Boris Johnson Peppa Pig speech ‘excruciating’ and ‘not a great moment’, senior Tories say

Former leadership candidate says government can ‘do better’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Tuesday 23 November 2021 15:31
Boris Johnson’s CBI speech ‘didn’t go particularly well’, says former health secretary Jeremy Hunt

Boris Johnson's bizarre speech to business leaders "wasn't a great moment" and was “excruciating” to watch, two senior Conservatives have said.

Speaking the morning after the poorly-received address, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said there were "things we can do better".

Ex-Tory leader William Hague said watching the speech had provoked “lots of clenching” and described it as a “bad incident”.

And former Tory leader in Scotland Ruth Davidson described the speech to the CBI annual conference as “disrespectful”.

“British business deserves more than chaotic and unprepared boosterism. It needs to know government understands the current huge challenges and will help,” she said.

It comes as senior Tories ask questions about Mr Johnson's leadership amid a series of blunders.

The prime minister fumbled his lines in a speech to the CBI, an otherwise unusual address peppered with references to children's cartoon character Peppa Pig.

Mr Hunt, a senior MP who is a possible backbench contender to replace Mr Johnson in the event of a challenge, however said Westminster was always full of "noises" and "complaints" about the government.

It comes after a torrid few weeks for the government, kicked off by the Owen Paterson sleaze scandal, criticism over the cancelling of Northern infrastructure projects, and a revolt over social care.

"It wasn't a great moment and it hasn't been a great month for the Government," Mr Hunt told Times Radio.

"I'm sure there are things that we can do better. But I was in the Cabinet for nine years from 2010 and frankly there's never been a time when there weren't noises off in Westminster, there weren't backbench MPs with complaints about the way the Government is operating."

A file photo from 2019 shows Jeremy Hunt congratulating Boris Johnson on winning the Tory leadership contest

He added: "Even though the last month has not been a good one for the Government, I don't think the noises off we are getting now compare anything like... some of the ones that we have had previously."

Despite Mr Hunt's downplaying of the fracas, there are other signs of discontent in the Tory party. Ministers on Monday night were forced to defy 19 rebel Tory MPs and 70 abstentions to get their social care plan through the Commons.

The government had quietly rewritten the proposals in a way that disadvantages people on lower incomes and with less valuable assets.

Ex-Tory leader Mr Hague said Mr Johnson’s speech to the CBI was “excruciating” – but suggested that the prime minister was fundamentally a good speechmaker and simply tired.

Asked how he received the speech, Mr Hague said: “Lots of clenching, really. It is excruciating for someone who has given a lot of speeches because really you ought to be able to bull**** your way through anything.

“We all have moments giving speeches where you think what was I going to say next and oh no, this page is the wrong way around - and this happens all the time, of course, but actually you have to make it look like there’s no [problem].

“Boris is a great speechmaker, actually, he’s a phenomenal speechmaker - he rouses and amuses audiences, so I felt very sorry for him, to see that.”

Asked to explain, why he though the speech had gone down badly, he added: “I think he’s been making so many speeches recently - he’s been dashing about every evening giving speeches in multiple places, you know, spending two weeks at COP in Glasgow and racing up and down to London.

“I think you get a bit tired - we’re all human and the fact he couldn’t, as I put it, bull**** his way through that shows he was a bit tired yesterday morning.”

But the former Tory leader defended the prime minister’s decision to say he saw nothing wrong with the address.

“You also have to show confidence,” he said. “There’s almost nothing worse, the only way you can make something worse is afterwards saying ‘oh my god, that was terrible’ - you have to say no, I made all these good points.

“Otherwise the likes of yourselves and the media will walk even more over him. So you do have to bounce back, don’t you, when you’ve had a bad incident like that.”

A senior Downing Street source meanwhile told the BBC "there is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM", adding: "It's just not working".

The source said: "Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes otherwise it'll keep getting worse. If they don't insist, he just won't do anything about it."

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