LONDON - Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday sought to reset his embattled leadership with vows to tackle Britain’s cost-of-living crisis, including contentious new measures to boost home ownership.

After narrowly surviving a no-confidence vote among his own Conservative MPs on Monday, Johnson is under pressure to turn the page on a series of scandals including lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street.

In a speech in Blackpool, northwest England, he promised new reforms “to help people cut costs in every area of household expenditure -- from food to energy to childcare to transport and housing”.

“This government is on the side of the British public in coping with those pressures,” Johnson insisted.

The scale of the inflationary crisis hitting millions of Britons was underlined as the price of filling up the average family car topped £100 ($125) for the first time, according to the RAC motoring group.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams called it “a truly dark day” for hard-pressed drivers, and urged the government to slash sales tax on petrol and diesel.

Johnson said much of the crisis was caused by factors beyond the government’s control, such as the impact of the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

But with two difficult by-elections coming up this month, unhappy Tory MPs want bolder measures including tax cuts after 40 percent of them voted against Johnson on Monday.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has warned that Britain must cut taxes or raise spending, forecasting it will suffer the developed world’s weakest economic growth next year.

Johnson did not promise any such cuts in Blackpool, although he and his finance minister Rishi Sunak are working on another tax-focused speech for the coming days. Johnson did warn against a “wage-price spiral” by workers, and signalled no compromise with Britain’s biggest rail union, which is planning to shut down the train network this month to press wage demands. Updating a signature policy of 1980s predecessor Margaret Thatcher, Johnson’s speech detailed a plan to enable more low-income renters to buy their own social housing in England. Senior minister Michael Gove told Sky News that “home ownership is not just good for individuals, it’s good for society overall”.

 

He vowed the measures would help redress a crippling shortage in housing stock that has seen both purchase and rental prices rocket well out of reach of many Britons, especially younger adults.

But the opposition Labour party noted that the plan would need billions in extra money, which Gove admitted was not on offer, relying instead on existing funding at a time when the Treasury is already trying to rein in government spending.

“By their own reckoning, this will help a few thousand families a year,” senior Labour MP Lisa Nandy told BBC radio.

“For those families that will be very welcome,” she said, while warning it could make “the housing crisis worse for everybody else”.

The government plan focusses on making it easier for benefit claimants to save towards a mortgage deposit.

But it said little about building new homes in England, which is often hampered by local planning objections.

Housing policy expert Toby Lloyd doubted the plan would have much effect.

“I’d be very surprised if it happens in anything like the scale they expect, and if it does I don’t expect it to have that much impact,” he told BBC radio.

Under current Conservative party rules, Johnson cannot be challenged again for a year, which leaves little time for any new leader to emerge before the next general election due by 2024.

But Johnson’s Tory enemies still appear to be manoeuvring, with reports that he faces “vote strikes” to paralyse the government’s legislative agenda.

Such tactics hurt Theresa May’s three-year stint in Downing Street, before she was brought down in 2019 by Johnson and his allies over how to execute Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Johnson is set to launch another counter-offensive on the Brexit front, by introducing legislation next week to rewrite a pact with the EU governing trade with Northern Ireland, unless Brussels agrees to changes.

Gove denied the prime minister was seeking to appease Brexit hardliners on the Tory backbenches after this week’s vote.