Boris Johnson must be one of the very few politicians in the world to make the audience
laugh before they even start their speech. Just by walking on stage, he has the effect of a good comedian: the punters start to smile, in anticipation of some good one-liners. In today’s
case, Boris got a standing ovation before he opened his mouth. Here is the man judged by Ladbrokes as the most likely next Conservative leader,
but he had not come to stir. The Prime Minister – who lavished praise on the Mayor last
night – was in the hall. It was all Big Society (BoJo division): affordable housing and a reprise of his January speech about restoring London’s identity as a union of villages.
But, he sounded several clear notes of defiance. He opened on his opposition to police cuts: he’s appointed 1,000 new police and doubled the number of dazed-looking special constables to
5,200 “and I pledge now that I am going to keep it that way.” He was tough on crime, Boris-style. “My message to London’s criminal fraternity is: tax and insure your car or
you’ll get it back for Christmas as a small cube from the crusher with love.” There was a tribute to the small people who stood up to the rioters. “It was the woman who made that
great speech in Hackney and scared them off”. He was talking about Pauline Pearce, whom Safraz Manzoor interviewed for The Spectator.
Another sentence jumped out at me. “If we can get the right tax and regulatory framework, then British enterprise will do the rest.” In other words: cut tax, cut regulation and recovery
will follow. You don’t need politicians thinking about which sectors of the economy to develop, seeing the British economy as a chess board and trying to move the pieces about. This gives a
glimpse to Boris’ economic agenda: he’s a great believer in economic freedom, and isn’t vain enough to think that the political class could or should try to reorder the economy.
He didn’t elaborate, though. He doesn’t need to: not now, anyway.
I suspect there was nothing in this speech to dissuade Toby Young of the thesis he outlined in the cover story for last week’s magazine: that Boris Johnson wants to lead the Conservative Party and
will succeed. The Mayor was smart enough not to let any of this peek through his speech. This was well-behaved Boris, no wonder Cameron was so quick to leap lead the ovation.
PS: One problem with the new era of party conferences — ie, a money-spinning jamboree for the political class with hardly an activist in sight — is that you can’t
meaningfully talk about the ‘mood of the hall’. The hall is now filled with journos or lobbyists, and it was half-empty for Boris today.
PPS: There is another addition to the Bigger Book of Boris, which I bought from Iain Dale
yesterday: “I will deliver progress for all the people of this City. Errr, actually not this City, this is Manchester."