Tory conference: Boris Johnson v Nigel Farage
- 1 October 2013
- From the section UK Politics
They are two of the biggest and most colourful characters in British politics. But who went down best when they appeared at rival fringe events - starting at exactly the same time - at the Conservative Party conference?
Johnson: The Exchange Auditorium, at Manchester Central, the venue for the Conservative Party Conference, inside the secure zone. It's a 804 seat theatre, rather bigger than your average spot for an event not in the main conference hall.
Farage: The Comedy Store, Deansgate - a few hundred metres from the official conference venue. Farage is banned from entering the conference secure zone.
Johnson: Excitable, chatty, waiting to be entertained. Again, rather different expectations from your average early evening party conference event. Not every seat was taken, but most were. Plenty of younger activists, but plenty of older ones too, muttering compliments and respect for the Mayor of London before he has even arrived.
Farage: The small basement auditorium is just over half full, with a mix of refugees from the Tory conference, UKIP supporters, newspaper hacks and curious members of the public. A slightly younger crowd than the average Tory conference gathering. The event is sponsored by smokers' rights campaign Forest - but no one flouts the law by lighting up.
Johnson: The kind you'd expect prior to a stand up comedy routine, but without the beer. This is a political crowd quite happy to hear about policies and elections and to leave feeling better about themselves, but most of all expecting jokes and entertainment.
Farage: Polite and respectful. The evening may be billed as a "pint and a fag with Nigel Farage" but it is far from a raucous boys' night out. Farage happily slurps down a pint of Guinness as host Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, probes him about his attitude to personal freedom and whether he is trying to turn UKIP into the 19th Century Liberal party.
Johnson: "What is the definition of a millisecond? The time it takes Ed Miliband to follow the instructions of Len McCluskey. What is the definition of a millimetre? The distance Ed will deviate from union diktat."
Farage: "It will be the biggest party since VE Day. Trafalgar Square, all the way down the Mall." The UKIP leader dreams of the day Britain leaves the EU.
Johnson: "UKIP if you want to - David Cameron's not for kipping, not unless, obviously, he's at his sister-in-law's wedding."
Farage: "Doesn't it? I've been getting that wrong!" Farage ponders the notion that drinking alcohol does not make you irresistible to the opposite sex.
Johnson: : Boris Johnson was invited to speak at the UK Independence Party conference.
Farage: Unlike many modern politicians, Farage never dabbled with drugs as a youth. He decided as a teenage drinker and smoker that he had enough vices, and has never so much as "taken a puff on a joint", he reveals. He does, however, believe in the decriminalisation of illegal narcotics, arguing that the "war on drugs" was lost a long time ago. He has yet to persuade his party to back this position, he admits.
Johnson: He turned down the conference invite, sent to him by the UKIP leader Nigel Farage's wife, Kirsten. "Of course I was so flattered and amused that I almost said yes - and then I thought, no, no. It's time to lash myself to the mast and resist the siren song of Kirsten Farage."
Farage: The UKIP man was a member of the Winchester Club, from ITV's Minder. Not literally. Although it would not be too much of a stretch to imagine him having a drink with fellow free-marketeer Arthur Daley, but he did frequent a very similar drinking establishment in the days when the pubs closed at 3pm, he recalls.
How did he go down
Johnson: Most politicians' best hope is polite applause, and, if their luck is in, a standing ovation. Few can expect whoops and cheers, but that is what Boris Johnson managed here, as well as applause and a standing ovation. People expected to be entertained, and quite a few Conservative activists are willing to entertain the idea of Boris Johnson as party leader, one day.
Farage: It was no stand-up routine - there was much earnest talk about the evils of the EU - but this being Farage there was still plenty of self-mocking humour and eye-rolling pretend outrage at his outlaw status at the Tory conference. His stance on immigration and free enterprise went down well with the Tories in the audience, his pops at Tory politicians less so, but everyone seemed to go away happy as Farage headed outside for that fag.