Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Boris Johnson irons out his maiden speech

When it came it was typical, if not quite vintage, Boris

Click to follow
Indy Politics

It had been billed as his “maiden speech”. But since he’s been an MP before and no one, not even Boris, can lose their virginity twice, it could not be so described.

And the Speaker had kept him waiting. As the foreign affairs debate dragged on, the London Mayor, his blond barnet even more unruly than usual, was thrown back on various distractions – including a quick read of a Private Eye clutched behind the protective cover of his order paper.

When it came it was typical, if not quite vintage, Boris. He congratulated David Cameron on the “elan” of his “pan-European schmoozathon” in pursuit of reforms which Boris  insisted – on message – would work for the EU itself as well as Britain. But there was a catch. Cameron should “walk away” if the Government didn’t get what it wanted and “strike out and forge an alternative future which can be just as glorious”.

Earlier the new shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, made a much better speech than Philip Hammond, even if both were too long. But then a robot would have been more exciting than the Foreign Secretary. If the key to modern diplomacy is to bore your adversary into submission then Hammond is a latter-day Metternich. As he droned greyly on – Sir John Major minus the charm or originality – his phrasemaking plumbed new depths of banality. Labour had been guilty of something called “strategic shrinkage”. Putin was a “strategic competitor”. Britain had enjoyed  “evolution over revolution”.

Of the real maidens, Johnny Mercer  a new Tory with  serious Army combat experience, urged repair  the “great stain” of inadequate care for veterans.

Nicola Sturgeon was in the gallery to hear the SNP’s Tasmina  Ahmed-Sheikh’s  but not for Alex Salmond, who  deftly contrasted  Hammond’s assertion that withdrawal from the European convention of Human Rights was “not the proposal on the table” with the eagerness  of Michael Gove and Theresa May to put it right back there.

But Boris surely achieved his purpose on Europe. Which, characteristically,  was to keep his options open.