Sketch: Freewheeling Boris gets the Tories going
No one has been killed! Boris Johnson’s free bikes success helped make his love affair with the Tory party conference a downhill ride.
The biggest impact Boris has had on the world in the last 12 months has been through the introduction of this scheme, which allows Londoners to pick up a bicycle and brave the perils of the capital’s roads. “Has anyone seen the chunky new bicycles we’ve got in London?” he asked, burrowing around in his notes as if he had left them there.
Looking up, Boris eyed delegates in the Symphony Hall of Birmingham’s International Conference Centre. He was already by now halfway through his annual autumn speech, a special highlight of Tory meet-ups which always sees the hall packed out. Today was no exception.
“What do I like about them?” the man himself asked of the ‘Boris bikes’. This, it turned out, was not a rhetorical question. Some Tory audience members at the front tried to offer answers, but they didn’t seem to be the ones he was expecting. After prolonged stuttering Boris helped them out by offering his own three-spoked answer.
Number one: “There have been no fatalities!” This was a triumph greeted by laughter – like virtually all the other triumphs announced in this ridiculous, and ridiculously successful, speech. Number two: “£25 million smackeroonies” of sponsorship. Number three saw another opportunity for a non-rhetorical question. How many had been stolen? Boris asked. “Not five!” The mayor didn’t count two that were mislaid by attendants. “Nor four. But threeee!!”
Boris was delighted at this victory against the “negative spirits” which urged him to drop the idea before it got on the road. He decided to push his luck. “Does it tell us that the people of London are more honest?” The hall sat back and looked at him dubiously. “What I think it shows is a growing sense of civility and trust in London,” he carried on. This time they really were laughing at him. He didn’t seem to mind.
For this speech was already a success, another Boris Johnson tour de force of audience participation and verbose spluttering. He whipped up the Tory delegates into a frenzy by listing the towns and cities of Britain which contribute to the London transport infrastructure, prompting cheers from delegates from across the land. “That is exactly the kind of response I aim to provoke!” he said, delighted, as the list went on and on.
The reason for this parade of pride in Britain’s Transport for London-oriented manufacturing was, of course, the strikes blighting the Tube today. Boris was in bullish mood.
“I say to the leaders of the unions that this gesture is nakedly and blatantly political,” he said firmly, to huge applause. He attacked union leaders’ “lackeys in the Labour party”. He condemned strikes taking place on the basis of support of less than 50% of union members. “Let us defeat the union militants!” he declared.
And then a thought occurred to him. This was about as unplanned as it goes at conference speeches, but it didn’t stop Boris. “Those three bicycles!” he remembered excitedly. “We have them!” And then, with ever more excitement: “Not only do we have them, we have the culprits!” Images of Boris sternly standing over the rapscallion miscreants leapt into mind as he expressed a wish to avoid frothing up “Tory party lip-smacking law and order fervour”. This was exactly what he had done, of course. They loved it.