ConHome’s Rally for Boris began with the highly enjoyable BOZZA-RIFFIC video. At the moment Boris was shown shooting a basketball by throwing it backwards over his head, his audience of 800 Conservatives burst into spontaneous applause.
It was an exploit which captured the joyful implausibility of the Mayor of London’s style of politics. He began his speech with a similarly implausible anecdote. A housewife had written to him to ask him to open the conference she was about to attend.
She turned out to be Kirsten Farage, wife of Nigel Farage. Boris felt “very, very flattered” by her invitation to address UKIP. He felt tempted to say “yes”. But then he realised he must “lash myself to the mast and resist the siren song of Kirsten Farage”.
The speech ended with mockery of UKIP too. “You kip if you want to,” Boris declared. “David Cameron’s not for kipping, unless obviously he is at his sister-in-law’s place.”
By treating UKIP as a humorous phenomenon, Boris cut that rival down to size without being horrible about it. He devoted the same sort of treatment to the Labour leadership. They were “the people who were on the bridge when the ship ran aground”.
Boris admitted that a number of Labour MPs had accused him of bad taste when he compared Labour’s treatment of the British economy to the wrecking of the Costa Concordia. He wished to apologise. He could see now that the proper comparison was with the Titanic – or the Torrey Canyon, or the Exxon Valdez, or whichever maritime disaster you care to name.
Nor was the Labour leader spared. “What is the definition of a millisecond?” Boris asked. “It is the time Ed Miliband takes to obey an instruction from Len McCluskey.”
Having pursued this conceit for another sentence or two, Boris punctured it by asking: “What is a millipede? Some sort of left-wing insect, obviously.”
Most of the speech was about London. Boris instanced the huge amounts of money which foreign investors are pouring into Battersea, Croydon and the Royal Docks, and asked why this was happening.
He replied that the Olympics had been a wonderful advertisement for the city, but more important, “the government of London is getting the fundamentals right”.
Crime in London is coming down. Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, had made a ludicrous comparison between London and Rio de
Janeiro. But Boris pointed out that you are “twenty times more likely to be murdered in Rio than in London”, four times more likely in New York, and twice as likely “in sleepy old Brussels”.
The Mayor paused for a moment to wonder why Brussels had such a high murder rate, and supposed it was because wives were “bumping off their fonctionnaire husbands with poisoned profiteroles ”.
Municipal achievements may seem an unpromising subject for oratory, but the Mayor of London rose to the challenge. “We’ve got Crossrail, which is virtually…” he began, before interrupting himself to say, “it isn’t virtually complete, actually… it will be complete by 2018.”
Local taxation is another unpromising subject. Boris touched with commendable brevity on his campaign for London and seven other cities in England to be allowed to keep more of their tax receipts, and placed it in a wider context. Scotland had got fiscal devolution, the Welsh had got whatever they had got, but “what has England got out of it? Not a sausage.”
Boris began his expedition to Manchester by visiting McKenna Brothers, a small business in Middleton, half an hour’s drive from the Conference centre, which makes destination signs for buses all over the country, including London buses.
This prompted the question of where Boris’s next destination might be. Could it be 10 Downing Street? But when the man from the Middleton Guardian, the local paper, asked where Boris’s next destination is going to be, he replied: “My next destination is Manchester.”
And when the Tory leadership question was put to him again at the end of his factory visit, Boris replied: “I have no such plans. Ever. Now. Whenever.”
But how he cheered the workers he met: “Look at that. Fantastic … Congratulations, folks … What a piece of craftsmanship … Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Boris posed by the sign for a London bus and declared: “There is the Decalogue. I’ve come down from the mountain. These are the new commandments.”
It will be recalled that Moses brought the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, down from Mount Sinai while leading the Israelites through the wilderness towards the Promised Land.
Conservatives hope to reach the Promised Land of outright victory in 2015 under David Cameron’s leadership. But no one knows better how to cheer them on that journey than Boris. At the end of his speech he received a standing ovation punctuated by whoops of delight.