The Conservative Party is in love with Boris Johnson. It’s an affliction that never ends well

The prime minister’s speech was 37 minutes of nothing, but they don’t care, the rapture is too deep

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Wednesday 02 October 2019 16:24
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Boris Johnson launches attack parliament by accusing it of 'refusing to do anything constructive'

It is not merely Steve Baker quoting Satan at 1am that casts Conservative Party conference 2019 as a tale of angels and demons.

Of course, it is theoretically possible to read too much into a complimentary latte hurriedly placed and then instantly snatched from Boris Johnson’s hand but really, all our names were on that little Starbucks cup.

Were they just two press aides, there on the prime minister’s shoulders? Or were they temptation and salvation themselves, God and Lucifer, crackling with a mutual loathing of a voltage that was frankly dangerous while walking past the display stand of the UK’s leading electrical cabling manufacturer?

Because here’s the thing. In that moment, when the unsanctioned cup is wrested from the prime minister’s febrile grasp, salvation won. Quite possibly for the very first time in the 55-year history of a man whose hands tend to find themselves clasped around whatever they so desire, temptation was defeated.

Why had it waited until now to walk among us, this angel of Boris Johnson’s better nature, in the form of a brutalising civil servant revelling in the cold-blooded viciousness of an office civil war?

How different our little lives might have been if “no disposable cups” lady had descended from the celestial realm whole decades before.

No disposable cups. No “technology lessons”. No secret families. No groping. No denials of groping that no sentient being could ever possibly believe. No blatant lies. Perhaps, maybe, just maybe, even no Brexit.

All of which is a hyper-extended introduction to make up for the transparent fact that Boris Johnson’s first party conference speech as prime minister cannot be written about. There is nothing to say. It contained not a single policy announcement, at all. Nothing. Thirty-seven minutes of stale old gags and polite applause and a whole lot of meaningless noise.

“Get Brexit Done” has been writ large all over Manchester for five grim days under relentless rain. And here we are, still essentially clueless as to how it’s going to happen.

As the audience waited for their shaved orangutan hero, the speakers played “I’m A Believer” by the Monkees. And why not? A believer is what you have to be. Because there’s nothing else to go on.

It is perhaps unfortunate, though entirely self-inflicted, that the broad theme of this event has not been getting Brexit done, or even the “exciting new domestic agenda”, which isn’t exciting, and certainly isn’t new, as Boris Johnson has admitted that his “20,000 new police officers” are absolutely no more than a replacement for the 20,000 his two predecessors removed.

Instead, he has had to talk over TV interviewer after TV interviewer, as he tries to style out claim after claim after claim that he definitely did not grope a young woman under a table 20 years ago, even though he can’t remember the incident, at all. And he absolutely definitely did not act with any impropriety whatsoever, when tens of thousands of pounds worth of public contracts were awarded to a woman with whom he does not deny having a sexual relationship with.

He has genuinely tried to say that the allegation that he grabbed a young journalist’s upper thigh is being thrown at him because there are “many people out there who want to stop Brexit”. These people, we are expected to believe, must therefore include those who saw fit to publish said allegation in the Brexit-backing Sunday Times.

It was hardly the only occasion on which things turned out not to be what they seem. On Sunday, excitable delegates rushed to a fringe event called “Challenging Islamophobia”. It turned out not to be helpful suggestions for how Conservatives might challenge Islamophobia when they encounter it, but instead, how to challenge accusations of it. That, it turns out, is how the party is going to solve its Islamophobia problem (the one into which Boris Johnson promised to launched an enquiry on live television) – by coming up with new and innovative ways to deny its existence.

I’m a believer. Some of them even sung the words to themselves. They really mean it. Trouble is, we are a month away from Brexit, and Johnson has nothing to offer beyond the same banal platitudes of three and a half years ago.

“We are about to take a giant step,” he said, “to relaunch ourselves into the world!”

Meaningless noise. It doesn’t mean a thing. On the morning of the speech, he had announced the new backstop-replacing proposals he was sending to Brussels. A take-it-or-leave-it offer. Credible analysts of this stuff are united in their view they are not credible proposals, that they are not designed to be credible.

At the end of the speech, neither temptation nor salvation could be found. Traditionally, someone takes questions from journalists about the speech that has been given.

For the first time ever, they refused. Well, I say for the first time ever, they refused on Sunday too, when temptation wandered into the press centre to give a four-word statement on the groping claims. “This allegation is untrue.” That was it. There were no questions allowed then either.

Perhaps that wasn’t meant to be credible either. Who are we to know?

The alternative to these quite literally incredible proposals, they will have us believe, is no-deal Brexit.

Except that parliament has legislated to prevent it, and has told him he must ask for an Article 50 extension.

No deal on 31 October will be breaking the law. And it is not so easy to break the law when you lead a party that, only yesterday, in the words of Priti Patel claimed “its rightful place as the party of law and order”. (It did so an hour after having to expel one of its own MPs after police were called to a row he was having with a security guard.)

“Let’s get Brexit done!” They were his final words, and most meaningless of all.

He knows he hasn’t got a clue how to do it. They don’t, though. They’re believers. There’s not a trace of doubt in their minds. They’re in love.

They’re in love, specifically, with Boris Johnson. It is a terrible affliction that has served him well over the years.

It never ends well for anybody else, though.

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