On Boris Johnson

The Editors

William Davies, 8 March 2018:

The political weather in Westminster has been made over the past two years by Boris Johnson, a man whose only apparent goal is to make the political weather. Senior Leave campaigners, such as Dominic Cummings, admit they would have lost the referendum had he not leapt on board. Johnson approaches public life as a game in which he commits sackable offences as a way of demonstrating his unsackability. The office of foreign secretary in this administration is treated as a leash to constrain someone who would otherwise cause more trouble to the prime minister elsewhere.

Ferdinand Mount, 19 May 2016:

The Leavers don’t seem to have much clue about what is to happen afterwards. Curious, considering so many of them have spent their adult lives agitating for this moment. Their approach appears to be a version of Napoleon’s battle strategy: ‘On se dégage, et puis on voit.’ What exactly is Out supposed to entail? How do they picture Britain’s relationship with the EU, and with the rest of the world, after they’ve secured a vote for Exit on 23 June? … Johnson in particular changes his ideas once a fortnight.

Jonathan Coe, 18 July 2013:

These days, every politician is a laughing-stock, and the laughter which occasionally used to illuminate the dark corners of the political world with dazzling, unexpected shafts of hilarity has become an unthinking reflex on our part, a tired Pavlovian reaction to situations that are too difficult or too depressing to think about clearly. Johnson seems to know this: he seems to know that the laughter that surrounds him is a substitute for thought rather than its conduit, and that puts him at a wonderful advantage. If we are chuckling at him, we are not likely to be thinking too hard about his doggedly neoliberal and pro-City agenda, let alone doing anything to counter it. With a true genius for taking the temperature of a country that has never been closer to sinking ‘sniggering beneath the watery main’, Boris Johnson has become his own satirist.

James Meek, 26 April 2012:

Johnson’s reaction to the riots was interesting. The general trend of Conservatism since Thatcher has been to blame state control and personal moral weakness for the ills of society and to take advantage of the prescribed cure, privatisation, to diminish political responsibility when things go wrong. Johnson’s riot response has gone in the other direction: you might as well bring your powers up to the level where the things people are going to blame you for anyway really are your fault.

Iain Sinclair, 20 January 2011:

The rise in the social status of the bicycle has much to do with the sense of entitlement of public school, Oxbridge-educated politicians. Prefects and scholars in Victorian, post-imperialist institutions were the only ones privileged enough to cycle: one-handed, flop-haired, gossiping in dog Latin, between house and dining hall, classroom and chapel … Boris Johnson, like a character from the Beano, is airfixed to the saddle: fit for purpose, man of the people, blundering into scrapes, unsinkable, upbeat, in your face, a polar bear on a circus unicycle.

John Lanchester, 10 April 2008:

I know quite a few people who know him (we overlapped at university) and the general view is that he put on a buffoon mask to become a celebrity, and now he can’t take it off. He’s very ambitious, everyone agrees on that, and he deliberately sought to become famous as a way of furthering his political career. The idea was that celebrity is the currency of politics in the way that money once was: instead of becoming rich before going into politics, as Tories once did (the Heseltine route), the contemporary path to power is first to become famous. Electors are much more likely to vote for you if they know who you are. For someone who markets himself as a bit of a throwback, this is a very modern and very American idea. Johnson is the first British politician to give it a real try.


  • 13 July 2018 at 12:10pm
    Simon Wood says:
    It's not too late for London readers to finish their tea and wander down to Trafalgar Square this afternoon for the 5-7pm rally. I myself wasn't going to go - virtue signalling is reactionary - but since the rather plastic president has come out in support of the egregiously ersatz Johnson, I will. It may be a very, very long wait to leave the square afterwards, so I will take our magazine with us.

    • 14 July 2018 at 9:52pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ Simon Wood
      I’m not sure if Simon Wood is right about equating attendance at a public political demonstration with “virtue signaling”? Doesn’t that vary from person to person, whose individual motivations and intentions remain unknown to the rest of us? And on a matter of syntax, how did Mr. Wood start out as an individual in his last sentence and wind up as a plural creature – I doubt that it’s a case of “the royal we”, but what exactly is it? Enlighten me.

      Most Americans know very little about Boris Johnson - the exception being those who saw him in one or another evening news snippet years ago, or the viewers of the late-night Letterman show, on which he was treated as a "hale, hearty, and amusing fellow", without a single serious question asked of him (but those occasions offered very little in themselves). Those of us who despise Trump (that includes me) find the fact that our "Leader" praised him in kindergarten terms ("well, he says good things about me") as just one more blotch on BJ's already heavily stained reputation.

  • 15 July 2018 at 6:21pm
    Simon Wood says:
    Syntax error singular to plural was a mistake. But if the blog allowed editing, we'd be here all day with our readers qualifying themselves all the time. The answer is to check what you've written - this is as important as writing it in the first place. But so many of us do not like to read what we have said.

    Demo attendance is a strange thing - I was bounced into it by the morning's news that old Trump was getting behind our chump - I became motivated. Later I learned that Trump said the paper involved had spun what he said into fake news - now Trump was the good guy. Next day, paper publishes the recordings. Truth travels fast, degrades faster.

    My bacon was saved at the demo in this way: I bumped into an anarchist I know who always brings something to the occasion by unicycling and fire eating. There'll be a riot going on with tear gas and he'll go past on a unicycle eating fire. When Owen Jones the left-wing opinion expert got up to speak, my friend said, "I don't like him." "Why not? I asked. "I don't know," he said. I laughed and laughed, truly felt liberated - normally a long-form essay is the required response.

    The most moving and effective demo I've been to was outside the original Stephen Lawrence verdict. It was absolutely and profoundly silent. In fact I got on my bike and left it to people who deserved to be there.