Boris Johnson’s speech in Birmingham: What he said – and what he really meant

Our chief political commentator watched the great pretender’s speech on the fringe of the Conservative Party conference, and divined its true meaning 

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Tuesday 02 October 2018 15:46
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Boris Johnson addresses the Conservative party conference

What Boris Johnson said: It is great to be here in Birmingham, where so many thoroughfares in the city are already named after our superb mayor, Andy Street.

And what he really meant: I can do jokes. Make me prime minister.

What he said: I want to thank my friend Philip Hammond for predicting that I will never be prime minister. That is the first Treasury forecast in a long time to have a distinct ring of truth.

What he meant: I can do jokes and self-deprecation. I really want to be prime minister.

What he said: The one thing I really worry about in this critical autumn of 2018 is that … after a thousand years of independence this country should lose confidence in its democratic institutions.

What he meant: A thousand years of history, a Churchillian phrase for an uncertain nation looking for a leader, previously regarded as a bit unreliable, to guide it in this dark hour.

What he said: It is disgraceful that we have lower rates of owner occupation for under-40s than France or Germany … if we get this right it is an open goal.

What he meant: Whichever party has been in government for the past eight years, and whoever served as a minister in that government, should hang their head in shame.

What he said: Labour’s instincts actually clash in a fundamental way with those of ordinary people … They want the pride of a place of their own. Labour hates that instinct. They have a rather nice Islington town house but they would rather other people stay in social housing ... If you stay in social rented accommodation you are more likely to vote Labour.

What he meant: I give you the old-time religion. From the book of Thatcher. Blessed are the homeowners. Righteous is the party that delivers a property owning democracy.

What he said: If you look at the record for instance of the previous mayor of London – someone my friend Philip Hammond might care to consult – you will see ... [Quick-fire list] and in those eight years we built more homes than the previous Labour administration.

What he meant: If I speed through the list of my achievements as mayor, you won’t notice how thin it is, or remember that London house prices soared.

What he said: When I champion the free market, as I do, you see I don’t claim that it is perfect; and it is disgrace that no banker went to jail after the crash of 2008; and I can see that the utilities have cunning ways of ripping off the consumer; but that does not mean that state control is better. It doesn’t follow.

What he meant: Listen up, Spreadsheet Phil. Do not call it capitalism. People don’t like the sound of that. And give them an argument. I show you how. Make me prime minister.

What he said: By the way don’t you think it’s time we brought back systematic stop and search and end the politically correct nonsense that is endangering the lives of young people in our capital and elsewhere.

What he meant: Theresa May. Basically as bad as Jeremy Corbyn.

What he said: Our diplomatic strategy was focused on the EU. That made sense in the 1970s. It makes much less sense today, when 95 per cent of the world’s growth is going to be outside the EU.

What he meant: Shut down our trade with the EU and hope for the best. Who says I don’t have an alternative to the May-Hammond “hug Europe close” plan?

What he said: That is why it is such a mistake of us to leave on the Chequers terms – locked in the tractor beam of Brussels.

What he meant: What do we want? Star Trek references. They love them at the Telegraph; they’ll lap them up here.

What he said: [The Chequers plan] is not pragmatic, it is not a compromise, it is dangerous and unstable, politically and economically. That is not what we voted for.

What he meant: Clever bit this: pay attention. She will sell her deal as a sensible compromise, guaranteeing stability; I say it’s the opposite: her plan is the risky choice.

What he said: Don’t be fooled by the suggestion that the EU will ultimately reject these proposals. Because what they want above all is to demonstrate to any other country that might dream of following suit that you cannot leave the EU without suffering adverse political and economic consequences.

What he meant: Chequers is not dead. Quite the opposite. What I’m worried about is that the EU will accept something like it.

What he said: Do not believe that we can somehow get it wrong now; bodge it now and fix it later. That is a total fantasy.

What he meant: Michael Gove, you betrayed me and now you are betraying the country.

What he said: Every time a referendum goes against the federalist cause I have seen how the centripetal forces lock on, and slowly, slowly the offending country is winched back into place.

What he meant: The European superstate is all-powerful. We may have to destroy the British economy to resist it, but I am Winston reborn. Blood, sweat, toil, tears, very well, alone, beaches, landing grounds.

What he said: As Ruth Davidson has rightly pointed out, we cannot tell the Scots they have taken a decision to reject independence for a generation and then ask them to vote again on the EU.

What he meant: She gave me a rough time in the EU referendum campaign. Now she’s on my side.

What he said: And do not believe them, finally, when they say there is no other plan or alternative. [There was] the prime minister’s own vision at Lancaster House.

What he meant: I support the prime minister, before she departed from the true path. I haven’t changed; she has. Join me in the time machine, to offer our wholehearted support to Theresa May at the beginning of last year.

What he said: This is the time to … prepare much more vigorously than hitherto for coming out on WTO terms.

What he meant: We must leave the EU without a deal. There is no chance that the EU will accept my Super-Canada plan.

What he said: It is in their interest too: to have the fifth largest economy on their doorstep acting as a continuing brake and caution to the over-regulatory instincts that have held the EU back for so long.

What he meant: They want a low-tax, low-regulation economic threat on their doorstep. It will keep them on their toes.

What he said: The ultimate beneficiary of Chequers might be … Jeremy Corbyn, who by opportunistically now committing himself to a second referendum reveals himself to be a patsy of the EU as well.

What he meant: He hasn’t, of course, but let me try to nail that jelly to the wall.

What he said: Back Theresa May in the most sensible way possible, by softly and quietly and sensibly supporting her original plan.

What he meant: Tear her down.

What he said: If we get it right we can and will have a glorious future and this government will be remembered for having done something brave and right and remarkable and in accordance with the wishes of the people.

What he meant: I am ready to be prime minister this time. Really.

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