One line from Boris Johnson’s conference speech shows just how dangerous he’d be as prime minister

Boris Johnson with a raised fist
Emily Apple

On 2 October, Boris Johnson gave his conference speech to a packed crowd. Widely touted as Johnson’s opportunity to “show his PM credentials”, it was an important speech.

But amongst the usual claptrap that you’d expect from Johnson, one line showed exactly how dangerous he’d be as prime minister. Johnson stated:

By the way, don’t you think it’s time we brought back systematic stop and search to end… the politically correct nonsense?

Reaction

As ITV‘s Robert Peston pointed out, this one-liner went down well with his audience:

But away from the “very white male Tory audience”, people were concerned. Labour MP David Lammy tweeted:

The number of stop and search figures have gone done. But as Lammy tweeted, there is no evidence that greater stop and search powers helped prevent crime.

At the same time, as one astute Financial Times journalist noticed, this is actually a U-turn by Johnson:

“No hope, just vitriol”

Labour MP Matt Western summed up Johnson’s comments:

And many pointed out the racist nature of stop and search:

Despite the number of stop and searches falling, Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are still disproportionately targeted. Figures released in 2017 showed that overall stop and searches had dropped by 21% in the previous year. But the numbers of white people searched had fallen by 28% compared to 11% for BAME people. Meanwhile, Black people were eight times more likely to be searched than white people.

“Dangerous rhetoric”

Journalist Shehab Khan nailed the purpose of Johnson’s “dangerous rhetoric”:

This speech showed how far Johnson is prepared to go to court the far right. His talk of “systematic stop and search” is nothing but thinly veiled racism. He is arguing for a discriminatory practice that marginalises and humiliates people without reducing crime.

But this one, “by the way”, off-the-cuff remark shows just how dangerous a Johnson premiership could be. This is not a clown or a buffoon, but a politician who believes civil liberties and allegations of discrimination are “politically correct nonsense”. And this should worry us all.

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Emily Apple