ‘loud and clear’ message from voters in this election. He described it as ‘that simple and beautiful idea that represents the best of our country’, which is quite a contrast to the caricature of a plotting Tory who secretly wanted to privatise the whole thing. He also said that the government would ‘in the next few weeks and months’ bring forward ideas on infrastructure, education, and technology.

Finally, he promised to ‘unite and level up’ the whole of the United Kingdom. This will be a far harder challenge than delivering Brexit or keeping voters happy on the health service. Last night’s result shows an SNP with plenty of fight and Scottish voters with plenty of appetite for independence, something Nicola Sturgeon has been customarily quick to capitalise on. Johnson’s campaign aides tried to keep their election pitch restrained, arguing that it is better to underpromise and overdeliver. But the promise of holding the UK together is a big one in the current circumstances, and one which could occupy more of Johnson’s time than he would ever have hoped.

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