Zoink! The golden boy’s line went dead… had Boris Johnson pulled the plug? HENRY DEEDES watches Rishi Sunak address the virtual Tory party conference
No claps, no cheers, no standing ovations.
Not even an on-stage smooch from the proud missus as Rishi Sunak addressed the Tory Conference for the first time as Chancellor.
The absence of Mrs Sunak was particularly disappointing.
Judging by her giddy display in the Commons during March’s budget, we could do with seeing more of her in public.
Still, what we got yesterday was a Chancellor’s conference speech like no other. Not least because of how short it was.
The Chancellor appeared on the stroke of midday behind a glossy white lectern, preened, freshly suited and wearing a natty turquoise tie. Pictured: Rishi Sunak addresses the Tory Conference for the first time as Chancellor
Barely 12 minutes by my clock. Sir Keir Starmer’s meandering questions at PMQs sometimes go on longer.
More notable though was its unbridled honesty.
None of the usual tub-thumping pledges to spend more, tax less, or boasts of raising record levels of public moolah.
Instead, we heard uncomfortable noises about ‘hard choices’ and ‘getting debt back under control’.
In other words, it was another sharp dose of Rishi’s mandatory medicine for which we’re all going to have to open wide and swallow.
The Chancellor appeared on the stroke of midday behind a glossy white lectern, preened, freshly suited and wearing a natty turquoise tie.
His hair, as ever, was immaculately combed and oiled. Was he carrying a few extra grey strands around the sides?
After all those late-night sessions in the Treasury recently, it’s a miracle he has anything on top at all.
We kicked off with a string of thank-yous – his family, fellow MPs, his constituents.
Rishi reiterated his warning that not every job or business could be saved. Pictured: Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak larking with electric car chargers in London yesterday
There was an exhaustive list of people he wished to acknowledge inside the Treasury. ‘Steve, Jessie, John, Cerni…’
There were shades of one of those overly long Bafta acceptances speeches when there’s even a little cooee for the tea dollies.
All of a sudden, zoink! The feed went dead.
Perhaps someone in the Conservative IT department lost patience with all those thank-yous.
Or possibly it was team Boris sabotaging the golden whippersnapper’s big day.
By the time transmission resumed, Rishi was basting the boss in a honey glaze of compliments.
Boris, he observed, had ‘an ability to connect with people in a way few politicians can manage’, who had got ‘the big calls’ right during this crisis.
‘But not every call’ may have been the implication here.
Rishi reiterated his warning that not every job or business could be saved, but he would throw ‘the overwhelming might of the British state’ at people’s disposal to develop new skills.
‘Even if it feels like there is no hope, I’m telling you that there is,’ he implored.
We are not used to hearing Chancellors sound as delicate at this.
Heavens, can you imagine Philip Hammond trying to give this sort of speech?
For a numbers man, Rishi does the gentle hand-patting thing very well.
The only disappointment was that his autocue had been placed too high.
This meant that he spent his speech staring up, eyeballs flickering from side to side, like a late-night reveller examining the bill of fare in a kebab house.
Talk soon turned to the parlous state of our finances.
Rishi spoke of a ‘sacred responsibility’ to future generations. If the Government carried on simply borrowing money, ‘what is the point of us?’ he asked.
The Chancellor’s message to them was also a stark one: Stand by for further visits from the taxman. Pictured: Boris Johnson, left, and Rishi Sunak visit the headquarters of Octopus Energy in London on Monday
No doubt the Tory grassroots will have been partly relieved to hear this.
The way the Treasury has been squirting money around since the pandemic took hold, some may have wondered if their party had morphed into rot-toothed socialists.
But the Chancellor’s message to them was also a stark one: Stand by for further visits from the taxman.
Not long after, Rishi moved on to a Q&A session.
A few half decent offcuts: He prefers football to cricket and musical radio to current affairs programming.
His biggest regret apparently was packing in piano lessons when he was at school.
Then came the inevitable query as to whether he fancied becoming Prime Minister.
‘God no,’ came the response. Sensible answer. But if his popularity continues to hold up, he may eventually have no choice.
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