FOR every political party, its leader’s conference speech is intended to rouse the hall full of party activists, reassure the faithful, do a little to reach out to the wider electorate and, with luck, obtain their support. Boris Johnson certainly did some of that.

Nothing if not a performer, he energised the Tory rank and file, many of whom have not been entirely convinced by his leadership in recent months, and provided a slew of decent jokes – at least by the standards of political speeches. It seems unlikely that Conservative Party members have ever previously had a leader describe them as “funkapolitan”, which may gladden their hearts, if they have any idea what he meant.

This sort of boosterism and braggadocio is what all party conferences expect, and the sort of thing at which Mr Johnson excels. But just as his fans tend to overestimate his personal charisma, those who are immune to his peculiar appeal seem to find it impossible to believe that not everyone thinks him a clown or a charlatan, and that many voters find his optimism and humour appealing.

That’s all well and good, as far as it goes, when it comes to barnstorming a conference set-piece. But the Prime Minister’s speech was sorely wanting when it came to providing specifics or policies, and voters, no matter how much they like a comic turn or value affability, are entitled to expect more.

We are, after all, only just emerging from one of the most serious social and economic crises of the past century, which has caused the greatest upheaval and disruption since the Second World War. And yet unlike the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, whose speech indicated a readiness to acknowledge the enormous challenges the country now faces, and a grasp of detail sadly lacking in many of his colleagues, the Prime Minister had almost nothing to say about urgent and significant problems.

Labour shortages; the supply chain; huge borrowing and the highest tax rate in decades, falling hardest on the lowest paid; a huge spike in energy prices; the serious prospect of inflation tipping out of control and the many unresolved issues that spring from Brexit: we heard no hard detail about the policies that would address those from Mr Johnson. We are none the wiser about how – other than some vague flummery about faster broadband – the Government intends to achieve its laudable aim of “levelling up”. When it came to housing (perhaps the single greatest obstacle to reducing disparity), the Prime Minister actually preferred to reassure the Nimby element of his core support, rather than offer hope to younger people shut out of the system.

We accept that the Government has had to deal with unprecedented pressures, and it may even be true that we will recover with similarly unusual growth – though that, of course, is in part because the economy is rebounding from such a battering. But businesses need solid policies, not hot air. Parts of the country outside London and the south-east need real investment. If Brexit is to deliver opportunities, rather than just the costs we have seen so far, we should know what they are and that they are being pursued. The inevitable bill for the borrowing necessary during the pandemic should not fall disproportionately on the least-well-off.

The irritating mantra of “build back better” is, as an aspiration, altogether desirable, and it is refreshing to see a Tory party at least professing that the regions and the aspirations of working people are its priority. Mr Johnson’s unfailing optimism may, possibly, be just the attitude we need.

Fine words butter no parsnips, though, and cheery assertions about a high-growth, high-skilled, high-productivity economy will not simply conjure it into existence. As a set of aspirations about the direction in which the UK should be moving, the Prime Minister’s speech may have had much to recommend it. But rhetoric is not sufficient for leadership. Without a hard-headed set of proposals that will actually bring about the improvements he aspires to, it will fall woefully short of what the country needs and deserves.