Sunday, 7 October 2018

Boris does his best Boris tribute act for the Tory conference

Bumbling, hair tugging and lectern thumping all feature in Johnson’s greatest hits show

‘This was the golden ticket. A message of hope for the hopeless.’
 Photograph: James McCauley/Rex/Shutterstock

Say what you like about Boris Johnson, he delivers a second-rate speech better than most other second-rate politicians, many of whom have been on show at the Tory party conference in Birmingham this week. But the bottom line is that Boris is essentially still second rate. A man who imagines himself to be a latter day Winston Churchill, but is nothing more than an ersatz Donald Trump with little to offer other than his own narcissism masquerading as cheap populism.

Yet in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and Johnson is what passes for stardust in the Brexit circles of the Tory party. A faint flicker, raging against the dying of the light, as he struggles to avoid being sucked into the black hole. And for his one scheduled appearance at a fringe event, hundreds of delegates were queueing outside the 1,500-seater hall some two hours before he was due on stage. This was the golden ticket. A message of hope for the hopeless.

Shortly before the start, the usual VIP suspects began to fill the front row. David Davis, Steve Baker, Priti Patel, Owen Paterson, Andrea Jenkyns, John Redwood and Andrew Bridgen. The same crew that had been at almost every “Chuck Chequers” event. None of whom most sane people would trust anywhere near government. The scene was set. This wasn’t going to be a serious speech so much as an act of communion for the already converted. A greatest hits rally at which Boris would deliver his own Boris tribute act.

Johnson bumbled on to stage. Bumbling was what people expected of him – his trademark trope – and he didn’t want to disappoint. The audience rose to give him their first standing ovation and he relaxed a little. He still had the magic. “It’s great bumble bumble to be bumble bumble in Birmingham bumble bumble,” he bumbled, before insisting that he was standing before everyone “with all humility”. Always good to get the first lie in early. Boris has never done humble in his life.

 'Chuck Chequers': Boris Johnson attacks Theresa May's Brexit plan – video

After that he was straight on to autopilot. A lot more bumble bumbling, a bit of hair tugging and the occasional thump of the lectern to suggest he actually cared about what he was saying. Pretty much the same speech he had given the time before and the time before that. The same feeble gags about Toblerones and bus shelters that never failed to get a few desultory laughs from people starved of genuine humour. The same sob story about how he had once felt sorry for a couple in a Wolverhampton council house. The same lies about things the EU had never done and what the Labour party planned to do. Always the lies.

Bumble bumble. Loud whoops from the audience. Bumble bumble. The same broken record of why Boris thought that Boris would make a great prime minister and couldn’t believe that the whole world didn’t agree with Boris. He ran through a totally uncosted housing programme; he did a drive-by shooting of Michael Gove; he boasted of his record as foreign secretary. That last bit didn’t take long.

Then Boris turned his attention to Theresa May and Brexit. Chequers was against the law – it wasn’t, but what the hell? – and Britain was being cheated. What was needed was someone like Boris who would bumble bumble, make Latin references, ruffle his hair and say that Britain could be great again if only we believed enough. Someone who lacked even the basic level of self-awareness to realise he had broken the system and had no real idea how to fix it. Someone whose only visible plan was to say sod off to the EU and that if it was very lucky we would let it trade with us again sometime in the future.

Same old, same old. A vision of the future in which Boris was prime minister and the country was condemned to a seventh circle of hell in which the same speech, the same jokes, the same Latin, would be played on a loop indefinitely. Then a rare moment of clarity. Pathos even. Boris looked down at the front row and saw just a handful of the same hopeful faces. He might have the numbers to stop Chequers, but he was way short of what he would need to become prime minister. His speech bumble bumble tailed off into silence. As so often, he had made a splash. But the waters would soon close over.

Reproduced, without permission, from an article by John Crace in the Guardian

Tue 2 Oct 2018 18.11 BSTLast modified on Tue 2 Oct 2018 21.05 BST

John Crace