Boris Johnson is looking more and more like Britain’s next prime minister. This has nothing to do with the uncharacteristically stiff, dreary, workmanlike campaign launch speech he gave this morning – and everything to do with how he handled the questions afterwards.
The key moment was a loaded, sneery question from Sky News’s Beth Rigby, who accused Boris of bringing “shame” on his party when he described “veiled Muslim women as ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers'”.
[To get a flavour of how whiny, boilerplate and everything-you-hate-about-the-left Rigby’s question was, let me note the delicious detail that she pronounced ‘Muslim’ in the woke way that white lefties do when trying to curry favour with the Religion of Peace: “Moosslim”, with the sibilant double-s, as opposed to the normal way “Moozlim.”]
Anyway, Boris wasn’t having this nonsense and it was a joy to behold. Whatever you think of his shortcomings – and he has a few – this was classic Boris in stick-it-to-the-lefty-loons mode.
His reply – all the better for being delivered off the cuff – is worth printing in full:
I want to make a general point about the language I use because, of course, occasionally some plaster comes off the ceiling as a result of a phrase I may have used or indeed as a result of the way that phrase has been wrenched out of context and been misinterpreted by those who wish for reasons of their own to caricature my views.
But I think it is vital that we as politicians remember that one of the reasons the public feels alienated from us all as a breed is because too often they feel we are muffling and veiling our language – if I might put it that way – not speaking as we find, covering everything up in bureaucratic platitudes, when what they want to hear is what we genuinely think.
And if, sometimes, in the course of trying to get across what I genuinely think I use phrases and language that have caused offence of course I am sorry for the offence that I have caused. But I will continue to speak as directly as I can because that is what I think the British public want to know.
Earlier, Boris had been similarly dismissive of a question from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg whose verbosity he lightly mocked by describing it as “a great minestrone of observations.”
Boris invariably comes across like a bumbling japester: it’s his schtick and it serves him very well, especially when he uses it to fend off awkward questions like the one about whether he has ever broken the law and about — this week’s fashionable topic, the media has decided — his cocaine usage.
But underneath is a core of steel and he had no qualms about using it to bruise Beth Rigby when she tried – and failed – to land her blow with that question.
The left are up in arms that when Rigby asked the question there were boos from Boris’s fans in the audience.
Bad look for ERG MPs to have booed questions from journalists at Boris launch
— Alex Wickham (@alexwickham) June 12, 2019
I disagree. Rigby’s question was flagrantly partisan: in what conceivable universe other than a loony left one did Boris’s harmless newspaper column about women in burkas “bring shame” upon the Conservatives? She totally deserved a robust response. The only question was, would Boris deliver it or would he find a way of pulling his punch in order to make himself look more cuddly and centrist?
Well, we know the answer to that. Boris gave more than as good as he got – and in doing so sent a signal not just to his backers in the parliamentary Conservative party but also to the voters in Britain beyond.
The subtext of his answer went something like this:
Are you sick to death of the way, encouraged by our biased, relentlessly left-leaning mainstream media, our entire culture appears to have been taken over by censorious, hypersensitive Social Justice Warrior types waiting to jump down your throat every time you try to make a joke or even just speak an unpalatable truth? Well so am I. It’s going to stop. It has to stop. This is my line in the sand.
There are various things that worry me about the prospect of Boris Johnson, Prime Minister – the main one being this:
Oh dear https://t.co/MsmC6Zobhx
— James Delingpole (@JamesDelingpole) June 12, 2019
Boris’s girlfriend, unfortunately, is a green activist. She appears to have got to him. But I fear the problem is bigger than that. I fear – as I’ve argued here – that the Conservative leadership candidates, even the sound-ish ones, have got it into their heads that environmentalism is one of those cost-free, ecumenical issues they can freely embrace without damaging their core principles.
They are, of course, totally wrong in this assumption. But that’s politics for you: you have to accept the fact that you’re never going to get a candidate who shares every one of your principles, so instead you have to go with the one you suspect is going to disappoint you least badly.
And on that score, I’d say, Boris is very much the one to beat, especially after today’s showing.
For well over a decade, now, the Conservatives have been dominated by squishy sell-outs who can’t see a left-wing policy without wanting to borrow it in order to show how lovely and caring they are.
What the party needs – if it is to survive – is a leader prepared to take the fight to the enemy and not apologise for speaking freely and honestly or for advocating Conservative principles.
Boris – who evidently has a lot of goodwill and momentum behind him – could well turn out to be that man.