POLITICS
06/10/2021 12:31 BST | Updated 06/10/2021 12:59 BST

Boris Johnson Says He Will 'Defend British History' From 'Cancel Culture'

Prime minister avoids major policy announcements in speech to Conservative Party conference.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

Boris Johnson said Britain is at risk of “cancel culture iconoclasm” during a bombastic speech at the Conservative party conference. 

The prime minister said that trying to edit history is similar to a dishonest celebrity trying to change their entry in Wikipedia.

He claimed some want to “re-write our national story” and added: “We really are at risk of a kind of know nothing, cancel culture iconoclasm and so we conservatives will defend our history and cultural heritage.

“Not because we’re proud of everything but because trying to edit it now is as dishonest as a celebrity trying furtively to change his entry in Wikipedia and it’s a betrayal of our children’s education.”

Johnson said when people started to attack wartime prime minister Winston Churchill he was at first “minded to ignore them”. 

He made the comments during his keynote speech at the annual conference in in Manchester.

Ian Forsyth via Getty Images
Wife Carrie Johnson and sister Rachel Johnson watch Boris Johnson's speech 

The only main policy announcement was a new £3,000 “levelling up premium” for talented maths, physics and chemistry teachers to go and work in areas which need them. 

It came against a backdrop of the supply chain crisis, labour shortages and the military drafted in to deliver petrol. 

Audience members held big blue signs bearing slogans such as: “Getting on with the job.”

Johnson also urged people to go back to their offices after working from home during the pandemic.

“If young people are to learn on the job in the way they always have and must, we will and must see people back in the office,” he said.

Johnson admitted his post-Brexit changes will at times be “difficult” but insisted they will result in a fairer “low tax” system.

He said controlled immigration and investment will reshape the nation, adding: “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.”

During the speech, Johnson took aim at former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying: “We finally sent that corduroyed cosmonaut into orbit where he belongs.”

The PM said the pandemic had provided a “lightening flash illumination” of social care - a problem left unaddressed for decades.

He said a “tide of anxiety” was washing into A&E departments and GP practices and defended his multi-billion pound tax hike to pay for NHS and social care.

Johnson also recalled lying in a hospital bed last year suffering with coronavirus and hit out at “decades of drift and dither” from previous governments lacking the “guts” to fix the social care crisis.

Johnson criticised “lying, bullying, cowardly” men as he addressed violence against women and girls.

“On behalf of the entire government, I tell you this: we will not rest until we’ve increased the successful prosecutions for rape,” he said.

He said the levelling up agenda also meant ”fighting crime, putting more police out on the beat”.

Johnson backed home secretary Priti Patel’s targeting of environmental protesters in Insulate Britain, adding: “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.”

He also pledged to fight people-trafficking gangs at “home and abroad” and took aim at the EU’s former Brexit negotiator and translated the Leave campaign’s “take back control” slogan into French.

Johnson kicked off the speech with a joke about Michael Gove’s dancing in an Aberdeen nightclub, suggesting the cabinet minister was leading by example that dancing was again safe after the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

“Let’s hear it for Jon Bon Govey,” the prime minister told the conference hall.

He urged those present to get the covid jab and invited them try a so-called “fist pump” with their neighbour.

It was also reported today that Johnson is set to reveal the “national living wage” will rise to £9.42 an hour within weeks.

The prime minister is set to accept the recommendations of independent advisers that are likely to boost the pay of the lowest earners, according to The Times.  

Ian Forsyth via Getty Images
Carrie Johnson greets her husband before his leader's speech 

This year’s conference is the first time the party has been able to gather since Johnson won a landslide victory in 2019.

Ahead of the PM’s speech, there were huge cheers in the conference hall as the party’s majority was flashed up on a big screen.

Ben Houchen, the mayor of Tees Valley, said the PM’s speech was “fantastic”.

“What you heard from the prime minister today was that he’s completely committed to levelling up the country and now we need to get on and do that before the next general election.”

Tory MP Richard Holden said the speech was “very Disraeli” and “optimistic about global Britain”.

He also welcomed the levelling up premium by which teachers will receive £3,000 as an incentive to work in more deprived areas.