“We are the party of kitchen ownership!” declared Boris Johnson. “They are the party of kitchen concealment!”
To the launch of the Conservatives’ London campaign in Mill Hill, then, and a reception only a few pairs of knickers short of rapturous. The venue was a musical theatre hall - obviously - but London’s mayor and prospective candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip sought to deliver us to Boris land, where boring little “polytechnic sociology lecturers” like Ed Miliband are barred, and we all know where we are with a decent gag about a German invasion.
Boris had entered pursued by the local MP, Matthew Offord, and a wildly overexcited Jack Russell sporting a blue rosette, whose barking threatened to make any speech impossible. The great American satirist PJ O’Rourke was standing next to me, so I congratulated him on stumbling upon an auto-parodic British scene.
Anyway, they got the dog under control, and it turned out its name was Max, and that he was Offord’s pet or chief of staff or something. Explaining Max’s presence, Offord declared: “This is such an exciting day that we wanted everyone to be part of it.” If you want some Offord trivia, his majority in 2010 was a worryingly slim 106, and he voted against gay marriage on the basis that marriage is for the purposes of procreation. Only the humane could fail to warm to him.
Speaking of progeny, everyone wanted theirs to be pictured with Boris. Outside, one father instructed his son to show off the T-shirt he’d got Boris to sign. “Do you want to frame it,” he asked. “And put it on the wall next to the picture of him with you?”
“Yes,” said the dutiful child, who was about nine.
On a platform inside the hall, a large crowd of supporters had been arranged as a scrupulously diverse backdrop, with many of them instructed to hold campaign placards high and completely still for the duration of the speech, while Boris gesticulated in front of them. If you concentrated on the effect too hard, it felt like the frozen tableau which ended every Police Squad episode, where one person hadn’t got the memo and kept moving around.
Anyway, the crowd loved Boris, and while I don’t think any of us believes he loved them right back, he certainly loves what they give him. He works the levers of public approval with consummate skill, yet can never quite conceal his slight boredom at how easy it is. In this, he’s oddly reminiscent of Simon Cowell back in the days of X Factor’s pomp. Present, in a semi-ironic sort of way, but eyes rather clearly on a bigger prize.
Sample material? Ed Miliband and Ed Balls had driven the economy off a cliff. “They are the Thelma and Louise of British politics. Though considerably less attractive than either Thelma or Louise.” Incidentally, anyone tempted to complain that they’ve heard these gags on more than one occasion should have a stern word with themselves. As supporters of Boris would doubtless point out, nobody called out Sinatra for singing My Way more than once. Bus crime was down: “That’s crime committed on buses, rather than by buses.” And: “Vote Tory and get broadband. Vote Ukip and get Miliband!” That last one brought the house down. Happily, the man attendees kept calling “the future prime minister” wasn’t buried in the rubble.
Meanwhile, you certainly get an idiosyncratic stripe of small talk in the selfie queue at a Boris gig. “Did you read today that France have closed the refugee camps?” was one chap’s gambit to me. “So I wonder what’s going to happen now?” he went on with an arched eyebrow, like we both totally knew. “Isn’t he an absolute legend?” a young man observed. “Isn’t your day just going to go downhill after this?”
Not really. I’m about to wander round Mill Hill with PJ O’Rourke and get him to tell me stories about legendary US election campaigns whilst vaguely paying attention to Boris calling into wine merchants and whatnot.
“He’s even better than Reagan at speaking,” O’Rourke judged. “I saw Reagan, and there was a stiltedness to him.” As for all the attention lavished upon our hero: “He loves it, doesn’t he? He should get his mother to stop cutting his hair, though.”
The event over, Boris continued to work with children and animals all the way down the high street. “Please can they have a photo?” asked one mother of two boys of around eight and 10. “They’re massive fans.” “Lucky girl!” whistled one woman as another cosied up to him for a picture.
There was only one dissenting voice – a black cab driver who demanded: “What are you going to do about Uber?” “We’re taking them to court,” replied Boris, looking for all the world as though he minded. “You’re not,” came the retort. “The LTDA [Licensed Taxi Drivers Association] are.”
Details, details. The overwhelming reception was positive. Requests for autographs were innumerable, and everyone wanted a photo with Boris. He really does get mobbed. How long, on this form, before the posies? Or offers of a six-week run on Broadway?
This article was written by Marina Hyde, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 1st April 2015 14.10 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010