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  • Conservative Party Conference

Image source, PA Media

Boris Johnson is to promise that his government will show more "guts" than any before as it works to deal with issues facing society and the economy.

In his Conservative Party conference speech, the prime minister will pledge to move the entire UK towards high-wage, high-skill employment.

And he will accuse previous Labour and Tory governments of "delay and dither".

The prime minister's speech is his first to the massed Conservative faithful since before the pandemic.

This week's conference in Manchester has taken place amid concerns over rising inflation, supply chain problems, and petrol and worker shortages.

But on Tuesday the prime minister told the BBC he was "not worried" about current problems, arguing that the economy was under short-term stress as it recovered from the worst of Covid.

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He will use his speech to proclaim an optimistic, combative message to Conservatives, and the wider electorate.

"After decades of drift and dither this reforming government, this can-do government that got Brexit done, is getting the vaccine rollout done and is going to get social care done," he will say.

"We are dealing with the biggest underlying issues of our economy and society, the problems that no government has had the guts to tackle before."

Mr Johnson's conference speech last year was viewed only online because of Covid restrictions.

This year's comes on the same day that the government officially ends the £20-a-week universal credit uplift brought in to help low-income households during the pandemic.

And it follows the announcement last month of an extra tax to fund social care and the NHS in England, which has prompted anger among some Conservative MPs.

There are some underlying tensions between what's going on in this conference and what's happening in parts of the country.

Boris Johnson is trying to sell a new economic vision – his post-Brexit realignment.

Gone, the PM says, is mass immigration, to be replaced with higher wages and better conditions to encourage people into key sectors.

What's happening just now, says Mr Johnson, is stresses and strains after the pandemic.

But for many people life feels a bit uncertain. Costs are rising. Inflation is a worry. Universal credit is being reduced for millions.

There are fears in the Conservative Party too about the cost of living over winter.

So while Mr Johnson sells his economic plan for the future, many will want assurances about the next few weeks and months.

When he addresses the Manchester conference, the prime minister will restate his commitment to "level up" all areas of the UK – a pledge credited with helping his party take many previously Labour-held seats in northern England and the Midlands at the 2019 general election.

He will say the country is moving "towards a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy", in which "everyone can take pride in their work and the quality of their work".

Mr Johnson will say "talent, genius, flair, imagination, enthusiasm" are "evenly distributed around this country", adding: "There is no reason why the inhabitants of one part of the country should be geographically fated to be poorer than others, or why people should feel they have to move away from their loved ones, or communities to reach their potential."

This, he will argue, will take "pressure off parts of the overheating South East, while simultaneously offering hope and opportunity to those areas that have felt left behind".

'New model'

Some Conservative supporters have raised concerns that the party might be regarded as neglecting its traditional heartlands in favour of its newly conquered former Labour seats.

The loss of the previously true-blue constituency of Chesham and Amersham, Buckinghamshire, to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election in June added to those worries.

But Mr Johnson will argue that altering society in the wake of Brexit will benefit the whole UK.

"We are not going back to the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills and low productivity, all of it enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration," he will say.

Instead of using migrant labour to keep wages down, he will say, the system must work to "allow people of talent to come to this country, but not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people, in skills and in the equipment or machinery they need to do their jobs".

On Sunday the government announced that 300 temporary visas would be issued to overseas lorry drivers to ease fuel shortages.

Some 4,700 visas intended for foreign food haulage drivers are being extended, as well as 5,500 for foreign poultry workers.