There have been so many adjectives to describe Boris Johnson’s character and attributes: eccentric, hugely clever, politically astute, loveable, funny, quirky, self- promoting, arrogant, a clown, charming, flamboyant and even larger than life.
Some think he’s not only brilliant as the Mayor of London but that he should be the next leader of the Conservative Party and even Prime Minister. Others of course think he should be somewhere else completely, and that’s putting it politely.
This post is purely about his speaking style in politics which personally I find hugely refreshing.
Whatever your views about his political position and beliefs its worth spending a few minutes watching this video of him speak at this year’s Conservative Party Conference. As you will see he certainly knows how to grab attention as he did in his key note through opening with a series of questions and then a quote.
With his hands on his hips, leaning forward reaching for his pen in his inside pocket and intermittently touching his hair he said:
“Before I go any further I just want to check one thing:
Is everybody here?
Are we all here by and large proud Conservatives?
Are we proud of the oldest and most successful party in all western democracies?
Do we intend to fight the next election under the conservative banner and no other?
Are there any defectors?
Are there any quitters or splitters?
Anyone been feeling a bit yellow around the edges like a kipper? “
“If I could quote a great Midlands author ‘he which hath no stomach, to the fight let him depart’.”
What a wonderful way to open a key note and to rally support, especially as he set the tone at the start by getting everyone completely onside.
What I liked about this speech in particular is the sense that his intention to unite everyone was evident from the moment he opened his mouth and he chose to do so through humour and charm, yet not once undermining the seriousness of his message. He’s arguably not as ‘polished’ as some other high profile politicians but his authenticity is hard not to admire, and that’s what I believe works for him as a speaker.
Even the way he rubs his head as if he’s having a bad day, is he thinking, or does he have an itch?; no one really knows or cares, it’s the real him and it’s just fine.
Being a brilliant political speaker can’t be at all easy especially when we seem to live in a world of many being so painfully serious and dull all of the time. Politics is a very serious business of course so I’m not for a moment suggesting we demean it by suggesting that all politicians abandon gravitas for frivolity. Although to me whilst some may call him a ‘clown’ or ‘eccentric’, I believe that Boris Johnson strikes a healthy balance between delivering a mindful message with power and impact, yet is light hearted when appropriate, helping his audience to relax and absorb his point.
Referring to Ed Milliband’s Labour Party Conference speech where he omitted to talk about the economy, Boris Johnson quipped:
“His subconscious rebelled, the baggage handlers in his memory went on strike.”
He added to the metaphor further by saying:
“And they refused to load the word ‘deficit’ onto the conveyor belt”
I don’t believe it’s really necessary to disparage the opposition as they all do but Mr. Johnson does seem to be able to do it more gracefully than others.
He also has quite a gift for using colourful language which really helps him to express his point and for his audience to visualize his meaning. He later referred to the rhetoric of the SNP in thinking that London is a:
“Modern Babylon with billionaires being plied with hot towels on the top deck club class of their swanky new buses all guzzling pearls dissolved in vinegar while lolling back on the padded cushions of their Barclay’s hire bikes”
Then he continues to paint pictures with his words that make it so much easier for his audience to not only understand his point, but to remember it too:
“Look at the skyline of London writhing and sprouting with extraordinary growth like a speeded up David Attenborough nature film.”
For me the jewel in the crown of this key note was when he casually pulled out a brick from underneath the lectern, held it up in the air and said:
“Now let me give you a more concrete and tangible example, behold this brick. This brick was given to me yesterday in Newcastle Under Lyme, a constituency where we conservatives are (don’t worry I’m not going to throw it) only 3 points behind Labour. A place where we have a real chance of winning for the first time in a Century.”
How many times do you see a politician waving a brick around in the air, it was a stroke of genius?
Mr. Johnson really does know how to captivate his listeners and keep their attention through the creative use of language as he then continues speaking about businesses in Britain exporting around the world he said:
“I’ve seen a Thai factory in Darwin where they are taking on more workers to satisfy the demands for Cumberbunds in China. The Cumberbund always having been an essential bit of Chinese Communist apparel.”
“ I’ve seen a shears factory in Gloucestershire that exports camel clippers to Mongolia, I’m not making this up and a chilli factory in Wiltshire that is making an unbelievable million scoville chillies and that is now working with the Indian government to supply weapon strength chillis from Wiltshire for managing crowd control and riots”
“After you’ve tried that stuff believe me Theresa they’ll be begging for the water cannon”
An articulate speaker who uses bold gesturing, mindful emphasis and natural humour, his light hearted approach helped rather than hindered him in delivering his key point:
“The current story of London is one of amazing success”
Then he closes:
“Let us unite now, let’s get together.”
Whether you like the man and his politics or not it seems to me he began with the intention of inspiring and uniting his audience and I suspect he achieved his goal.
More importantly he proved that listening to a politician speak about politics doesn’t have to be so painful and boring.
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Image: Courtesy of flickr.com
Watch the video here: