Boris Johnson transforms into the lion that couldn't say roar in his whimpering conference speech

The Brexiteers are stepping up their efforts to get Britain 'out into the world', indeed anywhere that gets them away from Jeremy Corbyn

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Tuesday 03 October 2017 18:53
The Foreign Secretary arrived on stage as if to collect a raffle prize
The Foreign Secretary arrived on stage as if to collect a raffle prize

For the B-grade celeb with whom the public has fallen out of love, there’s always one last payday waiting in the children’s literature market, and to that end, Boris Johnson could still be one step ahead of the game.

The Lion That Couldn’t Say Roar. It’s a decent title. And fitting enough too, given the Foreign Secretary would inevitably be the titular character, and it almost contains the word lie.

After long weeks of calculatedly undermining the Prime Minister, he had briefed his conference speech as having the title “Let the Lion Roar”. But when it came to saying the word roar, the final word of this long awaited speech, the orator's voice switched to a mysterious croak.

It was an appropriately underwhelming conclusion to an appropriately underwhelming day at a party conference that has only contained any shred of interest through the overwhelming degree to which it has underwhelmed.

They’d even called in the Chief Scout, Bear Grylls, for a bt of a lunchtime pep talk, who’d sought to get them all going, bounding on to the stage, and but for a brief moment’s pause to say “I’m not a Tory” tried to get them all “Up on their feet, come on, get up, let’s have a stretch.” On giant screens above Grylls’ head, the cameras showed wide shots of rows of pensioners, all very much still seated.

It was Brexit day at Tory conference. David Davis, Liam Fox, Priti Patel, and finally Boris Johnson. That they all gave variations of the same speech they had given last year, only with nine-tenths of the enthusiasm stripped out, was telling enough.

Last year it was all meant to be such a triumph. Out in to the world and all that. Global Britain. Well they’ve been out in to the world now, peered over new horizons, and it appears all they’ve seen, rising up to greet them is the unexpectedly steely gaze of a 68-year-old man with a trimmed grey beard, staring resolutely over his spectacles.

Not one among them - Patel, Davis, Fox, Johnson, nor Philip Hammond yesterday - turned down the opportunity to take the audience on a little history lesson back to the 1970s via Cuba and Venezuela.

The power cuts and the three day weeks and the strikes and the inflation and so on. These arguments they thought they’d won, on privatisation versus nationalisation, on capitalism versus socialism, that they think they have to win again. “This argument is back from the grave,” Boris Johnson urged at one point. “Its zombie fingers are straining at the levers of power.”

But you don’t need to win the argument. You don't need to have the argument. You’ve just got to give a generation of young people with insecure jobs and zero prospect of home ownership some reason - any reason - to vote for you.

And yet here they all are, a crowd of people so old they have no choice but to disobey the Chief Scout’s orders when he tells them merely to stand up, who still seem to think the way to win the argument is to frighten the kids into handing over to them what tiny bit of their future they haven’t already stolen.

David Davis went on a gentle stroll round the paddock of last year’s bad ideas. Of how the EU had saved the European nations from death and dictatorship but wise old England was fine on its own thank you very much. Its long uninterrupted centuries of good government that only came to an end when - that’s right - David Davis himself put a bomb under them.

How angry they must be to have thrown away their old get-out-of-jail-free argument, about how it's the Conservatives' mission in life to clean up Labour's various economic messes. This new retro--Stalinist chaos-in-one-country thing, has put paid to that.

Among the fleeting new material was mention of the “one-off, time-limited extraordinary opportunity” of Brexit, an observation closely followed by Davis’s own personal thanks to the various senior people in his department who’ve seen this extraordinary opportunity up close and bolted for the exit door, to be closely followed, we now know, by Davis himself.

If anything confirmed that this was indeed what Matthew Parris last week called The Zombie Party Conference it was the dull smattering of applause that welcomed to the stage the man who has for so often been their conference hero.

The Foreign Secretary arrived on stage as if to collect a raffle prize, a state of affairs that was surprisingly not improved by a lengthy, verbose attack on the various “Eeyores” in the media who had not spent the last fortnight gratefully granting him access to their pages in his now apparently aborted mission to topple the Prime Minister.

But for the impressive verbiage, it was all too much like Donald Trump. It didn’t stay like it for long. In a flash it was, for some inexplicable reason, going to be a newly Brexited Britain that was going to “Crack global warming with green technology and green finance and generate clean limitless energy, and stabilise populations” and so on.

Which all sounds rather nice, right up until the point at which you remember it is Johnson more than anyone else that has driven the UK out of the environmental protections of the European Union, and now waits in desperate hope that a President who’s taken the US out of the Paris Clmate Accord might be able to concentrate for enough consecutive nanoseconds to sign off on a trade deal before commencing nuclear armageddon.

Disney aficionados may be familiar with a previous occasion on which a lion failed to roar. Indeed its possible the early scenes of The Lion King were written as a metaphor for this very Tory conference moment, when a hopelessly overconfident child bounds in to an elephant graveyard.

Johnson, it has long been known, can’t wait to be king. On this evidence, a transitional arrangement at least will certainly be required. It could never happen at all.

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