Tory conference sketch:Two-day Boris steals the show

By Anshel Pfeffer, October 3, 2008

The warmest applause at the Conservative Friends of Israel lunch was reserved for the two members of the Christian Friends of Israel who remained behind to man the stand - while the Jews rushed home to spend Rosh Hashanah with their families.

One might have expected that after only a day-and-a-half of networking and carousing in the bars, instead of the regulatory four, due to the unfortunate scheduling, those forced to leave might have been disappointed. But the Jewish representatives heading back seemed quite relieved. This had not been the triumphant conference everyone had been expecting just a week ago. With the economy crashing around their ears, and the advantage in the polls over Labour suddenly looking a bit less promising, orders from the top were to tone down the festivities. The Tories were ordered to cut their "soon to be in power" celebrations, in favour of a more sombre gathering. Suddenly Rosh Hashanah seemed a lot more attractive.

For the Tories without a festival to look forward to, there was Boris Johnson. Indeed, it seemed that David Cameron's real rival was not Gordon Brown, but the Mayor of London, who defied the "non-triumphalist" orders to give one of his vintage speeches, celebrating his "termination" of Ken Livingstone.

He went on to extol the achievements of his five months in power and ended with a lyrical description of green, "sweet-smelling" London, after all the changes he plans by 2012.

Charmingly, he invited the people of Birmingham "and all the other cities I may have insulted" to come and visit. The queues of delegates waiting to get in to the Boris Show, and the multitudes streaming out once it was over, made it quite clear who was the real star of the conference. Apparently, the mayor was issued with only a two-day pass to ensure he went back to work in London instead of continuing to hog the limelight.

Elsewhere, dark mutterings were heard about the leader. Foreign affairs took a decidedly back-seat priority to economic matters and home policy, but some pro-Israel Tories grumbled that the current leadership wasn't yet firmly on board.

Unlike at Labour's conference the previous week, where Gordon Brown and David Miliband addressed the Labour Friends of Israel fringe event, neither David Cameron, George Osborne nor William Hague attended either of the two CFI events. "We need a much more robust support of Israel," one Shadow Minister confided at the lunch.

But there was an optimistic spin from a CFI official. His explanation? "In Labour, the membership isn't so pro-Israel, so the leaders have to show an example. With us Tories, support for Israel is in the very grassroots." Good try.


Last updated: 5:46pm, October 2 2008