Tory party members were queuing for half an hour to get into the Mayor of London’s box office speech this morning. Even Ken Clarke struggled to get a seat in the nosebleed section of the Symphony Hall. It was the perfect hype for Boris’ campaign to become the anointed next leader of the Conservative party. But as Boris burrowed his way through his speech, joking and punning, sending the floor into paroxysms of laughter in one very cleverly-written passage about the filmmaking industry in Soho, it became obvious that this wasn’t a performance that is going to leave David Cameron in a cold sweat as he prepares his own speech tonight.
Boris’ speech was actually rather tame. Yes, he’s brilliant at jokes. He sent grumpy hacks into fits of laughter. He even kept Ken Clarke awake in his perch in the gods. But this was the same old Boris: the funny Boris who the Tory party loves as Mayor and comedian. That he has the space to make jokes about David Cameron being a ‘broom that’s clearing up the mess left by the Labour government’ was underlined yesterday when one of the burning questions to the Mayor at his rally was about lifts at Harrow-on-the-Hill station. He doesn’t actually have a great deal of big power to talk about.
The Mayor did, to be fair, devote sections of his speech to talking about London as a business centre, the success of the London living wage, the importance of building more homes so that staff could live within commuting distance of their jobs. He said:
‘For the last four years my team in City Hall has been working – as you have been working, in Government – to fight the recession and to create the conditions for a dynamic recovery. And yes, we One Nation Conservatives are well aware that in a society where the gap between rich and poor has been growing – as it did under Labour – that we have to look first to the poorest and the neediest and those who cannot easily compete and that is why I am so proud that we have expanded the London Living Wage. Now paid – entirely voluntarily – by about 250 of the swankiest banks, law and accountancy firms in London putting about £60 million into the pockets of some of the lowest paid people in London.’
But at some stage he is going to need to give a thoroughly sombre speech. Many activists were there because Boris cheers them up. But he wouldn’t be able to make jokes about bendy buses looking like a ‘hopeless broken backed diplodocus’ at conventions about piracy in Somalia. It is still difficult to imagine him giving a press conference after a bilateral with Angela Merkel, for instance. The Mayor will leave this conference safe in the knowledge that he is utterly beloved by Tory members. But when he starts to get closer to the time when he wants to make his speeches less of a pitch for the leadership and more of a putsch, he’ll drop the jokes, square up to the podium, and put on a strong prime ministerial act. That’s when David Cameron will start panicking.Tags: Boris Johnson, Conservative conference 2012, UK politics