The song playing immediately before and after Boris Johnson’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference, my fellow music nerds might have recognised, was The Who’s Baba O’Riley.
It didn’t play through to Roger Daltrey’s vocals, but if it had, we’d have heard the line, “I don’t need to fight to prove that I’m right.” Ironic, so soon after the debates about the Prime Minister’s bellicose language in Parliament.
Anyway, it was a fairly unremarkable conference speech, I thought.
I had two take-aways:
- First, the “Get Brexit Done” mantra;
- Second, the strategy of reclaiming and reframing recent accusations against his Government. So, for example, Johnson presented the Tories as the party of unity and union, but of the UK rather than the EU. He also emphasised continuity and constitutionalism as Tory values, in contrast to accusations levelled against him after the prorogation of Parliament, and in contrast to the iconoclasm of Corbyn’s Labour.
You could see that Johnson was itching to go off-script. You could see him reading, adding what appeared to be an off-hand comment, and then returning reluctantly to a speech with which he never seemed totally familiar.
He, or his advisers, included a few classic Boris-isms: ostentatious displays of verbal dexterity through polysyllabic wordplay.
So, for example, we had “the super-masticated subject of Brexit“, “fratricidal anti-Semitic Marxists“, and “super-informative vermicelli.”
Then again, we also had phrases like “a process of renewable democratic consent” and “existing regulatory arrangements.” This is the type of serious but unadorned language that the Prime Minister just can’t deliver with sincerity.
In fact, sincerity is a problem for Johnson: his normal mode, as I wrote previously, is irony. He relished the jokes and the irreverence in the speech, but hesitated over the serious stuff.
Keep Yer Chin Up!
Would one of Boris Johnson’s advisers please raise and angle his lectern?
Johnson appeared crouched over, his face too often aimed straight down at the paper in front of him. His whole head had to move when he raised his eyes from the script to the room and the cameras.
He needed, quite literally, to keep his chin up.
Get Brexit Done
I’d love to know whether the author of “Get Brexit Done” – the slogan peppered throughout Boris Johnson’s conference speech and prominent on the backdrop (digitally, presumably so no letters could drop off) – was consciously calling to mind the US comedian Larry the Cable Guy and his catchphrase, “Git-R-Done!”
Git-r-done, the Urban Dictionary reports, is “A phrase amongst rednecks that symbolizes pride.”
Or, as Larry the Cable Guy himself says, “It’s an All-American phrase… whatever you gotta do, don’t bitch about it, don’t complain about it, just git-r-done!”
I suspect the allusion isn’t conscious, but it’s still revealing.
“Get Brexit Done” seems, to me, a slogan that is as brutish, stubborn, and ugly as the sentiment behind it.