It was all there – the anticipation, the build up, the queues to see him, the packed hall. These are the hallmarks of the day Boris Johnson makes his speech at the party conference.
Only slightly late the star attraction made his way to the stage. The hair is thinner now and the eyes puffier, but the familiar ingredients were all present – self deprecation, professed loyalty to the leader, historical and classical references, and a racy joke or two. (Boris is the last one who should refer to pencils needing lead and he knows it, but it’s all part of the cheeky chappy shtick. Typically, the thrust of the speech contradicted party policy.
By his standards at barely 30 minutes it was a short speech, but it was well-argued and persuasive. The audience loved it, applauded many times, and at the end they gave him a standing ovation. It was, as it always is, a bright moment in the week. Boris is a formidable journalistic force. He can coin a phrase like few others. Chuck Chequers sticks in the mind. He uses his position as a paid columnist on the Telegraph very effectively to make his political case.
Somehow though this time his heart did not seem quite to be in it. It was reminscent of faded old stager Archie Rice as played by Olivier in The Entertainer, an end of Empire allegory. Jeremy Warner, Associate Editor of the Telegraph, swiftly pointed out on Twitter Boris had said nothing new or different from his column in that paper.
There were riffs on attacking big house-builders, big banks, big utility companies, and one on the need for tax cuts. All good staple applause generators, but nothing new, nothing original. It was all a bit formulaic. A little bit jaded. Boris has taken down one Conservative Prime Minister and is now tilting at another. Theresa May however is proving less easy to dislodge than David Cameron. She is more resilient than either her predecessor or main rival.
Having opted for the easier path of leaving the Cabinet, preferring to hurl political thunderbolts at colleagues trying to navigate a way through Brexit instead of helping to deliver it, Boris is accumulating many political opponents at all levels of the government and across the Conservative Parliamentary party.
His great political ability is to gather strength in a one person focussed personality contest, which is why he was so effective in the London Mayoral contest – twice. His great weakness is that he is not a team player.
Westminster politics is all about building teams, alliances, networks, bases of support. These he just does not have.
If today marks the high point of Boris Brexit Mania Theresa May and her team will not be discontented. They will have weathered the storm and made passage through. By this time next year Brexit will have occurred and the political caravan will have moved on.