In the city that gave us Tyson Fury – the heavyweight champion of the world – Boris Johnson proved yesterday that he owns the ring of British politics.
Manchester saw a bravura performance – the ability to land the well-placed jab at Labour, the crowd-pleasing hook on enemies both real and imagined, and the footwork to avoid anything his opponents could throw at him.
If Mohammed Ali was all about the rope-a-dope, this was the joke-and-hope.
For Boris’ most dangerous opponent isn’t Sir Keir Starmer, increasingly looking like a mismatched middleweight fighting one weight class too high, but the British economy.
Rising inflation increasingly looks stickier than expected. The consumer bounce is endangered by sharply rising energy costs and shortages that will soon be felt in the pocket. Labour shortages that are leaving businesses in desperate need of urgent help that no wage increase seems able to solve.
Even the mild-mannered business groups, whose mealy-mouthedness has become an artform in recent years, finally found it within themselves to throw something back.
The Federation of Small Businesses said the PM was ignoring the “lived reality” of Britain’s small firms. Other trade bodies came as close as they dared to popping the PM on a very exposed chin.
As the din of conference dies down – the equivalent of a hometown fight largely fought to increase a boxer’s purse – Johnson will have to settle down for the hard work. Make no mistake the UK recovery is in a very shaky place, and so far there is little sign the Government appreciates that.
We all know Boris is a fine showman, and one who will never struggle to sell tickets. But champions are made when the cameras aren’t rolling.