What Boris Johnson said in his conference speech – and what he really meant

·4-min read

What Boris Johnson said: Let’s get on with the job.

What he actually meant: Stop clapping. I love it, obviously; it’s why I’m here. But I need to give the impression of knowing what I’m doing and of wanting urgently to get on with it.

What he said: You, all of you, and everybody watching, made this rollout possible; you each made each other safer, so perhaps we should all thank each other. Go on – try a cautious fist bump, because it’s OK now.

What he meant: It wasn’t OK when I boasted about shaking hands at the start of this thing, but it is definitely OK now. Trust me.

What he said: Waiting lists will almost certainly go up before they come down. Covid pushed out a great bow wave of cases – people did not or could not seek help – and that wave is now coming back, a tide of anxiety washing into every A&E and every GP.

What he meant: I am the nation’s old-fashioned GP, the one who tells jokes and amuses the children, but who has a bedside manner telling it like it is and sharing your deepest worries.

What he said: And this is the priority of the British people

What he meant: The opinion polling is clear. I am the heir to Blair.

What he said: Margaret Thatcher would not have ignored this meteorite that has just crashed through the public finances – she would have wagged her finger and said more borrowing now is just higher interest rates and even higher taxes later

What he meant: If you don’t like Tony Blair, I am the heir to Thatcher.

What he said: The pandemic not only put colossal pressure on the NHS, it was a lightning flash illumination of a problem we have failed to address for decades.

What he meant: Well, Thatcher wasn’t that keen on the NHS, and Blair fixed it, then some other lot came along and broke it again. I’m losing my thread here. Bear with.

What he said: We have one of the most imbalanced societies and lop-sided economies of all the richer countries. This is not just a question of social justice, it is an appalling waste of potential and it is holding this country back.

What he meant: This is an entirely new party, the Boris Party. When we came to power in 2019 we found the country had been left in a terrible state by the previous government: whoever they were, they had nothing to do with us.

What he said: There is no reason why the inhabitants of one part of the country should be geographically fated to be poorer than others.

What he meant: There is every reason, and it is mostly about “distance from London”, a world city that is a fantastic engine of economic growth and I should know, I used to be the mayor, but I’m not going to mention that now.

What he said: When Thomas Gray stood in that country churchyard in 1750 and wrote his famous elegy: as the curfew tolled the knell of parting day, he lamented the wasted talents of those buried around him.

What he meant: Levelling up means making the whole of the UK like Buckinghamshire. Which is close to London.

What he said: That is why levelling up works for the whole country and is the right and responsible policy, because it helps to take the pressure off parts of the overheating south-east, while simultaneously offering hope and opportunity to those areas that have felt left behind.

What he meant: Yes, I know every government has tried regional policy since the war and it never makes any difference, but think of this as a word poem, conjuring up happy thoughts.

What he said: In Islington – I kid you not I have seen it with my own eyes – they [Labour] like kids to run races where nobody actually wins; and I have to tell you I don’t believe that is a good preparation for life, let alone for the Olympic games.

What he meant: I kid you; my eyes have seen no such thing; but it is the kind of happy myth that audiences like this lap up, and it has the advantage as some chap in my office, Cummings I think his name was, said, that it drives the Labour Party demented as they spend days pointing out that it is just not true.

What he said: The economic theory behind levelling up … is contained in the insight of Wilfredo Pareto, a 19th-century Italian figure who floated from the cobwebbed attic of my memories: that there are all kinds of improvements you can make to people’s lives, he said, without diminishing anyone else.

What he meant: He was a magician with a magic money tree and he made everyone happy. The original deluded optimist.

What he said: Rishi will I am sure confirm this.

What he meant: I can tell by the look on the chancellor’s face that he knows perfectly well that Pareto was just as likely to be about how the rich can get richer without the poor getting poorer. But let’s stick with “everyone shall have prizes” .

What he said: We are going to re-wild parts of the country and consecrate a total of 30 per cent to nature.

What he meant: Hullo clouds, hullo sky. Cheer up everybody.

What he said: I know that there are some who now tell us that we are ungenerous and unfeeling in our attempts to control our borders, and I say – don’t give me that: this is the government that stood up to China and announced that we would provide a haven for British overseas nationals in Hong Kong (30,000 have already applied) and I am really proud to be part of a Conservative government that will welcome 20,000 Afghans, people who risked their lives to guide us and translate for us.

What he meant: Tough immigration control is a vote winner.

What he said: There is no happiness like taking a set of keys and knowing that the place is yours.

What he meant: And it has been denied to more people than ever before. I haven’t got a plan to do anything about it, but we’ve got rid of that ghastly lot who were in charge before 2019, and I can do a joke about being allowed to paint my front door any colour I like as long as it is black.

What he said: We need to remember why and how we have been able to back people through this pandemic at all: it was because we Conservatives fixed the economy.

What he meant: Some useless people in the Pre-Boris Party relied on a broken economic model involving uncontrolled immigration, but it worked quite well and made the UK the job-creation wonder of the world. Where was I? Happy stuff. Words.

What he said: We are going to use our Brexit freedoms to do things differently.

What he meant: Or the same. Depends what you want, really.

What he said: A country that is proud to be a trailblazer, to judge people not by where they come from, but by their spirit, and by what is inside them. That is the spirit that is the same across this country in every town and village and city that can be found in the hearts and minds of kids growing up everywhere and that is the spirit we are going to unleash.

What he meant: Is that enough words yet?

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