You could tell this was the Boris Johnson show because people were smiling when they queued, smiling as they listened and smiling as they left. The mood in the conference hall had been completely transformed: it was as if this were comedy night, and we were waiting for the Prince of Political Standup. He was introduced via a Bond-style video, and made an extraordinary entrance which I tried to record on my iPhone. The quality is not Emmy-winning, but it may give some sense of the mood:-
Boris thanked everyone for the Olympics, hailed London as the world’s greatest city and then walked his very fine line of support for Cameron. He did not say that Cameron is brilliant, as we all know by now that he doesn’t think that. Instead he said he has been a long supporter of the PM and was on Team Dave when ‘the number of Cameroons could have fit into a telephone box had one of them not been Nick Soames’. But Cameron is doing a great job, he said. That this needed to be said, of course, sends its own message.
Boris delighted the activists by denouncing the Châteauneuf-du-Pape-drinking socialists whom he defeated in London and asking the hall to help him ‘save this country from the two Eds’. He deplored Hollande’s tax rises in France – not since 1789 has there been such terror in France, he said. He was self-deprecating (a tad), saying ‘average traffic speeds have risen by 9.3mps to 9.4mph’ he said. He also reiterated his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow, which is becoming a proxy issue for supporting Boris over Cameron. Whatever he said, they loved it. One of the questions came from a lady asking him to sign a baton. He made a joke, but I couldn’t quite catch it.
BoJo was also able to list what Conservative members have been rather starved of: achievement in government. Bus crime fell 30 per cent under his first term, he said, tube crime fell 20 per cent. He even thanked G4S for the Olympics. Quite right too, but many politicians could get away with that? It was a small reminder of a wider and more powerful point: that Boris can sell things that no other politician can. And if he can sell Conservatism to a Labour city like London, what else can he do? I suspect a good many of the delegates here left asking themselves precisely that.
P.S. Before BoJo arrived, the audience were shown a video of Tories extolling the virtues of overseas aid. When Louise Mensch came on, the audience erupted in hisses and boos. Then came Andrew Mitchell, whose words were drowned out by jeering and laughter. Nadine Dorries and George Osborne were listened to in respectful silence.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.