The prime minister usually spends several weeks fine-tuning his conference speech. Today Boris gave an address that felt as it if had been roughed-out yesterday evening and converted into a final draft over a full English breakfast.
The informality looked good. No autocue. Just notes and smiles as he climbed the low step onto the platform. He benefited from a sensible new stage lay-out. Previously the lectern had been set many yards back from the audience. Today it stood on a narrow causeway thrust deep into the crowd. It’s easier for a speaker to excite an audience that surrounds him physically.
He began on a sombre note with ‘a tribute to my predecessor.’ The hall threw its silence back at him. ‘Theresa’, he prompted, as if her name had already vanished from their memories. ‘Theresa May.’
‘I know the whole conference remains full of gratitude to you for your patience and forbearance.’
Finally some applause, but it was strangely accented. The sound of hands clapping and teeth grinding.
Then he cheered them up with a blast of can-do Cap’n Boris optimism. Britain, he said, is the most successful political partnership in history, ‘which we will protect and defend against those who would wantonly destroy it.’
He poured scorn on socialism and ‘the deranged and ruinous plans borrowed from the playbook of Bolivarian Venezuela.’ He extolled the ‘vital symmetry’ between public investment and economic success.
‘Dynamic free-market capitalism,’ he cried. ‘Yes. You heard that right. When did you last hear a Tory leader talk about capitalism?’
A dig at David Cameron who hated to be reminded of his affluence and privilege. No such qualms for Boris.
He spoke warmly of Brexit-voting towns that had suffered ‘a lack of love’, where people felt their views were ‘unmentionable.’ And he made overtures to ‘the millions who voted Remain but are first and foremost democrats.’
Not many cheers for that. He employed curious, child-like language when describing the NHS. ‘It is holy to the people of this country because of the simple beauty of its principles. When you are sick the whole nation gathers at your bedside to make you well again.’
A pretty kitsch image and yet it has the quality of a slogan that might stick.
The crowd loved him best when he socked it to their opponents. He likened today’s parliament to the jungle in ‘I’m A Celebrity’ and he imagined ‘the Speaker being forced to eat a kangaroo’s testicle.’ He invoked the Trades Description Act and called for the term ‘democrat’ to be expunged from the LibDems’ title. And he linked Jeremy Corbyn to the Newquay spaceport which will shortly enter service.
‘Can you think of anyone who could trial the first mission? Which Communist cosmonaut should we coax into the cockpit?’
Nothing accidental about that alliteration. The same goes for his newly-minted description of Labour.
‘Fratricidal anti-Semitic Marxists.’
This brings together Corbyn and McDonnell’s current woes with the Miliband brothers high profile fall-out. In three words, it trashes nine years of Labour’s leadership. Very nifty compression.
With a final rallying cry to ‘bring the country together,’ he bounded off the platform, shook a few dozen hands and made for the exit. Carrie Symonds was at his side as they melted away.
Conference was over. On stage, the digital screens fluttered with Get Brexit Done flags in blocks of complementary colour. Pink and blue. Like Carrie’s frock and Boris’s tie. Perhaps no accident, either. Is Boris the fluker about to stumble his way to a victory on Brexit?
That too might all be part of the plan.
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