SIX days after instigating an unprecedented lockdown not seen in peacetime, Boris Johnson recorded a video message thanking the nation for all its efforts against coronavirus.

Insisting that: “There really is such a thing as society,” he appeared to throw a grenade under the famous Thatcherite claim that there was no such thing.

It was back in 1987 when the former Prime Minister, re-elected with a landslide to a third term in Downing Street, uttered the immortal words to Woman’s Own magazine.

Too many people, Mrs Thatcher complained, had been brought up to think: “I have a problem, it is the government’s job to cope with it!”

Warming to her theme, she added: “They are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people.”

Her critics came to see the statement as emblematic of the greed-is-good mentality of 1980s Tory Britain - although allies said the words were misconstrued, pointing to other speeches in which the Iron Lady promised to build a “flourishing society – not an economic system”.

The size of the state has since become a political football that has been endlessly kicked about every Government.

Yet with the global pandemic having created a “new normal” for Mr Johnson’s fledgling administration, could the goal posts be about to shift?

And what could be the consequences for business of a Conservative Prime Minister putting the 'nanny' back into 'state'?

When he was first elected last July, one of the former London mayor’s first promises, after "getting Brexit done” was to end what he described as the “continuing creep of the nanny state”.

The likes of Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Tate & Lyle breathed a collective sigh of relief as the man who once said of being overweight: “It’s your own fat fault” appeared to declare war on George Osborne’s sugar tax.

Having been an outspoken critic of “sin taxes” which he said: “Clobber those who can least afford it”, Mr Johnson appeared to herald an end to the interventionist policies pursued by Theresa ‘fairer society’ May and David ‘big society’ Cameron.

Yet following his near death experience in St Thomas’s intensive care ward, the PM appears more willing to revise his liberal agenda.

Having gone against his most primal libertarian instincts by instigating the lockdown in the first place - the old Etonian has emerged from the horror of Covid-19 with an appetite for interference on obesity.

And his conversion to the BMI-watching brigade could only be the start - set against the backdrop of the biggest exercise in state intervention since the Second World War.

It is impossible to understate the significance of a Conservative government being behind one of the most generous economic rescue plans in the post-Covid world - and what impact that might have on Mr Johnson’s premiership.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in the UK rose to 2.1 million in April - the biggest jump since records began in 1971.

We are currently in a situation where one in three private sector workers now has some of their wages paid for by the Government.

Offering one of the most generous furlough schemes in the world, you could say the Tories’s response to the crisis has been positively New Labour.

It is not the first time the Conservatives have stolen policies from the left in recent years. Interventionist policies like cutting the fixed-odd betting terminal stake to £2, banning the ivory trade, outlawing bee-killing pesticides, maximum sentences for animal cruelty and the energy price cap could have all featured on Miliband’s famous "Ed Stone”. Mrs May’s desire to curb excessive executive pay and put workers on company boards appeared straight out of the trade union playbook.

The question is, could that trend be set to continue? Mr Johnson has already been at pains to rule out a return to austerity to fund Britain’s snowballing coronavirus bill, denying reports that the government will be freezing public sector workers’ pay.

Yet if pay isn’t frozen then the only alternative is that wages will go up - causing headaches for businesses already struggling with the economic calamity caused by the global pandemic. Many regarded the recent hike to the national living wage as somewhat un-Conservative, with four in 10 SMEs surveyed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) saying they would respond by recruiting fewer workers, while one in five said they would cancel investment plans.

However, if the PM is to win the next general election against new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s superior opposition to Jeremy Corbyn then he has little choice but to honour his big spending promise to “level up” the North - for fear of losing those crucial Red Wall seats. Voters tend to have pretty good memories - especially when the person they have voted for (after decades of Labour support in some constituencies) has repeatedly promised an extra 20,000 police officers and the building of 40 new hospitals.

You do not have to be Carol Vorderman to work out that a tax hike is going to be needed should Mr Johnson still be planning to spend heavily on infrastructure with the UK heading towards recession.

It seems ironic now that the Tories used to make a habit of criticising Labour for planting “magic money trees” when the Government is now going to need an entire orchard of them to keep spending while paying down the ever increasing national debt and deficit.

Since Tories have always prided themselves in being ‘the low tax party’ - the only way to raise the extra revenue may have to be by stealth.

Could businesses also bear the brunt? Despite being the so-called party of business, it is perhaps worth remembering that one of the first tax cuts the Tories were willing to drop ahead of last year’s general election was slashing corporation tax to 17 per cent in favour of more spending on public services and the NHS. Can you imagine them now being able to make the argument for giving tax cuts to businesses ahead of the carers everyone has been clapping for every Thursday?

Whether they will continue with the planned review of IR35 is anyone’s guess although you’d hope there will be some help for the UK’s beleaguered self-employees and sole traders.

What they did promise was an overhaul of business rates, but as the head of the British Retail Consortium pointed out at the time - the proposal needed “to go much further” if they were to provide proper stimulus for saving England’s high streets. And that was before shops were closed down for two months.

Businesses will also need to factor in the cost of a likely no deal Brexit come December 2020 - although the economic fallout may well be rebalanced with a loosening of onerous EU regulations and a renewed emphasis on British manufacturing. One coronavirus trend set to continue appears to be a rejection of all things made in China - and more of a Trump-like Britain-first approach to making sure we are no longer so reliant on foreign imports.

When he was Chancellor, Sajid Javid announced a 4.1 per cent rise in expenditure, the largest increase in public spending for 15 years. Yet his successor Rishi Sunak has had to inject that plan with steroids. So the Tories are already presiding over an expanding state - which is surely only set to get bigger over the course of the next parliament.

Part by design and part by necessity, big government is back and it seems it has the public’s support. The 2018 Social Attitudes survey found that 60 per cent of British adults favour higher taxes and spending, with a mere four per cent advocating a further roll back of the state.

But make no mistake, a switch from the age of austerity to amenity is going to come at a price over the next decade.