Boris Johnson tries to cheer up Tories with optimism and Corbyn-bashing
But one cabinet minister said the speech showed that 'we are past peak Boris'.
In his much-anticipated keynote speech to the Conservative party conference, Boris Johnson served up a concoction of jokes, colourful descriptions of Jeremy Corbyn and unbridled optimism.
Johnson began with a light-hearted jibe aimed at George Osborne, but quickly moved on to Jeremy Corbyn who he upbraided as a "that Nato bashing, trident scrapping, would-be abolisher of the British army".
The foreign secretary then went for a bit of elementary word play: "He says he still admires Bolivarian revolutionary socialism. I say he’s Caracas."
He later joked about sending the Labour leader into space to stop him from becoming prime minister: "We have a growing space programme run by my brother Jo Johnson and I have a candidate for the first man we gently blast into orbit and that is the superannuated space cadet from Islington.
"I know he has an innocent and voletrousered air but his domestic policies would rack up unfair debts for our children and grandchildren and his foreign policies would imperil not just this country but our friends and neighbours as well."
Johnson also had a joke about Labour’s Brexit positions: "In the customs union one week, out the next, in the single market, out the next. In out, in out. Faster than one of those members of the shadow cabinet who gets sacked before she knows she has even been appointed."
Having made some loyal noises towards Theresa May, the foreign secretary set about trying to cheer up downbeat Tory delegates who believe the party.
On Brexit, he declared: "It is time to be bold, and to seize the opportunities and there is no country better placed than Britain!"
And he told delegates: "We can win the future because we are the party that believes in this country and we believe in the potential of the British people!"
Having changed the name of the speech from "Let the Lion Roar" to the more pedestrian "Winning the Future", Johnson finally brought in the theme for his peroration. His address ended: "We are not the lion. We do not claim to be the lion. That role is played by the people of this country. But it is up to us now – in the traditional non-threatening, genial and self-deprecating way of the British – to let that lion roar."
The speech was punctuated with laughs from the crowd and received an extended standing ovation at the end - a response other cabinet ministers have been denied. But critics claimed that the foreign secretary had nothing in his locker apart from gags and wishful thinking.
New Statesman political editor George Eaton was one of the unimpressed. He wrote: "After knowingly raising expectations, Johnson fell well below them. Rather than the Winston Churchill du jour, he risks becoming the David Miliband of the Conservative Party: always circling but never striking."
Meanwhile, one cabinet minister felt that the foreign secretary was looking more like another nearly-man of British politics. The senior Tory told Sky News political editor Faisal Islam: "It was a Heseltine moment, we are past peak Boris."