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Inside politics

No more clowning around, Boris

Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, in Manchester on Wednesday. Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Boris Johnson was in typically “boosterish” form at Tory conference, says Iain Martin in The Times. His speech was pure “vaudeville”, bashing Keir Starmer with “the rhetorical equivalent of a baseball bat”. Earlier Johnson was filmed pedalling merrily on a bike through the conference hall. This “Boris the clown” routine went down well with the Tory faithful, of course. But it jarred with reality. Back on planet Earth, the economy looks increasingly precarious and farmers are having to incinerate 120,000 pigs because the food system is too gummed up to process them.

Johnson is gung-ho about these supply-chain problems, says James Forsyth in The Spectator. He argues that Brexit’s end to free movement will spark an (admittedly painful) transition to a high-wage economy. But many ministers think the transition is too much, too fast. The government could easily “plug holes in our labour market” with the strategic immigration system the leave campaign promised. Instead Johnson has offered himself as a “hostage” to inflation, which could easily cancel out any rise in wages. The Bank of England, usually conservative in its estimates, is expecting inflation to hit 4% this year, twice the target level, “and stay there for months”. Boasts about “levelling up” or “building back better” won’t go down well with voters struggling to do their weekly shop.

But Johnson’s pitch isn’t about economics, says John Rentoul in The Independent. It is about “respecting British workers, who will hear a politician standing up for them” against competition from Europe. “Johnson has one big idea, and it is enough to overcome all contradictions.” As long as he can present leaving the EU as an opportunity, and any problems as a price worth paying to seize that opportunity, he has the initiative. And if he presents Brexit as a chance to do Labour-ish things such as raising wages and rebalancing our lopsided economy, “he gives Starmer no way back”.

Protests used to be a lot less peaceful

A demonstration for male suffrage in London, 1866. Culture Club/Getty Images

Iain Duncan Smith had a traffic cone lobbed at him during the Tory conference, but in general politics is much more peaceful than it used to be, says Leo McKinstry in The Spectator. In 1780 the prime minister, Lord North, was “besieged” in Downing Street by an angry crowd and had to be rescued by the military. Joseph Chamberlain was hit in the face by a herring at a rally during the 1874 general election; in the 1892 campaign, William Gladstone was hospitalised by a gingerbread biscuit. (It hit his eye.) Lord Winterton recalled how, during a hustings in Dundee in 1910, he was left smelling “like an amateur sewage farm” after having a bucketful of excrement dumped on him. “Thus perish all Tories,” the culprit declared.