A Study in Depravity

Thomas Jones

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'I sometimes argue with my friend Heathcote Williams about his use of pornography as a means of attacking his political enemies,' Francis Wyndham wrote in the first issue of the LRB (25 October 1979):

It seems to me an irrelevant weapon in any context, and in the hands of a man with Heathcote’s anarchistic, optimistic, nearly utopian convictions it becomes puzzlingly inconsistent. His polemical essays have been appearing, often unsigned, in the underground press over the past decade … They abound in fantastic, and often very funny, descriptions of the people he disapproves of (such as Mrs Thatcher, Enoch Powell, Ian Paisley, the Royal Family and Jesus Christ) engaged in eccentric forms of sexual intercourse.

Williams's unsigned pamphlets still appear, forty years on, though there's less eccentric sex in them than there used to be. His latest is Boris Johnson: The Blond Beast of Brexit – A Study in Depravity. It isn't pornographic; the depravity in question isn't sexual, though Williams doesn't scant on documenting Johnson's extramarital affairs and his ex-girlfriends' abortions, along with a few of his sexist and homophobic utterances (referring to 'the chicks in the GQ expenses department'; comparing civil partnerships to 'three men and a dog' getting married).

Drawing on biographies of the mayor of London by Sonia Purnell and Andrew Gimson, a great many newspaper articles, Johnson's own journalism in publications from the Eton Chronicle to the Daily Telegraph (what a range!) and a few of his countless TV appearances, Williams assembles a blistering charge sheet against his target: climate change denial, dishonesty, hypocrisy, incompetence, racism, violence, 'remorseless self-promotion', 'a ruthless and often cruel ambition together with an elitism and a ferocious temper when challenged'. Williams doesn't say anything that hasn't already been said, but I doubt anyone's said so much of it in such a concentrated form before.

The reason Williams has picked on Johnson now is that he is 'widely judged to be the heaviest hitter' in the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union (the others are 'unimpressive also-rans'). Williams is unabashedly in favour of the EU. He praises it for being 'environmentally literate', 'anti-colonial', 'unaggressive' and 'unwarlike'. The British campaign to leave the EU, by contrast, is 'led by a cadre of Conservatives who protest their love of country with a self-satisfied zeal … while they fight with a low cunning to conserve a depraved British body-politic based upon an unconscionable disparity between untold wealth and unspeakable poverty and upon the idle values of transient celebrity.'

Among Johnson's fellow Brexiteers in the 'retrospective rump' of the Tory Party, Williams takes aim at Michael Howard, Michael Gove, Nigel Lawson and Iain Duncan Smith. The culture secretary, John Whittingdale, is beneath his notice. Williams's pamphlet came out before the not very lurid revelations about Whittingdale's brief relationship with a professional dominatrix. The tabloids' not publishing the story for more than a year is said to have had no influence at all on the culture secretary's positions on press regulation and the BBC (he isn't very keen on either).

On 22 February, the day after Whittingdale and five of his Cabinet colleagues announced they were breaking ranks with the prime minister and would be voting for Britain to leave the EU, the culture secretary went to the British Museum to celebrate the launch of Wang Jianlin's memoir, The Wanda Way. Wang, the chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, is the richest man in China. 'By working together in this new spirit of collaboration,' Whittingdale said, digging deep into his bag of platitudes for all occasions,'we can harness our relative and innovative talents for our mutual benefit.' Who needs Europe?

Read more in the London Review of Books

Heathcote Williams reviews Roger Deakin's 'Waterlog' · 19 August 1999

Francis Wyndham on the magic of Heathcote Williams · 25 October 1979

Jonathan Coe: Giggling along with Boris · 18 July 2013


  • 16 April 2016 at 7:36am
    Joe Morison says:
    He's our Silvio Berlusconi.

  • 19 April 2016 at 7:20pm
    John Burgess says:
    How do i get hold of a copy?

  • 19 April 2016 at 9:20pm
    Mnestheus says:
    " climate change denial, dishonesty, hypocrisy, "

    Is Boris really in the same league as Nigel Lawson ?

  • 20 April 2016 at 9:16pm
    gary morgan says:
    I used to think of him as a bit of a laugh but not REALLY dangerous nor that powerful or that clever. In fact he is utterly ruthless; he could by default lead the Tories though one susppects his appetites will preclude that; he has limitless ambition (plainly a family thing as well as a class thing. A very English thing anyway).
    The only person I have seen nail was Eddie Mair on 'Andrew Marr'; as with James O'Brien's similar demolition of Farage on Capital, each was entirely uncharmed; razor-sharp in picking up inconsistency and its cousin, bluster and our two populists were quickly reduced to catmeat. It's a failing of journos that charm/blokeishness can get you so far without serious attack.
    Here's hoping they fall flat on their selfish faces.
    Love the mag, as ever.

  • 20 April 2016 at 10:40pm
    Cerrulla says:
    I just think of Boris as 'Donald Lite'.

  • 21 April 2016 at 1:26pm
    John Burgess says:
    That was a serious question. The pamphlet doesn't appear to be available via Amazon or the LRB bookshop and I'd like to read it.

    • 22 April 2016 at 3:05pm
      Good, I would also like to see a copy. Will you be publishing it on the blog?

  • 15 July 2016 at 1:38pm
    Shakespeare says:
    Why not publish it in the LRB? It can't be much longer than Satori, and could be titled "That's Tory"!

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