A cock­tail of con­fu­sion and panic, Bojo was more art­fully sham­bolic than usual

...on the PM’s first big speech of the cam­paign

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - HENRY DEEDES

EVEn Boris John­son’s most fer­vent sup­port­ers would strug­gle to claim his walk screams ‘world leader’. Most states­men stride with a cer­tain purpose, backs straight as iron­ing boards, eyes front, right arms coiled to ex­tend a wel­com­ing mitt as though pro­pelled by a spring.

Think of Pres­i­dent Obama’s smooth ways or that preen­ing French pom­padour Em­manuel Macron.

With Boris, it’s more of a plod. Back hunched, arms a-dan­gle, his ex­pres­sion a cock­tail of con­fu­sion and mild panic.

As he ap­proached the lectern yes­ter­day at the Lon­don Elec­tric Ve­hi­cle Company (LEVC) fac­tory in Coven­try, the Prime Min­is­ter’s man­ner was even more art­fully sham­bolic than usual.

Judg­ing by the state of him, I would not have been sur­prised if he’d just spent the pre­vi­ous 20 min­utes un­der a bon­net help­ing one of the me­chan­ics in­stall a fan belt on a cus­tomer’s trusty run­ner.

Here is the place they build Lon­don’s fa­mous black cabs. What mag­nif­i­cent ma­chines they are. The great Vic­to­rian Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Dis­raeli re­ferred to them as the cap­i­tal’s gon­do­las.

We were in­side a nasa-style han­gar big enough to house eight rugby fields: a gi­nor­mous place. Above, the roof was an orderly ar­ray of tubes and steel pip­ing, like a mass of lin­guine.

As Boris ar­rived, there was a small cheer from the work­force who had gath­ered to hear his speech. Many of them pro­duced their phones to take self­ies. A sou­venir for home, per­haps: I had that Prime Min­is­ter in my cab fac­tory the other day...

We had a bit of pre­am­ble about the LEVC build­ing elec­tric cabs. Boris de­scribed him­self as the pro­ject’s mid­wife, hav­ing helped win fund­ing from the Chi­nese when he was Lon­don mayor.

The PM wants to ‘get Brexit done’. We know this be­cause it was plas­tered across the lectern he was speak­ing from.

But we also know be­cause he said it al­most half a dozen times in his speech. He said it so of­ten I won­dered if his staff had started an of­fice sweep­stake to see how of­ten he could men­tion it. It hasn’t yet got quite the same ir­ri­ta­tion lev­els of Theresa May’s ‘strong and sta­ble’ mantra, but the cam­paign re­mains in its in­fancy.

Boris’s old cam­paign boss Sir Lyn­ton Crosby was big on this. The Aussie was very scep­ti­cal that vot­ers had much at­ten­tion. His ap­proach was to ram­rod the mes­sage into peo­ple’s brains. But even he might have been reach­ing for the tin­nies at Boris’s par­rot act last night.

The econ­omy is boom­ing, he said, but it could be do­ing so much more if we could just be free of the Euro­pean Union. He com­pared the UK to a prizewin­ning race­horse that has the po­ten­tial to go on to even greater glory.

Jeremy Cor­byn was lam­pooned, as usual. His ap­proach to Brexit was de­scribed as ‘a mine­strone of a mud­dle’, while his ir­re­spon­si­ble bor­row­ing plans were ‘like tak­ing out a mort­gage to pay for the gro­ceries’. Also men­tioned was

his ap­par­ent ini­tial sup­port for Rus­sia dur­ing the Sal­is­bury poi­son­ings.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s strong­est mo­ment came when he was asked about the leader of the op­po­si­tion’s re­marks ear­lier in the day about the as­sas­si­nated Is­lamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi. Cor­byn said that he would rather have seen Bagh­dadi ar­rested, even though the ter­ror­ist was wear­ing a sui­cide vest at the time his com­pound was raided by elite Amer­i­can sol­diers.

Boris de­scribed such an ap­proach as ‘naive to the point of dan­ger­ous’.

He may walk funny, but those were words of a true states­man.

Plod­ding through: Boris John­son in Coven­try last night

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