‘Boris! Boris!’ Tory faithful lap it up as leader delivers old joke routine
British prime minister reserves harshest words for parliament ‘on the blink’
Boris Johnson delivers his keynote speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester on Wednesday. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Members of the British cabinet including, from centre left, Nicky Morgan, Gavin Williamson, Geoffrey Cox, Therese Coffey, Brandon Lewis, and Andrea Leadsom enjoying Boris Johnson’s address to the Conservative party conference in Manchester on Wednesday. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
The chants of “Boris! Boris!” began before Boris Johnson walked into the auditorium, his blond head moving through the crowd as they rose to cheer him onto the stage. His speech offered no new policies, revealed few details about his Brexit proposal and was propelled along for 39 minutes with one old joke after another.
It was just what his audience was hoping for. Like the fans who come to the West End to see Les Miserables again and again, the Conservative faithful wanted to see the same hits, in the same order, delivered just the way they always are.
“This is a compromise by the UK and I hope very much that our friends understand that and compromise in their turn,” he said.
His tone was milder than that of a Downing Street briefing ahead of the speech and Johnson did not present his proposal as his final offer to the EU. He reserved his harshest words not for the EU or even Jeremy Corbyn but for parliament, which he described as part of the British system that is on the blink.
“If parliament were a laptop, then the screen would be showing the pizza wheel of doom,” he said, blaming MPs for “refusing” to deliver Brexit.
More generally, he spoke about Brexit less as a gateway to a happier future than as an obstacle to be overcome and an obligation to be discharged.
“Let’s get Brexit done on October 31st because we must get on and deliver on all the priorities of the people to answer the cry of those 17.4 million who voted for Brexit. Because it is only by delivering Brexit that we can address that feeling in so many parts of the country that they were being left behind, ignored and that... their views had somehow become unfashionable or unmentionable,” he said.
One of the most remarkable features of the Conservative conference in Manchester was the absence of any expectation that Britain could leave the EU without a deal at the end of October. The government has not found a loophole in the Benn act, which requires Johnson to seek a three-month delay to Brexit if he has not secured a withdrawal deal by October 19th.
Most of the Conservative activists listening to Johnson believe Britain will still be in the EU when he leads them into a general election, probably in late November. The party is increasingly confident that Leave voters will back Johnson even if he has failed to deliver Brexit on time and that he can win by pitching the people against parliament.