Boris Johnson's rambling during his disastrous speech to the CBI last week is emblematic of a Prime Minister and wider government who have little clue about current problems the UK faces, writes Cat Smith. 

Like many of my colleagues across the political spectrum, I'm spending a great deal of my time advocating on behalf of local businesses who are facing some very challenging times. For those that managed to emerge from Covid still trading, they're now juggling staffing difficulties, transport problems, supply chain headaches, skills shortages, rising energy prices, post Brexit rule changes – and they're looking to the government for reassurances. They want to know the Government is listening and understanding the problems they are facing.

Instead, what do they get?

A Prime Minister wittering on about Peppa Pig, making car noises and comparing himself to Moses in an embarrassing and rambling speech to the CBI.

Perhaps he might have got away with it if he'd been talking to pre-schoolers at a nursery ? but he was addressing the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry which represents around 200,000 businesses across the country. Businesses that were looking for leadership and wanting to know what the Government intends to do to help them stay afloat.

It was excruciating – and awkward for an audience who knew they were expected to laugh but instead sat in stunned silence as Boris Johnson lost his place and lost the plot. One delegate told me later that it's Johnson who's become the joke.

It takes me more than an hour to drive from one side of my constituency to the other and it's one of the most diverse in the country, incorporating as it does, the historic city of Lancaster, a good swathe of rural Lancashire and the coastal town of Fleetwood. Businesses in the constituency range from agriculture to manufacturing, from engineering to logistics and from retail to tourism and I can tell you now – none of those business owners were laughing when they heard the PM's CBI speech. In fact, many told me they were furious. These are businesspeople who regularly lose sleep worrying about their long-term future – about whether their business will survive and most pressingly, they worry about supporting their staff and ensuring those employees have a job that allows them to keep a roof over theirs and their family's heads.

Write for us.

We're always on the lookout for talented writers and welcome submissions. Please send your opinion piece or pitch to: editor@commentcentral.co.uk

What Johnson's Peppa-gate speech proved to the people of my constituency is how out of touch this Prime Minister is. That whilst businesses struggle, he has so little respect and understanding that he thinks he can get away with blathering about children's television programmes and Kermit the frog.

This Government is presiding over a low growth, high tax, high price economy. When we have the opportunity to make investments to improve our economic growth in the North, the Government isn't interested – this is seen here as nothing short of a betrayal.

The Tories are out of touch and have the wrong priorities. They've let shortages and prices get out of control. Gas bills are up, petrol costs are up, food costs are up. They've handed tax cuts to big companies like Amazon, while putting taxes up on working families with a record increase in national insurance. The increase in the national minimum wage is a positive step, but the Government needs to go further and faster. It's not fair or right that younger workers are legally paid less that older workers doing the same job. Their age doesn't qualify them for cheaper rent, discounted food or cheaper energy bills. This is discrimination, pure and simple. Put more money in the pockets of younger workers and the economy benefits – we all benefit. But with costs rising, taxes going up, and the Universal Credit cut starting to bite, it's give with one hand and take with the other.

Right now, Labour has a plan to ease the pressure on households and businesses. We'd abolish VAT on domestic energy bills for six months to help people get through the winter months, and we'd cut Business Rates next year. These measures would be paid for through higher than expected VAT receipts in the first half of the year, and a temporary increase in tax on digital services firms like Google and Facebook who've profited so well out of the pandemic.

Thanks to the Tories, from next year our taxes will be the highest they've been in decades, but they have no plan to fix our crumbling public services – with fewer police on our streets, growing class sizes in schools, and long waits to get hospital treatment.

This isn't just a problem caused by Covid. In the years running up to the pandemic, successive Conservative governments weakened the foundations of our economy. And now they have no plan to address the long-term challenges and opportunities we face – like how we rebuild after Covid, our future outside the EU and tackling climate change.

In the Peppa Pig speech Johnson did have a rare moment of clarity when he acknowledged there were "chronic problems" underlying the UK economy, including the imbalance between firms which were "go-getting world-beaters" and the "long comet tail" of businesses which lacked the necessary skills and investment to boost productivity. Maybe in next year's speech, he could let us know how he intends to tackle these problems – unless of course by then he's gone to Legoland. If so, perhaps the construction industry needs to brace itself.

44 votes

Sign-up for free to stay up to date with the latest political news, analysis and insight from the Comment Central team.

By entering your email address you are agreeing to Comment Central’s privacy policy