WISDOM falls from unlikely places, though not usually this unlikely. The Channel 4 documentary Tories At War chases the internal ructions in the Tory party over the past 12 months of Brexit . Alan Duncan calls Priti Patel a moron. Nicholas Soames tells us Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ERG are all insatiable, pop-eyed fanatics. We follow Theresa May ’s three heaves and watch her being defeated three times.

As Nicky Morgan mutates from a “Never Boris” candidate to one of his cabinet ministers, we hear from vampire squid capitalists hoping to make a pretty penny out of the Prime Minister’s Brexit mayhem, utterly unembarrassed about taking to national telly to gloat about the pleasures of ignoring the rules and smashing up institutions for the cash this might generate. Asset striping has rarely been this self-delighted. The sense of impunity and glib entitlement dripping from Boris-backing hedge-funder Crispin Odey is full Bourbon. And I’m not talking about the biscuit. But we also encounter Nigel Farage, as he gets his Brexit Party up on its feet before this summer’s European election and plays footsie with the rightmost wing of the Conservative Party, represented by Senor Patata himself – Andrew Bridgen MP. One of the best lines in the documentary, and the truest, comes from Farage.

Expressing his scepticism about Boris Johnson, the far-right MEP observes: “There are politicians who want to do something, and politicians who want to be something.” For the former Ukip leader, the Prime Minister is a man of the latter character. For the first – and hopefully the last time in the life of this column – let me say this. Nigel Farage is bang on. Since taking office, it has become clearer and clearer that Johnson is the juvenile “world king” who has finally got his wish. He seems to regard the government of this country as a spiritual voyage of self-discovery for the upper classes. Despite all the blather about “getting Brexit done”, Johnson is a Be-er, not a Do-er. A disturbing number of modern politicians are.

Nothing distils this better than the PM’s deeply unserious address at the Tory conference this week. His speech was a string of weak anecdotes and overwrought gags connected by a list of big money investments, tied in with some confected enthusiasm about world-conquering technologies which some unnamed and unidentified British sceptics are apparently pooh-poohing.

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I suppose it was meant to be soaring and optimistic. For me, Johnson sounded like a High Court judge professing his love for the music of Drake after a pint of claret in the New Club. He looked like a shopping channel host, wending his way greyly to retirement, flogging Apple products he doesn’t really understand, determined to show willing in front of junior colleagues but unable to distinguish his Bluetooth from his USB. It is difficult to be the Hadron Collider candidate when your whole schtick is that Tacitus is your great uncle and the goddess Athena used to be a close family friend before the Regrettable Incident We No Longer Speak Of.

The National: Boris Johnson

Take or leave his politics, take or leave his Brexit line, I’ve lost count of the number of folk who’ve said to me: “I thought he’d be better at this.” So why can’t Boris Johnson talk? It is difficult to think of a candidate for prime minister who stepped into Number 10 with stronger expectations that he would be an able speaker and public performer. His apologists have been disappointed.

David Cameron could roll out his rubberised Old Smoothie routine. Johnson’s opponent, Michael Gove, has the eyes of Marilyn Manson and the mouth of Caligula. Theresa May’s joints started rusting as soon as she put herself in contention for PM. During the Tory conference, Andrea Leadsom did her best to stir up the delegates from three to four on the Glasgow coma scale by invoking the Dear Leader’s winning ways, but the room remained largely unresponsive. You can see why. Every turn since entering Downing Street has confirmed that Johnson isn’t sharp and he isn’t spontaneous.

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He isn’t quick with the repartee. The mirth is superficial. The jokes are repetitive. Johnson’s cogs, it transpires, turn rather slowly.

He isn’t quite as sloganising as his “strong and stable” predecessor – but that’s only because it turns out message discipline is just another form of self-discipline he lacks. But in retrospect, May’s clawing cough, collapsing scenery and missing letters look like a model of professionalism compared to this pottage of jibber-jabber occasionally interrupted by a floating metaphor.

Aristotle thought that effective rhetoric was a combination of ethos, pathos and logos. Logos is the appeal to reason. Hear my arguments, follow my facts, step by logical step. Johnson doesn’t give a damn for that. Pathos springs from the emotions. A skilled speaker can take the audience in their hand, playing on their feelings, fanning their passions, moving them to pity or scorn. Ethos always interested me most in Aristotle’s theory. It is a Being rather than a Doing dynamic.

It isn’t just about what you say, or the feeling it stirs – the ancient Greek writer argued – which can make your oratory snap and zing, or fizzle damply out. What you are matters too. The perceived character of the speaker – and the audience’s sympathy with that character – is an unavoidable dynamic in how we judge public oratory.

Take one example from across the Westminster aisle. There are many SNP MPs who could read out the text of one of Mhairi Black’s speeches to the House of Commons, word for word, perfectly serviceably. There are good speakers on the Nationalist benches in the Commons. Tommy Sheppard does extempore speaking particularly well. But if we divvied out one of Mhairi Black’s speeches to one of these able colleagues, it wouldn’t have the same impact as one of her five-minute stoaters, which are inevitably shared and shared on social media.

They might deliver it perfectly decently. People may clap politely. But the effect of the words wouldn’t be the same. Who she is – or is perceived to be – is at the heart of what makes her rhetoric successful. The same, I think, is true with the Johnsonian persona. He’s all ethos.

But the best speakers have tonal range. They can do loud moments and quiet moments. They can be angry and indignant, accusing and defensive. They can be witty and earnest, solemn and light. They can be emotionally felt and emotionally more detached. They calibrate their instrument to the occasion before them. Johnson seems utterly incapable of this calibration. He’s one note, incapable of talking seriously about anything.

A colleague with an interest in rhetoric introduced me to a fascinating new idea this week. Sitting alongside ethos, pathos and logos, kairos is all about your timing. Kairos is the art of saying the right thing at the right time. An emotionally charged speech may be precisely in place at the crematorium – it wouldn’t be the right note to strike at a family wedding. A speech spattered with witty quips may be the very dab at a broad night out, but the jibes may feel out of place at the school prizegiving. Johnson has no feel for this. The smirks seem always to tug at the corners of his face. He’s reliably at his most ridiculous when he is trying to seem most serious.

Most lecturers can remember the first – and if you’re lucky, the last – time when your confidence evaporates in the middle of a class and you crash and burn in the auditorium. Lose face with an audience once and you won’t easily recover their confidence. Most people go in dread of public speaking. But the public’s anxiety about speaking publicly, at least in my experience, doesn’t turn most of us into kindly listeners and sympathetic juries. Johnson’s lecture this week was a lazy, dialled in, half-remembered effort. A bad column. A chancer’s class.