We got vim. We got vision. We got vava-VOOM!!! And goodness how we’ve needed a bit of that lately. These past weeks have been a bleak, boosterism-free zone.
So the soaring, sweeping epic that was Boris Johnson’s ‘virtual’ conference speech yesterday was welcome. An escapist fantasy, transporting us from the depressing foothills of Lockdown UK into the sun-dappled peaks of Post-Covid Britain.
Sure, he was a little broad-brush on the details. The PM’s never been a man for minutiae. He said almost nothing, for example, about how the country will stagger through this winter. But what a welcome excursion – albeit brief – from the daily deluge of horror.
But then what other statesman would interlace such a vital speech with references to the ‘birdie dance’? Or quote the lyrics from a hit song by M People?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivering his keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference in central London
Or challenge those who questioned his health to an arm wrestle? Who else could rabbit on about ‘alien invaders’ or ‘cosmic spanners hurtling at us through the dark’ or hairdressers handling ‘radioactive isotopes’?
It was striking, grab-theaudience-by-the-earlobes stuff. Whatever failures of leadership Boris has shown over the past six months, yesterday he reminded us that, for now at least, he remains his party’s most potent asset.
He spoke not in Birmingham as he would have wished but from a lifeless studio somewhere in the bowels of Canary Wharf. A new tie had been wrenched around his neck.
They’re always noticeable as he has a rather scant collection. He kicked off by addressing the inevitable ‘c’ word, voicing his frustration at the ‘gossipy gregariousness’ coronavirus had denied the country in recent months.
For the next half-hour, he spoke largely from memory, occasionally taking prompts from a script in front of him.
Good move. It allowed him to convey so much more energy than he would have from gawping lifelessly at an autocue. Boris Johnson is not a man who was designed to stand still.
He tore into those who muttered about his wellbeing. Stories claiming that the virus had robbed him of his ‘mojo’ were ‘self-evident drivel’, he said.
PM Boris Johnson kicked off by addressing the inevitable ‘c’ word, voicing his frustration at the ‘gossipy gregariousness’ coronavirus had denied the country in recent months
It was ‘seditious propaganda’ put about by those who did not wish to see him succeed. (It’s worth noting that a number of those claiming Boris has seemed a little off colour have been members of his own party.)
He blamed his illness on his physique. ‘My friends, I was too fat,’ he announced, pausing as though allowing his imaginary audience a little chuckle at his expense.
He used his newly reduced waistline (he’s lost 26 pounds) to explain how things would need to change once the disease was defeated.
It was not enough to go back to the way things were in 2019. We need new approaches. This was, if you like, le plat principal of his message.
The PM spoke of building a ‘New Jerusalem’. He wanted to raise growth, boost incomes. Long, poetic passages were devoted to his wind power ambitions, or ‘harvesting the gusts’ which ‘filled the sails of Drake, Raleigh and Nelson and propelled this country to commercial greatness’.
Whatever failures of leadership Boris has shown over the past six months, during the speech he reminded the nation that for now at least he remains his party’s most potent asset
Boris wanted to make the UK the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of wind power. (Incidentally, former First Minister Alex Salmond once used the same expression to describe Scotland’s energy ambitions.
Oh well, talent borrows, genius steals and all that…) There was a Thatcher-style pledge to boost home ownership.
Talk of 95 percent mortgages being reintroduced. Then came the inevitable kick in the glockenspiels for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party (‘Captain Hindsight and his regiment of pot-shot, snipe-shot fusiliers’) who he accused of being more interested in ripping down statues and ‘editing our CV’ to make Britain more politically correct.
They expected everything to be funded by ‘Uncle Sugar’ – we the taxpayers. There was also a chippy dig at them for living in £1million north London schlosses.
Boris has never had one of those, of course! Wrapping up, the PM invited us on a little virtual reality tour of his Utopian vision for Britain in 2030, a place of clean air and green trees, a place ‘that scrupulously controls its own borders yet is more cosmopolitan than ever before… is unashamed of our heritage but unblinkered about our present… which embraces every person with love and respect whatever their race, creed or gender’.
‘I can see a bright future ahead,’ he told us, ‘and we are going to build it together.’ Boris spoke as though he was addressing the country and that was his strength.
The Prime Minister said he could ‘see a bright future ahead’ adding ‘we are going to build it together’ as he delivered his keynote speech
He has that ability to suck an audience into his world. Compare that to Sirs Keir Starmer and ed Davey (the Lib Dem leader in case you’d forgotten), who cut remote, irrelevant figures at their own party conferences.
That’s not to say they both didn’t deliver perfectly decent speeches. Indeed, they were far better than I expected.
But when it comes to the big occasions, next to Boris both men are but mere tugboats, bobbing up and down in his wake.