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When Boris Johnson won election in 2001 as Member for Henley, he urged people to “go back home and prepare for breakfast”.

This morning he ended his speech in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre with the words: “Let’s get Brexit done, but first my friends let’s get breakfast done too.”

For the Prime Minister is a traditionalist, loyal to every joke he has ever cracked; though at the same time he is a moderniser, constantly seeking to improve on the jokes he has told before.

And today he has played perhaps his greatest joke of all. For as we arrived in the hall where he was to speak, we were greeted with signs announcing “The People’s Government”.

Such placards are unwelcome to anyone of a conservative disposition, for they smack of totalitarianism.

But how much more of an insult they are to the Corbynistas, who imagined they were the ones who would be forming The People’s Government.

In their hands, the term would have become an excuse for oppressing anyone who dared stand in their way. They are incandescent with rage to find their slogan stolen from them by a man who, to their incomprehension, turns out to be closer to the people than they are.

Johnson has proved himself more popular than the Corbynistas. This Tory Democrat has shown, like Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Randolph Churchill, Stanley Baldwin, Harold Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher before him, that he knows how to express a patriotism which distresses intellectuals, but delights the wider public.

Like his illustrious predecessors, Johnson has formed a potent alliance with the working class, which sees that its interests are better defended by the Conservative Party than by a bunch of grumpy middle-class socialists.

The Prime Minister is such a difficult opponent because he uses jokes to tell the truth. When his opponents allow themselves to become enraged by his seeming frivolity, they make the error of underestimating the potency of his message.

When Johnson was elected Mayor of London in 2008, he promised in his acceptance speech to “work flat out” to gain the trust of those who had voted against him, and also of those “whose pencil hovered for an instant” above the ballot paper before deciding to back him.

Today he declared that he realises those Labour voters who backed the Conservatives for the first time in this election “may only have lent us your vote”, and he promised never to take their support for granted.

So amid the jokes, a note of humility could be detected, and also a wonderful rapport with his audience. Here is a Tory democrat who with sublime impertinence has stolen the socialists’ clothes.

53 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s election sketch: Johnson plays his greatest joke on the Corbynistas

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