Monday, November 18, 2019
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Just how good was Boris’s conference speech?

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FORGET the haughty disdain in both the broadsheets and tabloids whose politics are irreconcilably anti-Conservative, anti-Brexit and anti-Johnson anyway. Ignore the bloviating from the overwhelmingly Left/Remain-leaning social media. Discount even the carping, nit-picking parsing of specific language by the former chief speechwriter to Tony Blair in the Times. 

None of them would have had a good word to say about any Boris Johnson speech, and certainly not his leader’s speech to the Tory Party Conference yesterday, even had it simultaneously deployed the rhetoric of Churchill, the logic of Aristotle and the compassion of Mother Teresa.

The other end of the political spectrum was in many ways just as partisan. It brought the house down, enthused Michael Deacon in the Daily Telegraph. Weapons-grade, showing us that the magic is still there, gushed the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson. The best speech of his career, rhapsodised Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph.

Both Daley and Nelson, in my view, succumbed to hyperbole in their assessments. Boris’s conference address didn’t strike me as ‘easily the best speech he has ever given’. For me, his House of Commons speech on 18 July last year, just after resigning both as Foreign Secretary and from Theresa May’s Cabinet over her duplicitous Chequers Plan, was far better.

But yesterday’s was good, and certainly the best Tory party leader’s conference speech for a long time. Although, to be fair, that wasn’t a particularly high bar to clear after three dreary, robotically-delivered paeans to soft-statism from The Maybot (don’t even mention the dancing!) and before that, several years of Cameron’s unconvincing, spivvy glibness.

One doesn’t expect a last-day-of-conference, motivate-the-troops barnstormer to be structured with a beginning, middle and end, via an introduction, point-by-point exposition and conclusion, in the same way that a conventional 5,000 word 40-minute address or a 1,000-word article for a newspaper would be. If it was, it wouldn’t fulfil its purpose. A different aim and a different medium require a different technique.

But even allowing for that, to me yesterday’s speech came across as just a bit too unstructured, occasionally rambling and sometimes repetitive. Almost every policy subject or theme – whether it be police, NHS, transport, education, even Brexit – was dealt with by short, individual references peppered throughout the text. To derive an overall impression of, say, Boris’s government’s policy on transport would be quite difficult.

It also struck me that there was one glaring intellectual inconsistency in it.

Boris enthused about ‘creating the economic platform for dynamic, free-market capitalism’ and ‘a dynamic, enterprise culture’ to ‘release the economic potential of the whole country’. Fine – as he remarked, in a nice sideswipe at the statist Theresa May, when did you last hear a Tory leader talk about capitalism? Not under her, that’s for sure.

But in different sections he appeared wholeheartedly to embrace the green agenda, talking about ‘virtually unlimited zero-carbon power’, ‘a country that leads the world with clean green technology’ and ‘reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change’. Oh, dear – even at the most basic level, is Boris not aware that the UK’s CO2 emissions are estimated to represent under 2 per cent of the global total?

Is he not aware that the green agenda, especially in its draconian ‘de-carbonisation’ targets and timescales, is not only inimical to promoting the ‘dynamic, free-market capitalism’ he extolled only a few minutes earlier, but is avowedly anti-capitalist? Has he not been listening sufficiently closely to the demands of both the hard green-Left Extinction Rebellion and the cynically manipulated Climate-Puppet Greta Thunberg which even some of his own senior Cabinet colleagues seem desperate to appease?

Boris’s speech was workmanlike, and encouraging, but also, and primarily, functional for its purpose in a very specific, almost technical way, and deliberately so. Apparently, the salient buzzword is ‘clippable’ – meaning that the speech contains lots of 20- to 25-second memorable, and easily-memorised, soundbites, which can be extracted and fed on to social media over and over again, to reinforce the message and the messenger, in almost constant campaigning. It’s a different method of ensuring that, unlike most conference speeches, it won’t be forgotten.

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Michael St George
Michael St George
Michael St George is a freelance writer arguing for minimal-state, low-tax, free-markets minarchist-libertarianism. He tweets as @A_Liberty_Rebel.

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