In his final interview of the general election campaign, Boris Johnson declares he can be trusted because whatever people say about him, his record shows he has “a great deal of energy” and keeps the promises he makes to voters.
This interview with ConHome was conducted in the unusual setting of a changing room – showers, benches, pegs, a stench of cleaning fluid, a makeshift table strewn with sandwiches and other refreshments – which served as Johnson’s waiting room before his final rally, held in the Copper Box Arena, a sports centre in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London.
Johnson had to make himself heard above the noise of running water: “I’ve got to beat the cistern,” he remarked.
“Remember 2017,” he warned. The opinion polls could be wrong this time too, and unless Conservatives turn out to vote, a Corbyn-McDonnell-Sturgeon coalition is on the cards.
In this interview he clarifies his commitment to an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, names his favourite Christmas carol, and refuses to enlarge on his mother’s euroscepticism.
Johnson began with an outburst: “What this is all about, you can see what’s happening, everybody can see this election is going down to the wire. And we all remember what happened in 2017, nobody trusts the polls…”
But before he could get into his stride, the question arose of whether the tape recorder had been switched on.
ConHome offered reassurance: “Not a word will be lost!”
Johnson: “Even though I am having to compete with the noise of the cistern. I’ve got to beat the cistern.
“Everybody knows the polls can’t be trusted, this race is getting tighter, and it is absolutely vital that every Conservative gets out and votes and saves this country from disaster.
“Because the choice cannot be starker. I cannot remember an election in my political lifetime where there has been such a yawning chasm between the two possible futures for the country.
“And on the one hand we can get Brexit done, come out of the EU, January the 31st, launch this country towards a golden future, massive programme of investment in the NHS, infrastructure, 20,000 more police, or else we have a Corbyn-McDonnell-Sturgeon coalition.”
ConHome: “So what do you say to Tory voters who think victory’s in the bag?”
Johnson: “I say exactly what I’ve just said. Remember the polls can be wrong – that they proved to be wrong last time – remember the experience of 2017.
“We cannot afford another hung Parliament. We simply can’t afford it as a country. We can’t afford it politically. We can’t afford the democratic insult to the people of the UK who voted to leave the EU.
“We can’t afford the economic drag anchor of more delay, and more wrangling in Parliament, which is basically holding the whole country back.
“And we can’t afford the catastrophe of a Corbyn-led administration wedded to economic ideas that are frankly antediluvian even by the standards of the far Left.”
ConHome: “And the trust issue? Those voters who have not yet mind up their mind, 20 per cent, 25 per cent, how do you persuade them to put their trust in you in the last 24 hours?”
Johnson: “I’d make a couple of points. First of all, if you look at my record as a politician, I delivered what I set out to do.
“Whatever people say about me, I have a great deal of energy, and when you look at the record in London, we set out to cut crime, we cut it by almost 20 per cent, we cut the murder rate by about 50 per cent, we cut the serious youth violence by 32 per cent. That was the thing I campaigned on, we did it.
“I said we would reduce delays on the tube. We cut them by 30 per cent. Beat Labour massively on affordable homes. And, you know, Si monumentum requiris, circumspect. You’re standing in one of the many thousands of pieces of infrastructure that I personally delivered.”
ConHome [provoked by Johnson’s quotation of Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph in St Paul’s Cathedral, which might be translated as, “If you seek his monument, look around you”]: “Unfortunately, Christopher Wren had nothing to do with designing this building.”
Johnson [ignoring the interruption]: “In this case, on time, on budget, in the case of the whole Olympic Park.
“When I stood on the steps of Downing Street, I said we’d deliver 20,000 police. They’re being recruited now. I’ve seen them. They’re coming into every force in the country.
“I said we’d build 40 new hospitals. It’s happening. Yes, some of them it’s just seed funding going in. Six are getting the funding they need to begin a massive rebuild.
“We’re recruiting 50,000 more nurses. And yes, that’s more nurses, because 19,000 are being retained that otherwise would have left the NHS.
