Election rallies ain’t what they used to be. Boris’s election eve shindig was an invitation-only event for party faithful. The location (at a smallish venue in the London Olympic park) was disclosed to attendees only on the day (presumably to head off the risk of protest).
The set-up is for media. The speaker faces the camera, with the audience clustered around and behind to provide backdrop.
The warm-up speeches from his cabinet colleagues, preparing the way for the high one, are mercifully short. They are principally a reminder that politics is a team sport and campaigning is also a team building exercise. Boris may have been PM for less than five months but there is no question as to who is boss.
The audience are drilled in their responses – but the chant of ‘Get Brexit Done’ comes readily to most lips. Some touches get a better response (a Boris ad pitching his message to camera using giant cue cards in a ‘Love Actually’ spoof). But the most spontaneous cheer is when a picture of Margaret Thatcher flashes up.
Some things don’t change. When the man arrives, he still has to deliver his stump speech with enthusiasm, raise the tempo and bring it to a crescendo. Without much in the way of novelty to offer, he has to take the crowd along with him. You remember how gruelling this business is at the retail level.
His content is mostly familiar. The surprise is really just how mainstream it all is: increasing health spending, not increasing taxes, even a skills-based immigration policy. Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing extremism. Johnson burnishes his liberal one nation Tory credentials to the sound of applause. But there is almost an impatience with this stuff – important but it’s not the main event.
That, of course, is the dividing line Boris has worked so hard to create: ‘Get Brexit Done’. Repeat. If it doesn’t work now, you can’t say it hasn’t been tried thoroughly.
Twenty minutes later, the audience spill out into the cold. A handful of protestors are arguing with the police. A little further on a polite young drug dealer hands out business cards. When the Conservative campaign team came up with the slogan ‘Unleash Britain’s potential’, this may not be what they had in mind.