Forget Brexit: Boris’s toughest task will be energising his exhausted party

23 July 2019

10:01 PM

23 July 2019

10:01 PM

Boris Johnson will now be receiving plenty of unsolicited advice about how to be Prime Minister. As his victory speech a few minutes ago showed, though, he’s not planning to ditch one of the qualities that got him into this job in the first place. Brand Boris isn’t about the typical prime ministerial behaviour, stood squarely behind a lectern and trying to offer gravitas. To try to squeeze Johnson into this mould would be about as successful as Gordon Brown’s attempts to look cheerful. That’s why his speech was based around the acronym ‘DUDE’ – Deliver Brexit, Unite our Country, Defeat Jeremy Corbyn and Energise. He told the hall:

‘I know some wag has already pointed out that deliver, unite and defeat was not the perfect acronym for an election campaign, since unfortunately it spells ‘DUD’. But they forget the final E, my friends – E for energise! And I say to all the doubters, DUDE! We are going to energise the country, we are going to get Brexit done on 31 October, we are going to take advantage of all the opportunities that it will bring in a new spirit of can-do!’

He also tried to articulate what Conservatism stood for, something Tories are often oddly bad at:

‘It is we Conservatives who have had the best insights, I think, into human nature, and the best insights into how to manage the jostling sets of instincts in the human heart and time and again it is to us that the people of this country have turned to get that balance right, between the instincts to own your own house, er, your own home, to earn and spend your own money, to look after your own family – good instincts, proper instincts, noble instincts – and the equally noble instinct to share and to give everyone a fair chance in life and to look after the poorest and the neediest and to build a great society. And on the whole in the last 200 years it is we Conservatives who have understood best how to encourage those instincts to work together in harmony to promote the good of the whole country.’

On a similar theme, when Johnson was being generous to his predecessor, he did a better job than Theresa May has managed of listing some of her domestic achievements, pointing to equal pay, mental health and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. The Conservative party now has a much stronger salesman at its helm. But of course the greater challenge for Johnson is coming up with something to sell.

We saw evidence of his other challenge in the reaction to his speech in the hall. When Johnson asked the audience ‘do you feel daunted?’, it was clear that he expected the crowd to shout ‘NO!’ They didn’t; instead there was a rather heavy, flat silence. The Conservative party isn’t brimming over with energy at the moment. Indeed, it has rather behaved for the past couple of years like a party at the end of its time in government, out of ideas and secretly desperate for a rest. Once a party gets stuck in that rut, it generally takes a spell in opposition to get it out again. Johnson is proposing to change the demeanour of the Tory party while in government and while delivering Brexit. If he’s not secretly a bit daunted, then he hasn’t been paying attention.

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