I was rather looking forward to the Johnson press conference. Backbenchers are flocking to his banner because of his ability to unite, deliver Brexit by the 31October and pulverise Corbyn and Farage. I was, like everyone else, expecting razzmatazz, wit, dynamism and that star dust that can charm as well as repel. It was nowhere to be seen. He was a modern day Archie Rice. The great entertainer who failed to entertain. Dead behind the eyes. Going through the motions. And scared. I’ve never seen Johnson scared before. It was unnerving. The trouble is this was the easy one. He was amongst friends. Well, not so much friends as a weird assortment of ERG crazies, terrified marginal seaters who are hanging on to his coat tails, and the obscenely ambitious. It was like drinking up time in the Star Wars bar.
He has had weeks, months, probably years to put together this speech. It was his moment. And he fluffed it. He gave the impression that it had been knocked together by an aide and thrust into his hand just before he entered the hall. Where was the towering oratory? The cadences of destiny? That magic where people could say in years to come, ‘ I was there’. It was so wooden you could have creosoted it.
If you think this might have discombobulated his supporters it was nothing compared to what was to follow. His dishonest and evasive response to questions. Only six questions were allowed. And that was it. You would have thought that after the drugs massacre of Gove he would have had a formula of words to deal with the cocaine he admitted taking and later denied. About his laziness, his incompetence, his dishonesty and his lack of attention to detail. And when he tried to deflect difficult questions with humour it was forced and met with embarrassed sniggers.
He really should have taken lessons from Gove and Stuart. Gove gave a masterclass of competence and was fizzing with ideas. He had been hammered by the media over the weekend yet answered all questions in a straight forward and dignified manner. They used to call Harold MacMillan Unflappable Mac, Gove could give him a run for his money. Test one. To be Prime Minister you have to level headed in a crisis. Gove passed with flying colours.
And then there was Rory Stuart. Lyrical, honest, sensible. The sort of man that non Tories could vote for. In other words the sort of Tory that is unelectable to the leadership. God, he was impressive.
Now back to Johnson. He still has a very good chance of winning, but........today was an inauspicious start. Hiding from the press and the media is insane for a politician who has thrived on publicity, who lives for the lens. The awkward questions can’t be dodged for much longer without serious fallout. So the swashbuckling maverick has proved to be more buckle than swash. He is not so much running for office as running for cover. What must worry him is that the backbencher ballot is secret. And some MPs don’t always tell the truth.