Boris Johnson made his pitch to become PM at a spirited mini-rally in central London.
He began with a swipe at the stalling economies of the Eurozone which he compared unfavourably with ‘the commercial dynamism of the British people.’ His one-nation pitch bore almost too many adman’s sound-bites.
He called England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland ‘the quartet’, and ‘the awesome foursome’. Together they make Britain ‘the soft-power superpower of the world’.
Towards the EU he was generous. He referred to them as ‘our friends and partners’, somewhat insistently and he hoped that Brussels would adopt his upbeat mood about Brexit.
‘I think there will be a symmetrical enthusiasm about getting this thing done’.
He wasn’t aiming for no deal, but it would be ‘astonishing… to dispense with that vital tool of negotiation.’
His pitch was aimed at his own party, as well as the country, and he recalled his record as a veteran socialist-basher.
‘I know the London Labour left. I have studied them.’ He mocked Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘nihilistic’ obsession with tax-hikes, and with ‘Latin American caudillos who are curiously hostile to free speech.’ And he derided the Labour leader’s ‘failure again and again to extirpate anti-Semitism from his circle.’
That went down well with the disciples.
‘Last time I faced an emanation of that cabal,’ he said, referring to Ken Livingstone, ‘I defeated him when Conservatives were 17 points behind in London.’
A clear message to the party in Westminster. No Tory but me can crush Corbo.
Then came questions. The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, laced her remarks with several negative impressions of Johnson’s character. He replied with a soup metaphor.
‘In that great minestrone of observations,’ he said to her, ‘there’s one substantive question, one crouton I’ve picked up, which is that you think I’ve been inconsistent.’
He invited a query from the Financial Times.
‘“Mon journal préféré” as Jacques Delors called it,’ he quipped, referring to the left-leaning former boss of the EU Commission. He hastily withdrew this dig and lavished praise on his questioner, George Barker.
‘I genuinely do love the FT. I read your work literally every day,’ he schmoozed.
What had he meant by ‘f*** business?’ asked Barker.
‘No one in the modern Conservative party has done more to stick up for business than me.’
His fitness for office was aired again.
Reporter: Many of your colleagues worry about your character.
Johnson: My parrot?
Reporter: Your character…
He was asked, ‘have you ever done anything illegal?’ and he re-drafted the question to suit his own purposes.
‘I cannot swear I’ve always observed a top speed-limit of 70 mph,’ he said, skilfully confining the field of his criminality to motoring offences. ‘The key issue is: do I do what I promise as a politician?’
The C-word occurred, naturally enough. His historic admission that cocaine ‘didn’t do much for me’ at university was raised by a reporter who wanted to know if he regretted taking Class A.
More artful deflection from Johnson.
‘The canonical account of this event, when I was 19, has appeared many, many times,’ he said. ‘But what most people really want us to focus on is – what our plans are for this great country.’
The truth he can’t mention, for fear of seeming like an aficionado, is that cocaine in the 1980s was ruinously expensive. Rock stars and City millionaires could hoover the stuff up but it was beyond the reach of students. Sky-high prices meant that dud powders were rife and his verdict that the drug had zero effect on him is revealing. He’d probably snorted a crushed Tic Tac.
He had an easy ride today. His fan club filled the room and he was able to warm them up with 15 minutes of comedy and feel-good patriotism. Getting a Remain parliament to enact Brexit would be a doddle, he suggested. He would simply appeal to the ‘maturity and sense of duty’ of MPs.
He was lucky too.
At the top of his speech he said ‘we must do better than the current withdrawal deal’, and added, ‘when we come up with that better deal’. Yet no journalist asked what changes he would make and why he was confident enough to say ‘when’ not ‘if’.
So far, so good. A lengthy inquisition in a TV studio by a star-interrogator will be a different matter.