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29 September 2014updated 21 Jul 2021 11:18am

Boris Johnson: vacuum cleaner abuse, Emperor Augustus, and loyalty

The Mayor of London gave a markedly loyal speech today, among the usual characteristic flourishes. Is defence against Ukip uniting the Tories?

By Anoosh Chakelian

Boris Johnson gave his rallying speech to Conservative party conference this evening. This is usually a highlight of the conference calendar, as delegates and journalists alike drop everything and focus all their attention, and affection, on the Mayor of London.

But this year, the excitement of Boris’ arrival in Birmingham was a little dampened by the fact that he revealed over the summer recess that he would be running for parliament in May 2015. Indeed, one of his reasons for finally ending his hair-ruffling, faux-spluttering obfuscation over the question was to clear the air before autumn’s conference.

The obvious next question to ask of Boris is whether he would like to be the party’s leader if David Cameron has to stand down following the Tories losing the next election. However, there wasn’t the usual buzz about Johnson’s future political ambitions because he gave an incredibly loyal speech.

Johnson gave a characteristically witty speech packed with innuendo and metaphor, but still managed to resist his usual dig at the PM’s expense.

Last year, he made a joke about Cameron being captured napping in a photo of his sister-in-law: “Ukip if you want to – David Cameron’s not for kipping. Not unless, obviously, he’s at his sister-in-law’s wedding.” And the year before that, he teased Cameron about translating Magna Carta from the Latin, and then called him the “broom” to his mop.

But this time round, there wasn’t even any light joshing about the PM, with Johnson preferring to give a rallying cry of unity to the party. Attacking the “splitters, quitters and the Kippers”, Johnson insisted Cameron is the only man who can deliver an EU referendum. As well as going for Ukip and Tory defectors, he had a forceful pop at Labour, saying the Tories would be flying to victory while “Balls and Miliband in their clapped-out jalopy” failed to catch up.

As the Spectator’s James Forsyth points out, both the substance and structure of his speech was “in sync” with the Prime Minister’s strategy, moving straight from talking about the EU to addressing English votes for English laws. These are both areas on which the Tories can attempt to shoot Ukip’s fox.

But the audience needn’t have feared; Johnson still had a lot of fun with his speech. A bizarre extended innuendo, stemming from a story about British vacuum cleaners being deemed “too powerful” by the EU, led to Johnson’s insinuation that defectors to Ukip are the type of people who turn up at A&E “with barely credible injuries sustained through vacuum cleaner abuse”.

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He also revealed to conference that if he had to be a Roman emperor, he’d choose Emperor Augustus, “the greatest politician of the last 3,000 years. . . He did extraordinary things with transport infrastructure.”

Johnson’s loyal speech is just another example that the Conservative party is using Ukip’s threat to its votes and members to unite against adversity during this conference.