NorthNot so much a conference speech, but rather an extended column from the Daily Telegraph. One shot down in a hurry at the last minute. This was politics as light entertainment, with any collision with the real world completely accidental. Lots of jokes, one or two, even moderately good, and sound bites for television, but no substance. One more day like any other in the life of Boris Johnson.
The lights went out and Spandau Ballet played through the public address system. “You are indestructible, always believing that you are gold” is the narcissist’s tune. It’s no wonder Boris loves it. He’s the man who doesn’t have to try too hard. Even when the country feels like it is crumbling around him, in his universe he can reshape it in his own image as a resounding success. All you need is to believe. If you don’t like the world you’re in, and 4 million households were waking up to a £ 20 a week cut in universal credit, then it’s probably your fault.
Moments later, the cabinet streamed into the new hall, enlarged to twice the size both to accommodate Boris’s ego and to remind his party that he is their Supreme Leader, amid courteous applause. Still, it was more than many of them had received from their own 10-minute slots at the Tiny Tent earlier in the week. Then a short video of Boris being friendly and interacting with the grateful Little People before the prime minister took the stage.
Johnson looked up and smiled. The conference center was his kingdom. Your bubble. He could say what he wanted and no one would care. The audience just wanted to be embraced in his kingdom. Experience his vision of an England where there were no lines for gasoline, no shortages of food and labor, no inflation and no tax hikes. Those things were all constructions of a labor party and the media obsessed with badmouthing the country.
And what a world it was. First of all, Johnson almost declared that Covid was over. It had been a difficult 18 months, made more difficult for everyone by Labor’s insistence on treating it as a major public health problem, but now everything was more or less business as usual. Thanks to the vaccine that he had developed himself, the UK was far ahead of other countries in getting back to normal.
Then there was the welfare problem, which he had solved simply by saying he had a plan to address it. Yes, it could mean higher taxes, almost all of which would go to the NHS rather than social care, but I was hopeful that things could be fixed simply by eliminating some red tape. It was that easy.
The jaws came thick and fast. Funny stories in funny voices with even some Franglais included. The old women are the old women. Distraction tactics as Boris hopped from topic to topic, never allowing himself to drift into details in case someone noticed the total lack of any substance or policy. He could enforce his reality simply through force of will. Because his narrative was more attractive, more comical and, above all, less painful than that of the others.
He was creating a high-wage, low-tax economy. Like many of his colleagues, he doesn’t realize that many people accept post-inflation pay cuts and that his government has raised taxes to their highest level since the 1940s.
And I was going to finish leveling up. Whatever that is. He’s had so many nonsensical definitions in recent days at the Tory conference that it’s been hard to keep up. Today it meant that the people of Stoke Poges could relax on any outsider who tried to move into their village because there would be so many houses and jobs for them in the north.
Above all, Boris was eager to ensure that no reality intruded on his worldview. Labor was chosen as Islington’s party when it was he who actually used to live there before he was kicked out of the family home. Selling beef to the US was the crème de la crème of trade deals. Build a hamburger. Groan. The Kabul airlift had been a magnificent triumph.
Interestingly, he imagines himself as a historian, but seems totally unaware that one of the purposes of history is to re-interrogate the past. So there was the obligatory clickbait of a waking war. We cannot allow people to edit Wikipedia entries, he said. Conveniently forgetting that he hadn’t acknowledged that he had six children until recently.
The further I went, the more vague and lazy the speech became. It lasted for a thankfully brief 45 minutes, but it wasn’t even immediately clear that it was really over, as it seemed to end mid-sentence. Nobody cared. The audience applauded, none more than the cabinet, each of whom was desperate not to be seen as the first to stop clapping.
He had been a classic and accommodating Boris. He hadn’t really tried because he hadn’t needed it. It feels impregnable. Conservatives had loved him because they always loved him. It makes them feel good about themselves. Binge comforting with a diet of nostalgia and wishful thinking. And furthermore, if nothing else, the conference had been a stark reminder that they were not exactly spoiled for choice in the search for alternate prime ministers.
But it had also been a speech that had ignored the experience lived by most of the people in the country. Queues, shortages, feeling broken. A Brexit that didn’t really turn out as promised. The faithful might have knelt in worship, but in reality his speech had been an act of contempt. Both for them and for everyone else. The speech may have given Boris some breathing room, but not much more. Sooner or later something has to give. And then the shit will hit the fan.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism