Boris Johnson’s bouyant speech today was a fitting end to a Tory party conference that was marked by an overriding sense of triumphalism. Endless crates of Bollinger were cracked open with the ease and vigour of a teenager necking their first Bacardi Breezer.
The Midland Hotel’s bar was packed round the clock with bespectacled and pinstriped Tory types, while cabinet ministers were seen dancing at LGBT club events or belting out karaoke classics late into the night.
It was well and truly party time in Manchester for the country’s natural party of government as thousands prayed at the altar of Boris Johnson. This was a Presidential-style conference that allowed little room for anyone else to take centre stage, despite Liz Truss’ efforts at dozens of fringe events and drink receptions.
The four-day conference saw few policy announcements or the type of newsmaking internal squabbles that blighted Labour’s conference last week. The Prime Minister’s grip on the Tory party hung above the event at all times, with his personal brand underlined by the many pieces of Johnson-themed merchandise that were enthusiastically bought and sold.
However, underneath the triumphant atmosphere there were some murmurings of discontent among the party faithful. Many Conservative party activists and staffers are unhappy about the big state, high-taxing policies of Johnson and Rishi Sunak. One staffer to a Tory backbencher told City A.M. on Tuesday night that they were completely disillusioned by the expansionist policies of the government and their lack of conviction in solving the housing crisis for young people.
The Prime Minister’s keynote speech likely reminded the restless why Johnson will lead the party into battle for many years to come. It was a classic Johnson speech, replete with literary references, jokes about Labour and the type of boosterism that has long defined his singular brand of retail politics.
It was an entertaining and carefree antidote to the earnest, and sometimes boring, speech that Sir Keir Starmer delivered last week. It will also remind many why they voted for the Tories in 2019. The NHS, social care workers, low taxes, high taxes, bankers, capitalism, social mobility, the English football team and Wilfredo Pareto were all praised, while people smugglers, woke warriors and dognappers got the boot.
The speech comes at a time of growing hardship for many Brits, with Johnson’s words at the Manchester Central Convention Complex not necessarily reflecting the outside reality. The burgeoning cost of living crisis is genuine, taxes are going up and hundreds of thousands of people could be plunged into poverty by the government’s Universal Credit cut.
Unsurprisingly, none of these issues were mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech. The image of Tories partying it up for three nights in swank hotels is also somewhat jarring. While Johnson portrayed a vision of sunlit uplands today, things may be about to get a lot tougher for him when he returns from Manchester if he can’t get a grip on several crises.