Oh, thank God. The overwhelming sense of relief! After three years of being led (and misled) by a stooping, scuttling wraith of a prime minister, after the misery of constipation without laxatives, after abject humiliation and Nervous Nellies and national shame and speak-your-weight soundbites and Project Fear and oh dear, oh dear, we have forgotten what optimism feels like. But here comes Boris.
“Good morning, everybody!” he began his launch at Carlton Gardens… and people started smiling. Even the ones who hate his guts find their lips twitching at the corners. They can’t help it. When Boris Johnson enters a room, the molecules rearrange themselves to make room for the sheer force of personality. There is a palpable frisson of expectation. It’s hard to define chemistry, but, boy, do we know it when we see it.
The Boris of old might have tried to wing it. But this was Prime-Minister-in-Waiting Boris. His boring, jealous rivals snark that “serious times need serious leaders”. Well, he’d give them serious. No more faux-hapless ruffling of that haystack mop which, like its owner, has lately been trimmed and tamed.
For the most part, he stuck to his speech, and jolly good it was too, masterly at times. Fervent, yet artful, it promised to restore confidence in democracy by honouring the promise to leave the EU. Rallying cries for national unity were matched by metaphors that were clever yet easily understood by all.
Again and again, Boris praised the British people. For their “resilience”, their “dynamism”. He called the countries in the Union “the Awesome Foursome”. Lovely. Unlike the metallic Maybot, Boris can lift your heart.
The paralysis in our disillusioned country must urgently be lifted because “delay means defeat”. (Boris beat that message out with karate chops to the lectern.) He didn’t want to leave with no deal, but we must prepare “vigorously and seriously” for that outcome. If the Conservative Government kicked the can again, he warned, it would be “kicking the bucket”. And that means Corbyn.
Boris will never be Passion’s Slave, far too calculating for that, but there was real venom in his attack on a Labour leader who has “contempt” for normal people’s aspirations to do better for themselves. (We haven’t heard such a thrilling excoriation of Socialism since Margaret Thatcher.) The people of Britain “deserve better from their leaders” who needed courage and clarity.
Funnily enough, Boris knew just the chap. He’d worked wonders as the Mayor of London and was now available to pull off the same trick for the entire nation.
Introducing Boris Johnson on Wednesday, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said that our next prime minister would need “certain indispensible requirements. These are extraordinary times and we need a personality big enough, strong enough and with the political imagination to rise to the historic challenges our country is now confronted with. A managerial and bureaucratic approach will not suffice.”
No, it really won’t. But, hang on a minute. What about the multiple charges against Boris – dreadful reputation, cavalier with detail – that were made during the questions at the end by BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, speaking with clear distaste on behalf of the Chattering Classes?
Just in time, the playful Boris millions know and love emerged from solemn statesmen mode to gently rib the sanctimonious Ms Kuenssberg. Out of “that great minestrone of observations”, he told her encouragingly, he had picked up “one crouton, that I have been inconsistent”.
It was funny, yet, at the same time, it could not have been more serious. Boris was signalling that he won’t modify either his language, or his behaviour, to please a politically correct, censorious liberal minority. He will express, in language most people understand, the ideas they hold dear. The metropolitan elite will damn him as a “populist”, which is another word for a persuader and a winner. We like winners.
“Hope is the thing with feathers,” wrote the poet Emily Dickinson, capturing perfectly that fluttery, airborne sense you experience when you allow yourself to believe that things might come right again. People need optimism and, after three, hopeless years, they are desperate to be led (even if that leader is flawed, they will follow him if he makes them believe they can do it). Boris Johnson gave us that feeling on Wednesday.
Evoking a powerful yet simple idea of one nation where a thriving free market enables “superb public services”, where bankers support nurses and the South links hands with its friends in the North, his words took flight. Hope. Conservatives haven’t had hope for a very long time. Honestly, they would be mad not to choose Boris. No one else comes close.
Can he start tomorrow, please?