Boris Johnson this afternoon closed out Conservative Party Conference in typically rambunctious style, in an address that more resembled one of his after dinner speeches than a Prime Ministerial address to the party faithful and the nation. Journalists had been briefed to expect a hardline tone, however Johnson’s decision to do away with autocue and instead rely on notes would suggest changes to the speech were being made to the wire.
A significant proportion of Johnson’s remarks were reserved for criticism of Parliament, and its refusal to acquiesce to his desire for either Brexit or a General Election. Comparing the institution to ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!’, he said that “if Parliament were a reality TV show the whole lot of us would have been voted out of the jungle by now.” Voters, he said, have more of a say over the TV show than they do over this House of Commons. In a slight that played well with the home crowd, Johnson added “but at least we could have watched the Speaker being forced to eat a kangaroo testicle.”
As one might expect, the majority of Johnson’s speech focused on core election themes including the health service, crime and punishment, transport, increased broadband connectivity, and housing. However, in what was a surprise to many, the speech was surprisingly EU-lite (though he did take a leaf out of the Chancellor’s book, mentioning that his own mother voted Leave). Many will say he misjudged his audience when he declared “It cannot be stressed too much that this is not an anti-European party and it is not an anti-European country. We love Europe. We are European.” After what seemed like a moment’s hesitation, a reluctant audience applauded.
Johnson concluded that his would be a sensible, moderate, One Nation Conservative Government, and was met with rapturous applause from the conference hall. However, given that No.10 had been gaming a General Election and making key policy announcements throughout September, the Prime Minister found himself devoid of new announcements to make at the podium. He has done a lot to answer his fans but little to answer his critics, and the big question remains whether he will do enough over the next 29 days to keep to his promise that the UK will “get Brexit done” by 31st October.