The big blond hope of the Tory party addressed them yesterday in a mid-conference highlight. It was a slightly second-rate speech – a little underdone, under-constructed, underwritten – but Boris's beta is better than any other English orator's alpha so his supporters felt nourished and his enemies must bide their time.
No other politician could tell us that "the velodrome is rubbed with English rhubarb". No one in the political class could praise the 2012 building projects as being on time and under budget "so let's have a snap Olympics and get it over and done with". No one could climax a crescendo of achievements with "and after 450 years we have recaptured Calais!" (It's some renaming thing the French have done for us.)
One reason this rabble-rousing Rabelaisian has survived more sex scandals than the entire Tory party has generated in 20 years is his essentially sunny, distantly benevolent, deeply competitive nature. As Labour is getting sourer and snarlier, this is a big strategic asset. A small example: he directly addressed what he called "the criminal fraternity" (itself an affectionate term): "Tax and insure your cars or you'll get them back for Christmas as a cube. (Laughter). With a sticker, 'From Crusher with Love'." (Much laughter, no groans.)
He may have an ego the size of a second airport but that above is an effective law and order threat because it lacks the pious self-promotion of Labour's laboriously moral utterance. Having said all that, he did gabble a bit, and he did re-run a whole section from last year. The "who's from Wolverhampton? Barnsley? Oldham?" section flopped because no Tories would admit to coming from such places.
Could he be a little less nakedly ambitious? "I pledge," he said about police numbers in London, "I will not allow them to fall below what I consider a safe level." Who knows what Cameron thought of that? And could he ever lead the Tory party? Most doubt it. His levity, they say after Sydney Smith, will sink him.
This column hasn't always perfectly predicted the future of Boris – so maybe he will and maybe he won't. It depends whether the MPs allow the party to choose, when the time comes, between him and the Chancellor.Reuse content