One look around the audience gathered yesterday afternoon in Manchester for Boris’s Big Speech would have convinced anyone that (a) the Foreign Secretary was preaching to the choir and (b) most of the choir, as in church congregations throughout the nation, were men and women of a certain age, closer to 70 than 30.

Tory matrons in particular were out in force. The television cameras, as they panned across the ranks of the faithful, couldn’t help picking out the many stalwarts of Jam and Jerusalem without whom no constituency selection committee would be complete. They may not know much about Brexit, but they know what they like, and they adore Boris much as they used to adore Michael Heseltine, the conference darling of the 1980s.

The difference is that Heseltine, who stood up to Margaret Thatcher, and lived, was a serious politician, with ideas that helped modernise his party and, along the way, rescued both London’s Docklands and Liverpool from oblivion. While he undoubtedly knew how to press all the right conference buttons, he was also an acknowledged champion of British business and a vigorous supporter of the European Union.

Those who once cheered “Tarzan” to the echo now applaud Boris mainly because he makes jokes, and pretty poor jokes at that (Alan Duncan as the “Mount Rushmore” of diplomacy, John McDonnell as Pol Pot). The fact that he makes politics itself into a joke is increasingly acknowledged within the parliamentary party but has yet, it seems, to percolate fully into the Conservative mainstream.

Johnson’s speech was a good “turn,” especially if you were wary of a government led by Jeremy Corbyn. But it was totally lacking in substance. What did we learn about British foreign policy, ostensibly the subject of his address? Almost nothing. We were told that British troops in Estonia were (probably) not spending their time with Russian prostitutes; that the Libyan embassy was re-opening, with or without a snooker table; and that Nigeria was grateful for Britain’s help in defeating the “numbskulls” of Boko Haram (really?).

Johnson had been half-expected to say something interesting, or at least provocative, about Europe. He didn’t. All he could come up with was that Britain’s decision to leave the EU shouldn’t be treated as if it were a plague of boils. Brexit, he said, would have a “galvanising effect” on the UK because “we won’t be able to blame Brussels anymore”.

Well, quite.

Even the climax to his speech, an exhortation to Global Britain to let out a lion’s roar, which had been trailed in the media for the previous 24 hours, failed to live up to its billing. It came out more as a croak, as if the speaker was having trouble clearing his throat.

There are still those in the Tory Party who believe that the former Mayor of London would make a better leader than Theresa May. The bar, admittedly, is low, but on this showing the Prime Minister should sleep easy in her bed.