Why does Boris rise and rise if he’s so hopeless? It’s the burning question. Talented bloke, on form a stylish and witty writer who has earned 600k in just over a year. The evidence suggests a Jekyll and Hyde character with egotistical and sociopathic tendencies. Not exactly unusual in leaders. A philanderer who compelled a girlfriend to have an abortion – like Lloyd George “the man who won the war” in 1918. I’ve been looking at the case in his favour warts and all at the very moment he might still self destruct. There he was on LBC this morning, still stonewalling over his row with Carrie , winding up rival Jeremy Hunt and the media by refusing to do more TV debates. Has the penny dropped yet? The strategy is to do a minimum number of interviews but not so many as the leave him completely cornered and limit debates with Hunt to after the postal votes start rolling in.
By my count, @NickFerrariLBC asked Boris Johnson *23 times* about the picture of him and girlfriend Carrie Symonds without getting a definitive answer.
Jessica Elgot The Guardian Not sure from interviews so far Boris Johnson has his messaging right. Hunt’s is claw-your-face-off obvious – entrepreneur, negotiator, trustworthy – which he repeats as many times as Sadiq Khan said “son of a bus driver.” But what is Johnson’s? Apart from “I’m Boris Johnson”
Anne McElvoy The Economist In fairness, that has usually beaten “son of an x”, “I’m bland pro-biz candidate” in his other run offs. Being Boris is basically the proposition. Let’s see
It’s a cardinal sin for me as a journalist even to think this, but I rather admire Boris’s decision to dodge some debates. Probably because he’s an ex-hack himself, he sees what so many politicians don’t, namely that the media needs politicians much, much more than they need us. For example, there is no constitutional obligation for Boris to debate with Jeremy Hunt on Sky News. If I announced that I was hosting a debate in my back garden with an audience of four chickens and a dachshund and Boris refused to appear, that wouldn’t make him an enemy of our democratic way of life. It makes him a busy man with better things to do. Will Boris’s no-show on Sky lose him votes? I doubt it. It could be a vote winner.
The fiercest attack on Boris came from Max Hastings, his old editor on the Daily Telegraph
“I have known Johnson since the 1980s, when I edited the Daily Telegraph and he was our flamboyant Brussels correspondent.. Johnson would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade.”
So why didn’t he sack him? Because Boris the hack knows that controversy entertains as much as is infuriates and– here’s the counterintuitive thought – it can be just as attractive in a politician even though he should be more responsible.
This is a point grasped from a US observer of the British scene, with Trump in mind – Rebecca Mead in the The New Yorker
“To imagine—or perhaps to hope—that questions about Johnson’s character might undermine his chances of becoming the next Prime Minister would be to overlook the crucial point governing the Conservative Party’s leadership election, which is that Johnson’s character—jocose, undiplomatic, entitled—is the thing that Tory members like the most about him”.
“Mr Johnson is a mass of contradictions. He is the showman who is in hiding, the charismatic leader who is trying to run a boring campaign, the frontrunner who is seen as his own worst enemy, even by his friends. Although he craves popularity and the support of the crowd, he struggles to show human empathy on an individual level and is seen as something of a loner at Westminster. In contrast to the sunny optimism that he tries to project, there is a dark side to his personality, including what his biographer Sonia Purnell, who shared an office with him in Brussels, describes as “the fiercest and most uncontrollable anger”.
The whole point of “Boris” is that he is a winner who twice triumphed in London, but since the Brexit referendum he has become a polarising character. Indeed one poll at the weekend suggested that Jeremy Hunt was now more popular with the public than the Tory favourite.”
Entitlement was part of him from the outset..
Eton College writes to Boris Johnson’s dad in 1982
Boris, well, he’s the life and soul of the party but he’s not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening.”
Cabinet minister Amber Rudd, speaking during a 2016 debate before the Brexit referendum
“[He is] much diminished in terms of integrity, in terms of political courage and in terms of credibility… I used to think he would be fantastic at Number 10 but those days look a long time ago.”
2018 BBC interview with Guto Harri, director of communications for Johnson’s mayoral administration, 2008-2012
“I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Michael Gove, launching the leadership bid that derailed Johnson’s attempt to become prime minister in 2016
[Johnson is] a man who waits to see the way the crowd is running and then dashes in front and says, ‘Follow me’.”
Michael Heseltine, Good Morning Britain interview in 2018
“The Johnsonian creed [is] that it is, in his own words, acceptable, sometimes desirable to lie. Certainly that approach has been advantageous to him. But it must come at a price.”
