Boris Johnson’s speech is unlikely to be newsworthy. But it’ll dominate the Conservative Party conference

The former foreign secretary will say... nothing much. Which says a lot about the state of the party.


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You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why: Boris Johnson is coming into town! That’s right, the former foreign secretary, two-term mayor of London, for one night only, is addressing the Conservative party fringe. Expect queues around the block and, given that the Conservative Party’s conference venue seems to have been designed by MC Escher, a number of luckless delegates to find themselves in a panel on fisheries policy by mistake.

Johnson will say... not a lot if the advance trail is to be believed. Brexit: he’s into it. Chequers: he’s not keen. Corbynism: he’s against it. All of which we know already. Unless he comes out in favour of a third referendum (heavily rumoured and strongly denied) or calls for Theresa May to go, it’s hard to see what he could say that would be newsworthy.

Yet he’s dominated this conference in much the same way he dominated the last.

Why? I’ll answer that question with a question: name a policy announced at this conference. I struggled and I wrote about some of them yesterday. More money for cadet forces, support for Citizens Advice Bureau to deal with the Universal Credit roll-out, and a policy on the apprenticeship levy too tedious to relate here.

As well as being dull as dishwater, these policies have something else in common: they say nothing about the country the Conservatives want to create or the dividing line they want to draw with Labour at the next election.

Say what you like about whether they’d work or not, Labour used their conference to unveil policies which all give off a similar vibe in order to facilitate an election they want to turn into a referendum on whether or not the current economic system is working.

That lack of a big story is the major reason why even a nothingburger of a speech from Johnson is going to make headlines and why essentially everyone in the parliamentary Conservative Party wants this to be Theresa May’s last as leader.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.