Boris Johnson’s speech to the Conservative conference wasn’t one of his most memorable. The hall was half empty (security arrangements delayed many) and there were fewer jokes than usual. But the London Mayor fired a notable warning shot at David Cameron over police cuts. He vowed that he would “not allow police numbers to fall below a number that I believe is safe and reasonable”. As Boris made his pledge, the camera cut to Cameron, who looked distinctly uneasy, unable to join in with the applause from the floor.
But with this exception, the Mayor kept his powder dry. He did not repeat his attack on the 50p tax rate (one of his favourite dividing lines with Cameron), merely stressing the need for the “right tax and regulatory framework.” He knowingly added, “I will say no more than that”. Elsewhere, he praised the “much-maligned banks” for helping to support apprenticeship schemes in London but went no further in his defence of the “leper colony”.
Yet even with fewer rhetorical pyrotechnics, Boris still charmed the hall. He repeated his amusing quip about calling a “snap Olympics” to “catch the world napping”. He vowed to “recapture” the 18 Boris bikes that had gone missing. And, borrowing a Gandhian trope, he repeatedly promised to “put the village back in the city”, a sentiment that seemed to resonate with the delegates. By the end, Cameron could not help looking slightly envious.