Boris Johnson rallied Britain for a long battle against coronavirus last night – contradicting his predecessor Margaret Thatcher by insisting the country is showing ‘there is such a thing as society’.
The PM made the pointed remark as he announced that 20,000 former NHS staff have ‘come back to the colours’ to help combat the deadly disease.
In the two and a half minute video – posted from his bunker in 11 Downing Street, where he is in quarantin after testing positive for COVID-19 – Mr Johnson thanked everyone who was contributing to the struggle.
Sounding slightly croaky but defiant, the premier dropped in a reference to Mrs Thatcher’s 1987 comment in which she said there was ‘no such thing as society’.
The ex-PM’s line was widely taken as an endorsement of full-blown individualism – although she insisted she was merely criticising people who blamed ‘society’ for their own failings and lack of effort.
It comes as the UK coronavirus death toll rose by 209 in 24 hours from 1,019 to 1,228, as infections jumped by 2,483 to 19,522.
Some 20,000 former NHS staff have returned to help in the fight against coronavirus, Boris Johnson announced in a video message
Mr Johnson contradicted the famous remark from his Tory predecessor Margaret Thatcher in 1987 that ‘there is no such thing as society’.
He said: ‘We are going to do it, we are going to do it together.
‘One thing I think the coronavirus crisis has already proved is that there really is such a thing as society.’
The PM thanked the doctors, nurses and other former professionals for returning to duty, as well as the 750,000 members of the public who have volunteered to aid the health service.
Mr Johnson has continued to command the response to the coronavirus pandemic while sealed behind closed doors in his flat above No. 11 Downing Street.
In the video, Mr Johnson said the public appeared to be obeying the terms of the lockdown to slow the spread of the disease, saying train use is down 95 per cent and buses down 75 per cent.
‘Thank you to everybody who’s now coming back into the NHS in such huge numbers,’ he continued.
‘Just this evening I can tell you we have 20,000 NHS staff coming back to the colours.
Some 20,000 former NHS staff have returned to help in the fight against coronavirus, Boris Johnson announced. Pictured: Medical staff with a patient at the back of an ambulance outside St Thomas’s hospital
The UK coronavirus death toll has risen by 209 in 24 hours from 1,019 to 1,228. Pictured today: Ambulances at Guy’s at St Thomas’s Hospital in central London
Dr Jenny Harries told a Downing Street press conference that people should not be viewing the crisis as something that will blow over within weeks
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick took the briefing in Downing Street today with the PM in self-isolation
‘It’s a most amazing thing. And that’s in addition to the 750,000 members of the public who have volunteered to help us get through this crisis.’
Mr Johnson’s words were a clear reference to Margaret Thatcher’s famous comment in a 1987 interview.
The remark has often been interpreted as backing unfettered individualism, although the former PM insisted she was in favour of people taking responsibility for themselves rather than blaming ‘society’ for everything that went wrong.
Mrs Thatcher said in the interview: ‘There is no such thing as society.
‘There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.’
Downing Street later issued a clarification of Mrs Thatcher’s views, saying she believed that ‘society is made up of people’.
‘It is people who have duties and beliefs and resolve. It is people who get things done.
‘She prefers to think in terms of the acts of individuals and families as the real sinews of society rather than of society as an abstract concept.
‘Her approach to society reflects her fundamental belief in personal responsibility and choice.
‘To leave things to ‘’society’’ is to run away from the real decisions, practical responsibility and effective action.’
On Thursday, NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said the figure of former professionals who had volunteered to come back stood at more than 15,000.
Mr Johnson’s message came after the nation was warned by deputy chief medical officer for England Dr Jenny Harries that normality may not resume for at least six months.
This does not mean a ‘complete lockdown’ will last the entire time, she stressed, but social distancing measures will be gradually eased as the crisis wanes and the pressure on the NHS eases.