After three torrid weeks, Tory MPs were hoping for a better start to this one. Alas, it has got off to a rather bizarre start. The kindest thing that can be said about the Prime Minister’s speech this morning to the Confederation of British Industry is that it was peculiar.
The main thrust of the speech was meant to be about green growth as part of the government’s levelling up agenda — with an announcement that new homes and buildings will require electrical vehicle charging points from next year. But the announcements are not what is leading the coverage. Instead, it’s the Prime Minister’s confused manner as he had to stop and start before going off on a tangent about childrens’ television cartoon Peppa Pig.
Johnson spent the bulk of the speech staring down at his notes — at one point losing his place and saying ‘forgive me’ repeatedly. Other notable parts included Johnson comparing himself to Moses, suggesting he had descended from ‘Mount Sinai’ to hand civil servants his net-zero ten-point plan. He also attempting to gee up the crowd by asking attendees at the business conference to raise their hand if they had been to Peppa Pig World (he spent Sunday there). The Prime Minister concluded by giving an impression of an engine and at one point referred to himself as third person.
In terms of the general structure of the speech, even without the above moments, it couldn’t exactly be described as focussed. After he finished talking, one reporter asked Johnson if he was OK, to which the Prime Minister insisted that actually things had gone just fine: ‘I think that people got the vast majority of the points I wanted to make, and I thought it went over well.’
In one sense, a speech like this is typical of the Prime Minister’s style — going off-script in a way many politicians couldn’t get away with. In Johnson’s leader’s speech at Tory conference, his keynote was filled with gags but light on policy. At the time, with the Tories leading in the polls, it was generally regarded as a success and an example of how Johnson defies the rules of politics.
However, today’s performance is not being given the benefit of the doubt. The last few weeks have been bruising for the Prime Minister: MPs have aired unhappiness at the Downing Street operation (particularly over whether any of Johnson’s advisers are able to give the PM advice that he listens to) and the Tory lead has been reduced (with a number of polls even putting Labour ahead). Instead, Tory MPs are already asking one another how exactly Johnson got to the lectern without someone in his team stepping in to offer advice on how to improve the speech.
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