Wednesday 18 September 2019

Michael Deacon: 'I'm Boris Johnson... or is it Alan Partridge making incoherent and rambling speech?'

Rambling: Boris Johnson appeared dazed and uncertain during his speech in Yorkshire. Photo: PA
Rambling: Boris Johnson appeared dazed and uncertain during his speech in Yorkshire. Photo: PA

Michael Deacon

How to explain it? Stress? After all, Boris Johnson has had a tough week. He lost his majority. He lost his first three votes as prime minister. More than 20 of his MPs rebelled against him. And then, to cap it all, Jo Johnson - his own brother - resigned as one of his ministers.

So yes. Pretty gruelling. But even so, I'm not sure it can entirely account for what happened yesterday evening. Because, at a police training centre in West Yorkshire, Mr Johnson gave unquestionably the most bizarre performance of his career.

Having arrived well over an hour late, Mr Johnson stumbled up to his lectern and began what should have been a straightforward speech trumpeting his latest pledges on crime. Somehow, though, he didn't seem to be quite himself.

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We've all seen Mr Johnson bumbling and burbling for comic effect. But this wasn't like that. He looked genuinely dazed. Lost. Uncertain. He spoke slowly, vaguely, with long, inexplicable pauses - as if his mind kept straying on to some other, more troubling topic.

And then, after only a couple of minutes, something even odder happened. Apropos of absolutely nothing, he started rambling about police cautions. "Do you know the caution?" he said dreamily to his audience of newly recruited officers.

"You know what you have to say when you, when you, when you collar someone? 'You do not have to say anything.' Is that right? No… 'Anything you ...' No. 'But if you fail to mention something… which you later… rely on…'"

His audience was silent. No one seemed to know quite where to look. You could practically hear the shuffling of disconcerted buttocks.

"Hang on," murmured the prime minister, almost to himself. "Let's get this right. Do you remember it? You all know it? 'Which you later rely on in court … may be… taken into account…'" He gave up. "Anyway, you get the gist…"

There was no punchline. Or indeed any point. He then meandered, quite unrelatedly, into the subject of public trust. As I stared, all I could think of was that episode of 'I'm Alan Partridge', the one in which Alan tries to climb over a fence and impales his foot on a spike.

But then, despite having lost a pint of blood, he refuses to go to hospital and staggers off to give a speech at a corporate awards do where, before a bewildered audience, he starts rambling dazedly about the 'Daily Express', and Curly Wurlys, and coffee ("Go and eat some coffee. Erm, drink it. It's soup you can eat. Not so liquid").

Mr Johnson wasn't quite that incoherent. But not far off. And then at the end, to make it all feel even more unreal, a woman behind him appeared to faint. Mr Johnson swung round, startled. I was pretty startled myself. If anyone was going to pass out, I would have expected it to be him.

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