Boris Johnson is difficult to pigeonhole, but at Tory conferences he seems to be taking the role of counsellor-in-chief, cheering up party activists with a slew of jokes and slights on other ambitious colleagues or indeed his party leader. As ever, there were two huge queues outside the auditorium this evening for his event on London, and some of the only truly sincere and excited-sounding applause when he (eventually) arrived. And there were jokes – ‘Ukip if you want to – David Cameron’s not for kipping. Not unless, obviously, he’s at his sister-in-law’s wedding’ and the definition of ‘Milipede’ being some sort of left wing insect – that left them all guffawing.
It’s always noticeable how the activists slump a little in their seats when Boris turns to serious matters concerning his real job (as Mayor, rather than Tory jester). This evening he told the auditorium that one way to help Conservatives in London and urban areas would be to give local governments more responsibility for the taxes raised in their city. Perhaps it will – it would certainly help Boris, who is working together with the leaders of Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool councils – but activists didn’t start waving their fists in the air with delight.
But where the Mayor did have a serious message was on Ukip. He’s good at reminding Tories of the joy of being a Conservative, and so this evening he reminded them of the misery that would result from voting Ukip
‘My message to the charming Mrs Farage and all those who believe in that way of thinking and all her friends is look, don’t vote for Ukip, don’t even think about it because we will see this country if you do so sleepwalk into a repeat of the Labour government.’
There is less of a buzz around Boris this year. Last year the scrum around him was big enough to be a story in its own right. And tonight he didn’t use his speech as a chance to make not-so-covert leadership bid-style comments: instead, he stayed loyal and applied that long-term squeeze message that the Tories have been working on. He is certainly good at making Conservatives feel good about themselves. But the question is whether he can help his party make the angry voters I wrote about earlier feel good about the Conservatives.