ANALYSIS: What exactly was the point of Boris Johnson’s party conference speech?

Posted On: 
2nd October 2019

With no new policy, no new message and no new jokes, what exactly was the point of Boris Johnson’s party conference speech?

Boris Johnson gave his first speech to Tory conference as party leader
PA Images

That was the question being asked after he walked out of the Manchester Conference Centre holding hands with his partner Carrie Symonds.

Prime Minister’s Questions was going on without him and his big offering to Brussels was being delivered by his EU adviser at the same time, so his address to the Tory faithful needed something big to get Westminster’s full attention.

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It didn’t deliver.

At just less than 40 minutes long, it was a good way short of most conference speeches by a party leader, and contained no new pledges, spending allocations or plans which hadn’t previously been revealed.

His talk of 40 hospital upgrades, 20,000 new police officers and “levelling-up education spending” have been his administration’s mantra since the summer.

After a series of soporific speeches from the stage this week the PM did at least rouse the auditorium from its proverbial, and sometimes very literal, slumber.

And as the cameras panned to the row of assembled Cabinet ministers there were smiles and enthusiastic clapping all round.

But if this was meant to kick off an election campaign it wasn’t exactly the energising tub-thumper he would have expected to have started with.

Even the jokes were re-runs, having used his line about blasting Jeremy Corbyn the “communist cosmonaut” into space at countless receptions in Manchester already in the past few days.

And there was yet another mention of Venezuela, that nobody except Number 10 can really explain.

The slogan “let’s get Brexit done” has been repeated ad infinitum, it hangs on banners from the ceiling above where he spoke, but when it came to details about how exactly that would be achieved the cupboard was pretty bare.

Mr Johnson said he was tabling “constructive and reasonable proposals”, but all he would add was that: “We will under no circumstances have checks at or near the border in Northern Ireland.”

What exactly the definition of the word “near” means would probably have been the first question at the post-speech briefing between reporters and Number 10.

But in an unprecedented move the media were told just as the PM was finishing up that it was cancelled.

Whether that was because there was nothing to brief will be up to people to decide for themselves.