He may be a headache for David Cameron at times, but we can be sure of one thing: grassroots Tories love Boris. After a worthy but dry address by David Willetts, the atmosphere in the conference hall tangibly changed as Boris took to the stage this morning; photographers crowded around the front stage and the over-excited crowd clapped and shouted out comments (of the “hear hear!” variety). Amid the predictable strike-bashing, light xenophobia (directed at the French), and what the man himself termed “lip-smacking Tory Party Conference style law and order fervour” was a robust argument against cuts to London’s infrastructure.
Boris joked about “my friends at the Treasury”, putting forward the line that a London fuels the entire economy of the UK. Nearly every place he listed – and it wasn’t short – in which jobs have been created by the vast London transport industry was met with rapturous applause. Funnily enough, at a conference where the over-riding theme is “the mess we’ve been left in” by Labour, justifying the need for brutal cuts ahead of the comprehensive spending review, Boris was met with enthusiastic cheers as he made the case for protecting London. One suspects that the grassroots would applaud him even if he were advocating out-and-out socialism.
Amid the jokes, there was a serious point, and perhaps a warning to Conservative high command — he repeatedly stressed that there were “tough” arguments ahead. As the leaked letter from Liam Fox last week demonstrated, spending cuts are all well and good in principle, but when it comes to their own remit being affected, the most die-hard Tories appear to think twice. The oft-noted tensions between the Mayor and the Prime Minister will be one to watch — Boris will not accept cuts without a fight.