Conservative former minister Chris Patten in May interview with Bloomberg
“I’m afraid he’s shown, especially during his period as foreign secretary, that he doesn’t have the necessary skills and capacity [to be leader].”
Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve in May interview with LBC
“He’s an enormous character but not a team player… And he doesn’t know if he’s a journalist or a politician, but he does know it’s all about him. The more he repeats what everyone can see is not credible, the more his own credibility disappears.”
Former foreign office colleague Sir Alan Duncan, 2018 interview with the Times
“The world needs (candidates for office ) to look as if they’re hungry for office…. Whatever the pros and cons of Boris Johnson – and I will write in the next week or two about how I will cast my own vote as a party member – this is the sort of thing he is good at. I will never forget campaigning for his re-election as Mayor of London in 2012, amid chaotic scenes as we progressed along the King’s Road. Crowds assembled, foreign visitors gawped, journalists scrambled for quotes, cameramen backed into lamp-posts and some tables were overturned as we moved along, with the distinctive mop of blond hair – obviously not mine – bobbing in the midst of the excited scrum”.
“It’s hard to overstate not just Boris’s fame, but also the affection he’s held in. A lot of the reason for the affection is the well-practised, mock-bumbling, Latin-loving routine – Billy Bunter meets Bertie Wooster meets Professor Branestawm. But he is also very unlike most politicians – often a humourless, didactic, upwardly managing group – in that he is extremely adept at spreading the love, in all directions.
Although lots of Boris’s friends say he’s lazy, the volume of work he deals with is colossal. On Wednesday evenings in the early 2000s – when I used to edit his Telegraph column – he also wrote the leader for the Spectator, went to Prime Minister’s Questions and wrote a car column for GQ.
Part of the Boris mystique is to veil all sorts of things in a miasma of faux ignorance – it flatters the person he’s talking to, who then comes across as knowing more. When he was appointed shadow Arts Minister on May 7, 2004, his response was, “Look the point is…er, what is the point? It is a tough job but somebody has got to do it.” Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP, says of Boris’s pretend stupidity, “It’s a great rhetorical trick to say, ‘I’ve got five policies, erm, what are they?’ “He’s brilliantly worked out that English people don’t like clever intellectuals, particularly in the Conservative audience he wants to appeal to. There’s a smooth machine under the buffoonery. It’s not an exaggeration to call him a genius.”
All the other regular columnists on the Telegraph had to file by 4pm, and they kept rigorously to their deadlines. Boris was given special dispensation; again and again in his professional, and his private, life, he has been given special dispensation by friends, family and frustrated colleagues who can’t help but like him. As his biographer, Andrew Gimson, told me, “He’s like the boy in the nativity play who’s forgotten his lines who you’re longing to help out.”
“When I worked as Johnson’s deputy in Brussels in an office of two, it took a long time to get used to what became known as his “four o’clock rants” in which he hurled four-letter words at an innocent yucca plant for several minutes at deadline time every day to work himself into a frenzy to write his creative tracts against the EU. He has admitted to this ritual, confessing that in his frenzy he had once crushed his palm down on a biro so hard that he actually drew blood.
Mark Stanway, a sub-editor at the Telegraph, endured years of late copy that prevented him from getting home on time. The editor, Charles Moore, eventually tired of such discourtesy and one week discarded his copy. “Boris went completely ape. He phoned me f-ing and c-ing,” Stanway recalled. “I said it wasn’t my decision. Boris has a ferocious temper. He is not a cuddly teddy bear.
His attitude to women — endless affairs leaving a string of women and at least one pregnancy termination behind him — has long been one of entitlement and lack of respect. He has boasted to other men that he needs plenty of women on the go as he is, as he says crudely, “bursting with spunk”. Over many years — going back to his youth where he expected girlfriends to pay for him and do his washing and cleaning while enduring his infidelity — the signs have been there. There was a reported affair with the journalist Anna Fazackerley and the mother of one mistress, Petronella Wyatt (then a writer at The Spectator), picked up the bill for an abortion. Macintyre’s boyfriend paid the private hospital expenses for the birth of his baby”.
Boris’s record as London mayor gives some clues to his potential performance in Downing St. As David Cameron remarked, any other politician getting stuck on a zipwire would never recover, but for Johnson it proved “an absolute triumph”. Still, the hard graft of making the Olympics a triumph was, of course, done by others.