“Look at what I say I do, and look at what I do. I said I was going to deliver Brexit, I said I’d get a new deal, and we did get a new deal, and it’s a great new deal, it allows the UK to come out of the EU, take advantage of all the freedoms of Brexit, in a way that the previous deal simply did not.
“People said that was unachievable, I said it wasn’t, and we did it.
“Final point about trust. I think the thing that has undermined trust in politics in the last few years has been the failure of the political class to deliver on Brexit. That’s been the biggest problem, and now is the chance for us all collectively to put that right.”
ConHome: “In your conference speech you said this: ‘I am going to quote that supreme authority in my family – my mother (and by the way for keen students of the divisions in my family you might know that I have kept the ace up my sleeve – my mother voted leave).’
“Did she tell you why she voted leave?”
Johnson [after a pause]: “Um. I don’t want to go into it. I would rather she spoke for herself. Not that I’m going to encourage her to give you an interview.”
ConHome [quoting from the conference speech]: “My mother taught me…to believe strongly in the equal importance, the equal dignity, the equal worth of every human being on the planet.”
Johnson: “Yes, that’s true.”
ConHome: “Can you remember an incident that summed that up, something that encapsulated that when you were a kid?’
Johnson [after a longer pause, and looking highly emotional]: “Yes, um [the noise of the cistern begins to obscure his words], I don’t want to go into that too much if that’s all right, but my mother certainly believed very strongly in that kind of thing.”
ConHome: “What has she said to you about the election?”
Johnson [after some incoherent spluttering]: “That’s enough family. Ed.”
ConHome: “You did mention her in your conference speech.”
Johnson: “I did. That’s perfectly true. That’s a very good point, but I think that’s enough. The dea ex machina has been produced and is now going to disappear behind the proscenium arch or whatever it is.”
ConHome: “What’s your favourite Christmas carol?”
Johnson: “Um, oh they’re all so fantastic, I think, there’s something, I love, um [very long pause] ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’ [shorter pause] or ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’.”
ConHome: “It is said, ‘Boris Johnson in the leadership election debates promised us an independent inquiry into Islamophobia.’ You didn’t, did you? I’ve looked at the tape.”
Johnson: “What happened was, Saj [Sajid Javid] rather brilliantly bounced us all into, got us all to…”
ConHome: “But you didn’t say ‘Yes’. I’ve looked at the tape. You gave what might be called a Boris grunt. It could have meant Yes, it could have meant No.”
Johnson: “Yes I know, that’s perfectly true, but what Saj did, quite rightly, was to say ‘We’re all agreed? We’re all agreed?’ And I didn’t actually dissent.”
ConHome: “So you consider yourself bound by that?”
Johnson: “I consider myself bound in by it, and we are going to do it, and it will happen before Christmas, it will start before Christmas, it won’t just comprise an inquiry into Islamophobia, it will look at all manner of…”
ConHome: “When you say ‘We’, who?”
Johnson: “The Conservative Party. It’s an independent inquiry into the Conservative Party. It’s not a government thing. It’s an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and all other…”
ConHome: “Do you wish you’d looked at that photo first time round when you were shown the photo of the boy lying on the coats?”
Johnson: “I just want to say I have every sympathy with the family of the poor child, and anybody who’s taken a kid to A & E knows exactly what that’s like, and what I should have said instantly, which I’d actually at that moment forgotten, was that I’d been to Leeds Infirmary not long ago and announced we were going to rebuild the whole thing for £600 million, and invest first of all in the children’s services. I’m afraid I was thinking about the Common Fisheries Policy and other things, so I didn’t make that point.”
ConHome: “Why is Sajid Javid the only member of the Cabinet who’s been assured they’ll get their job back?”
Johnson: “We’re not discussing any Cabinet appointments. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. I’m not going to speculate. We’re fighting for every vote tomorrow, every vote. It could not be closer. We’ve just got to focus on that.”