Boris Johnson devotees queue for hours for leader’s conference speech

The PM is afforded his own arena for a speech that has his followers brimming over with expectation

Should anyone be wondering about the level of adulation – something close to a personality cult – surrounding Boris Johnson at this year’s Conservative conference, a brief glance around the venue on Wednesday morning would have dispelled any doubts.

While a main auditorium barely a third full heard a panel discussion about the vaccine rollout, almost the entire rest of the conference centre was filled by something else: a snaking queue for the prime minister’s speech.

At the very front, a prized spot that involved her getting to the Manchester Central convention centre at about 6.30am, a full five hours before Johnson’s speech, was Alla Hennessy, a Tory activist from Kensington and Chelsea in London.

“Because I admire this amazing prime minister,” Hennessy said, when asked why she had shown such dedication. The 60-year-old theatre worker said she had come to the UK from Romania in 2013, had “always loved” the Conservatives, but had a particular soft spot for Johnson: “I have come to congratulate him for what he has done. I would love to talk to him, even for five seconds.”

Such is the central role for Johnson at a largely policy-free conference, that he has his own, bespoke arena for his speech, while his ministers were generally restricted to brief speeches inside the small, acoustically challenged auditorium.

Specially built in a separate part of the convention centre, and kept out of sight until his address, Johnson’s arena allows him to speak to an audience almost entirely in the round.

Next in the queue for the spectacle were Melissa, an NHS staff member from Bristol, and Marie, a finance worker from Liverpool. Neither city is known for being Tory-friendly, and both wanted only their first names used to avoid attracting online abuse.

“I get a lot of it,” said Melissa, wearing a “Tory scum” badge on her jacket. “Direct messages saying I should top myself.”

Both were also adherents to the call of Johnson. “I’m always uplifted by his speeches, because I love how positive he is,” Melissa said. “We’ve been through such an awful 18 months – we needed this.”

Marie agreed: “He’s liked by so many people, all different backgrounds. When people say it’s a personality cult, they’re just jealous.”

At the very back of the queue, a good few minutes’ walk around the venue, officials were already warning people they were unlikely to get in. But still they arrived.

Here, at least, were some signs of another Tory figure with an appeal for the faithful. “She loves Boris,” one activist said, indicating a friend, “but she loves Matt Hancock even more.” The friend bashfully concurred, but added: “Please don’t print my name. I’d never live it down.”

Contributor

Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boris Johnson vows to unleash UK’s spirit in upbeat conference speech
PM makes only cursory mention of cost of living or supply chain issues in keynote address light on policy

Peter Walker Political correspondent

06, Oct, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson’s conference speech: what he said and what he meant
The PM aimed to buoy Tory activists despite concerns over inflation and national insurance

Aubrey Allegretti

06, Oct, 2021 @2:27 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson’s Tory party conference speech – the panel verdict | Justine Greening and others
How was the prime minister’s keynote address received? Our experts give their view

Justine Greening, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Simon Jenkins, James Johnson and Nesrine Malik

06, Oct, 2021 @1:09 PM

Article image
Sole ‘new’ policy in Boris Johnson’s speech is recycled from 2019
Labour says levelling-up premium for teachers is less generous version of old policy scrapped last year

Peter Walker Political correspondent

06, Oct, 2021 @3:17 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson: petrol crisis and pig cull part of necessary post-Brexit transition
PM’s remarks come as Liz Truss insists it’s the role of business, not ministers, to resolve such problems

Peter Walker, Jessica Elgot and Aubrey Allegretti

03, Oct, 2021 @4:17 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson says shortages are result of ‘giant waking up’ of economy
PM says there is no supply chain crisis and government is addressing ‘big underlying issues’

Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

05, Oct, 2021 @8:28 AM

Article image
Johnson’s interview before the Tory party conference – factcheck
PM made a number of assertions in his Andrew Marr appearance, but how accurate were they?

Peter Walker and Kalyeena Makortoff

03, Oct, 2021 @2:36 PM

Article image
Windrush activists ‘disgusted’ after being turned away at Tory conference
Anthony Brown and Julia Davidson ‘humiliated’ after being shut out despite paying £225 for full access

Peter Walker Political correspondent

05, Oct, 2021 @5:19 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson’s economic policies could stoke inflation, business leaders warn – as it happened
Latest updates and reaction to PM’s policy-lite Tory conference speech

Andrew Sparrow

06, Oct, 2021 @4:51 PM

Article image
Tetchy Boris tries to play down shortages as bumps on the Brexit road | John Crace
There had definitely been small print, it’s just that no one had got round to reading it

John Crace

03, Oct, 2021 @7:08 PM