* Vows more homes, jobs, better education, green reforms
* Offers few details, accused of 'bluster' by opposition
* Johnson under fire over disarray in tackling pandemic
* Research shows more Britons see Labour leader as better PM
(Adds further comments, reaction)
By William James and Elizabeth Piper
LONDON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson,
under fire over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, vowed on
Tuesday to transform Britain rather than settle for the "status
quo" by building more new homes, improving education and
boosting the green economy.
In a speech aimed at rallying his Conservative Party, which
has become increasingly critical of its leader, Johnson laid out
his vision for a country where deep-rooted inequality has been
laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Using his own battle to shed excess weight - which made a
bout of COVID-19 more difficult to overcome - as a metaphor for
changing Britain, he listed the areas he wanted to tackle -
housing, education, jobs, climate change and crime.
But Johnson offered few clues on funding after huge
budget-busting expenditures to combat the pandemic, and
opposition parties criticised the speech for being the "usual
bluster" with scant detail on how he would protect jobs or get
control over the increasing number of coronavirus infections.
Britain has recorded the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe.
"We've been through too much frustration and hardship just
to settle for the status quo and to think that life can go on as
it was before the plague," he told his party's annual
conference, held virtually this year.
"It will not, because history teaches us that events of this
magnitude, wars, famines, plagues, events that affect the vast
bulk of humanity, as this virus has, they don't just come and
go...We cannot now define the mission of this country as merely
to restore normality. That isn't good enough."
Hitting back at critics who say he has both lost control of
the coronavirus pandemic in Britain and struggled personally
since suffering from COVID-19, Johnson said suggestions he had
lost his "mojo" was "self-evident drivel".
"The kind of seditious propaganda that you'd expect from
people who don't want this government to succeed, who wanted to
stop us delivering Brexit and all our other manifesto pledges,"
he said, adding he was sticking with a diet after losing 26
CRITICS CITE COVID SHAMBLES
After being criticised for presiding over a glitch-plagued
COVID-19 testing system, giving the public confusing guidance
and repeatedly backtracking on policy, Johnson sought to buoy
party members, many of whom are increasingly concerned less than
a year since the Conservatives won a resounding election
According to research published on Monday by former
Conservative deputy chairman Michael Ashcroft, Labour leader
Keir Starmer has overtaken Johnson as the person those polled
thought would make a better prime minister. Johnson's standing
among Conservative Party members has also plunged, polls show.
To try to turn the tide, he vowed to curb violent crime and
protect the justice system from "lefty human rights lawyers",
while also accusing his political opponents of trying to rewrite
history, saying he was proud to sing "Rule Britannia".
For many in the party, it was just the ticket. One
Conservative lawmaker said Johnson had rallied the troops while
another felt that although the prime minister looked "tired", it
was good enough.
Keen to assert his green credentials before Britain hosts
COP26 climate summit next year, Johnson promised to create jobs
and make progress towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050 by
building back greener and investing in wind power.
He also pledged to construct more homes and make them more
accessible to younger people, and to improve education.
But he offered few specifics on how he would achieve this.
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour
Party, said Johnson had offered "the usual bluster and no plan
for the months ahead".
"We end this Conservative conference as we started it: with
a shambolic (COVID-19) testing system, millions of jobs at risk
and an incompetent government that has lost control of this
virus and is holding Britain back."
(Reporting by UK bureau, writing by Elizabeth Piper; editing by
Michael Holden and Mark Heinrich)