Policy? Not a breadcrumb. But… A rootin', tootin', gag-fest bonanza

HENRY DEEDES: Policy? Not a breadcrumb. But… A rootin’, tootin’, gag-fest bonanza that had more matronly titters than a WI night at the Chippendales

As the guffawing delegates dabbed their eyes, you’d have thought Ken Dodd was prancing around on stage at the Palladium. 

We had whooping, we had cheers, we had more matronly titters than a Women’s Institute night out at the Chippendales.

Actually, it was Tory conference and Boris Johnson was giving his party a dose of the Dr. Feelgood treatment.

The Prime Minister’s speech was a hoot. A rootin’, tootin’, gag-filled bonanza. Pure end-of-the pier stuff.

He spoke for 45 minutes, exactly half the time Sir Keir Starmer had droned on in Brighton the week before. 

No self-indulgent pauses, no tedious standing ovations from the assembled claque. 

And, luckily for him, no greasy-mopped hecklers like Sir Keir endured either: this party is loyal to the boss.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson kiss as he arrives to deliver a speech during the annual Conservative Party Conference, in Manchester, October 6, 2021

That much was clear from the deafening reception he received at the end of the speech. The man is a hulking great oil tanker, his Cabinet so many little skiffs, bobbing in the foam of his slipstream.

Before his arrival, we were treated to a slickly produced video of Bojo’s greatest hits: Getting Brexit Done, obliterating Corbyn and the rest. The packed auditorium lapped it all up.

Enter the PM. He bounded toward the stage with the purposeful stride of an SAS cadet yomping about the Brecon Beacons.

A quick pit-stop to smooch the missus, then wham! A leap on to the stage that Sally Gunnell herself would have been proud of.

Down in the front row, his Cabinet applauded. 

In his introductory remarks, Boris gave a quick shout-out to Michael ‘Jon Bon Govey’, after yet another video emerged in the small hours yesterday of the veteran minister boogie-ing around a nightclub, this time with the chairman of the foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat. Jon Bon’s apple cheeks glowed appreciatively.

Things wobbled a bit early on when Boris mentioned the recent tax rise to help pay for social care and the NHS – and claimed that Margaret Thatcher would have done the same. 

Invoking the sainted Iron Lady to the Tory faithful is usually a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. This time it was met with stony silence.

A propos the current labour shortage, the PM bemoaned the ‘low-wage, low-growth and low productivity’ Britain of recent years. He said this while delivering some expert karate chops to the lectern. Hi-yaw!

Previous prime ministers, he declared, had not ‘had the guts’ to tackle the issue. It’s not uncommon to hear prime ministers distance themselves from their predecessors – but calling David Cameron and Theresa May gutless? Whoa.

As he got going, the toughest job of the afternoon had clearly fallen to the sign-language guys desperately trying to keep up with his verbal theatrics, their weary arms darting all over the place. 

Boris Johnson arrives with pregnant wife Carrie Johnson for a keynote speech at the Conservative party Annual Conference in Manchester

A relaxing Radox bath was probably in order for them. Policy? Detail? Barely so much as a breadcrumb.

Clearly an election remains some way off. Instead, this was more of a mid-term pep talk designed to send delegates home with a spring in their step and wag in their tails.

Most enthusiastic clapper? Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi who flapped away like the main attraction at Sea World. A rising star, Nadim, but on this evidence a bit of an overly enthusiastic greaser.

Opponents were ritually shafted, from Jeremy Corbyn (‘corduroyed communist cosmonaut’) or old Captain Hindsight Starmer (‘If Columbus had listened to him he’d have founded Tenerife!’)

Zingers flew in from every direction, indeed, as Labour got a right old bashing. Boris spoke of sports days at schools where nobody gets to win any races. 

He mocked proposals to decriminalise drugs as fanciful ideas dreamt up in the ‘powder rooms of north London dinner parties’.

He barely mentioned Starmer by name, but when repeated jibes were made at m’learned friends, you could see what Boris was up to.

Boris Johnson gestures as he makes his keynote speech at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, England, Wednesday, October 6, 2021

We heard how one lawyer had written an article criticising the Government’s plans to criminalise pet theft. 

Boris roared: ‘Well, I say to Cruella de Vil QC: if you can steal a dog or a cat then there is frankly no limit to your depravity!’

He poured ridicule on those – including Labour – who had opposed the recent nuclear submarine deal signed with the United States and Australia.

 Or, as he put it in a classic Boris-ism, the ‘raucous squawkers from the anti-Aukus caucus’. Yowzers!

The increasingly frantic sign-language lady nearly toppled from her perch trying to deliver that tongue-twizzler.

Not every gag flew off the bat’s sweet spot. 

The slogan ‘Build Back Better’ was changed first to ‘build back beaver’ and then, bizarrely, to ‘build back burger’. 

As jokes go, it was a trifle obscure. But as speeches go, this was a larf, a rib-tickler, a six right out of the ground.

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