May is not a match for Boris – give him a chance to lead
Boris has spoken, and such was his performance that the moment must come soon where he is given the opportunity to lead the Conservative Party before it faces further humiliation at the hands of the EU leadership, or is ultimately defeated by Jeremy Corbyn and his Momentum mob.
Everyone expected Boris Johnson to cover the Brexit negotiations, but he did much more than that. He showed that he has a grasp of the issues and the ability to communicate like no one else who draws a government minister’s salary. Not Sajid Javid, not Jeremy Hunt, not the flat Philip Hammond, and certainly not the Prime Minister herself.
Johnson energised his audience, he exuded passion, and he even showed raw anger towards the failure that might come because of Theresa May’s Chequer’s plan. Sure, he is not Mr Detail, and he certainly has some flights of fancy (such as a bridge to Northern Ireland), but Johnson grasps what people think and feel, and he can put it into words that move them.
The Conservatives have no other politician of his like; the party cannot offer another personality who can walk down any street in the land and generally be recognised by voters, as well as have kids scrambling to get his autograph.
Beyond his useful celebrity status, he is able to deliver his message to the public because he achieves cut-through by using colourful flourishes. His unlikely combination of words and historical metaphors give reassurance that he is not as daft as he sometimes acts.
There is also a humility, a self-deprecating humour that takes insults on the chin and turns them back onto his opponents.
Yesterday, he welcomed the words of chancellor Philip Hammond that Johnson would be unlikely to become Prime Minister as the first Treasury prediction with a ring of truth to it. Ouch.
He talked of putting lead in the party’s collective pencil – without blushing about his own virility. Ooh, er, missus.
In comparison to the Prime Minister, and so many others in her Cabinet, he was able to wax lyrically about the importance of free markets and of freedom for advancement of the human condition. He can mention the Laffer curve as if he has caressed it only the other evening, and talk of low taxes and low regulations without fear of being corrected.
Johnson mixes the urbane (telling of Uxbridge-made bus shelters being exported to the streets of Las Vegas) with the ridiculous (George Brown mistaking a Peruvian Cardinal for a lady in a red gown) to explain his point about economic opportunities and foreign policy strategy. He has a storyteller’s gift that wins him friends and puts fear into his adversaries in all parties.
But Johnson saved his rallying call for the Prime Minister to “chuck Chequers”, explaining why it was a constitutional outrage and would be disastrous for the country.
His greatest anger was reserved for the theory proffered by erstwhile colleague and friend Michael Gove – that through Chequers we could “bodge it now and fix it later” – calling it a “total fantasy”. Johnson clearly understands treaty law far better than Gove, a former Minister for Justice and Lord Chancellor.
“If we get it wrong – if we bottle Brexit now – believe me the people of this country will find it hard to forgive” and again, “if we cheat the electorate – and Chequers is a cheat – we will escalate the sense of mistrust… and give credence to those who cry betrayal.”
Yet for all his forceful words, he was a pussycat in dealing with the Prime Minister herself. Deftly, he did not attack her directly, he did not call on her to depart, he simply said that there was still time for her to change, time to scrap the “abominable Northern Ireland backstop”, and use the “redundant and miserable” implementation period to the end of 2020 to negotiate the “SuperCanada Free Trade Agreement” and invest in all the customs procedures that may be needed.
Theresa May could achieve this by going back to her original plan that she first enunciated in her Lancaster House speech in 2017, which meant taking back control of our laws, our taxes, and our borders.
Then as quickly as he started, he had finished and was off the stage; no waving to adoring crowds, no glad-handing or baby-kissing.
Today, the Prime Minister speaks, but she should not even try to match him, for when it comes to oratory they are in altogether different leagues.
Instead, if she wants to recover the admiration of her party, she should give a signal that she has been listening, and acknowledge that Chequers is dead. Otherwise, we shall need Boris to do it for her.