Boris Johnson will finally set out his stall for the leadership of the Tory party with a stark warning to Theresa May not to “ape Corbyn” and his radical Labour agenda.
The former Foreign Secretary is expected to use a much-anticipated fringe meeting at the Conservative conference in Birmingham to urge the Prime Minister to slash taxes, crack down harder on crime and build more houses.
As he sets out his alternative plans for No.10, Johnson will also issue a veiled jibe at May and her Chancellor Philip Hammond for recent moves to steal or adapt Jeremy Corbyn’s radical policies.
Amid fears that May could be toppled from power by a backbencher rebellion over her ‘Chequers’ compromise plans for Brexit, Johnson will for the first time set out a wider vision for a Tory leadership beyond simply quitting the EU.
More than 1,000 conference activists will attend the biggest fringe meeting of the week when the former Mayor of London makes his setpiece speech just a day before May’s own address to the faithful.
The Government has unveiled a string of policies at the conference that appeared inspired by Labour’s own plans, from a ban on restaurants taking tips from waiters to a new tax on foreign nationals who buy British property.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor have also talked of increasing taxes to help fund a £20bn increase in NHS spending. Hammond said on Monday that capitalism is failing “ordinary people” who believe “the system isn’t working for them”.
But in his keynote speech, Johnson will say the Tories “should be constantly aiming not to increase but to cut taxes” and declare the party can only beat Corbyn if it ‘believes in Conservative values’.
The party should not ‘ape Corbyn’ but instead take “basic conservative ideas and fit them to the problems of today”, he’ll tell the ConservativeHome fringe meeting.
“We must on no account follow Corbyn, and start to treat capitalism as a kind of boo word.
“We can’t lose our faith in competition and choice and markets but we should restate the truth that there is simply no other system that is so miraculously successful in satisfying human wants and needs.
“We should set our taxes to stimulate investment and growth. We should be constantly aiming not to increase but to cut taxes. It is the conservative approach that gets things done so let’s follow our conservative instincts.”
Johnson is in danger of being outflanked by future rivals for the party leadership, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab both calling for tax cuts this week.
To regain the initiative, the Uxbridge MP will make what aides called a ‘wide-ranging’ speech, which will set out his own agenda on tax cuts, law and order and housing.
“We Conservatives know that it is only a strong private sector economy that can pay for superb public services and that is the central symmetry of our one nation Toryism,” he’ll say.
“It was astonishing that he [Corbyn] had absolutely nothing to say about the wealth creating sector of the economy - the people who get up at the crack of dawn to prepare their shops the grafters and the grifters, the innovators, the entrepreneurs - he didn’t mention any successes.”
Hammond has led the Cabinet ridicule of his former colleague, telling the Daily May that his rival plans for Brexit lack any detail.
But Johnson’s remarks defending capitalism are sure to be seen as an admission that he blundered this summer when he dismissed corporate worries over Brexit with the remark ‘f*ck business’.
Former minister and Brexiteer Digby Jones won applause at the Tory conference on Sunday when he said the comment “showed him up for the irrelevance and offensive person he is”.
No.10 have been expecting the former Foreign Secretary to try to dominate the party conference and have countered that the only ‘credible’ plan for Brexit is the PM’s proposal to have a ‘common rulebook’ with the EU on trade.
Under Tory leadership rules, 48 MPs are needed to trigger a vote of confidence in May. Brexiteers claim that 40 of them will vote against her Chequers plans.