“Under Boris, London’s murder rate halved. Council tax also fell under Mr Johnson’s mayoralty. The Band D level of City Hall tax was £309.82 in Boris’ first budget and had been cut to £276 by his last – a 10.9 per cent reduction. The unemployment statistics suggest that over half a million new jobs were created in London under Mr Johnson. According to Channel Four Fact Check: “100,000 affordable homes over his eight years in power is better than the number achieved by Ken Livingstone in the previous eight years”.. He also invested in infrastructure – with Crossrail coming in on time and on budget when Mr Johnson left office. Tube delays were cut by 38 per cent between 2011 and 2016. Mr Johnson ended his time in City Hall with an approval rating of 54 per cent”.
Simon Jenkins a planning expert himself and a more eminent journalist than Boris demolishes his record as mayor. Yet remarkably he rates him as a potential PM, but only because he could get away with a doping a massive U turn.
“Johnson is currently locked away by his handlers. This is not charisma – it is a man who cannot be allowed to cope even with a Commons election on his own… Apart from giving £10bn in tax cuts to the rich, he cited his qualities for high office by ignoring his dire period as foreign secretary and concentrating on his time as mayor of London. He claimed credit for handling knife crime, the 2011 riots, the financial crash and the Olympics. He was Pericles presiding over Athens.
This is farcical. The London mayor is largely a figurehead, who administers almost nothing. Johnson’s crime policy was simply to get rid of his police chief. He capitulated to the tube unions and was a sycophant to property speculation. He told me to my face that he would emphatically end his predecessor Ken Livingstone’s “Dubai-on-Thames” skyscraper obsession, yet he promptly doubled their number.”. What the mayor did in excess was splurge money on vanity projects. His Thames cable car, his Stratford helter-skelter (“London’s Eiffel Tower”), his rear-entry buses with rear-entry locked, his water cannon that may not fire, his unnecessary super-sewer and wildly over-engineered Crossrail, all wasted staggering sums. A baffling £53m vanished on Johnson’s fantasy garden bridge, while Hammersmith bridgerotted up-river. The “Boris bike” scheme – in truth Livingstone’s – was supposed to cost nothing, but cost taxpayers nearly £200m in eight years. Johnson’s belated visit to the scene of some of the 2011 riots was an opportunity to be photographed with a broom”.
But later commenting on the choice of policy and PM..
“The result is that Britain’s leadership now turns on which candidate can be relied on to back down fastest from this week’s populist bombast. Whose record of double-talk, about-turn and mendacity will prove the most robust?
The answer appears to be a certain elusive Boris Johnson, whose handlers are too terrified of his unreliability to allow him public exposure. He is the one whose flexibility with the truth is most inflexible. His untrustworthiness is the one in which the nation can put most trust. The nation is about to be governed by a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron-in-chief”.
“First, Mr Johnson is the candidate who has a chance of uniting this divided government. He should be under no illusion that it will be a monumental task.
To avoid the fate of the outgoing Prime Minister, who laboured in office but not in power, he must harness the credibility he has with Brexiteers to the liberal internationalist credentials he displayed as Mayor.
He says today he can make these two Borises “completely coherent”. He will need to if he is to have any chance of being remembered as, he says today, “somebody who helped unite the country and unite society”.
Second, Mr Johnson is the candidate who has the most room for manoeuvre to get the country out of the Brexit mess. That may seem a paradox, as the one who helped get us into that mess, and who again today says he wants “to get Brexit done by October 31”.
But he is careful not to “guarantee” that date — Mr Johnson may be loose with words when it comes to the fates of others but never when it comes to his own. He says he has left no-deal on the table, which he knows would do enormous damage to our economy and security. But so have the other remaining candidates.
In truth, all of them know the House of Commons simply wouldn’t let it happen.
Instead, ask yourself which of these potential prime ministers is most likely to persuade the Conservative Party to vote for a repackaged version of the existing deal? The one with the greatest credibility with hard Brexiteers.
Indeed, which of these possible leaders could you imagine making the even bigger leap and asking the country again for its views? The candidate who first came up with the idea of two referendums back in early 2016. Of course, he denies all this — and, like the other candidates, promises to get a renegotiated withdrawal agreement out of the EU. Perhaps he will. Most likely he will not. But one thing is for sure, having finally arrived in Downing Street, Mr Johnson won’t be in a hurry to leave it. Opportunism knocks.Finally, Mr Johnson is the candidate who might just get Britain feeling good about itself again.”
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London