Hating Boris Johnson
Otto English explains how he became an expert on the boy who wanted to be ‘World King’ and why he cannot now bear to write a single word about the man
One of my most dispiriting moments in the Brexit referendum came outside Brockley station, in south-east London, while I was campaigning for the ‘Stronger In’ camp in May 2016.
I had never canvassed before and had naively assumed that most people understood politics. I guessed that most of the voters I met would know roughly what was going on and what was at stake, but time and time again, as I spoke to my fellow Londoners, it became quite clear that many – on both sides – did not.
Lowlights included the 20 minutes I spent explaining to a voter that the UK was already in the EU. On another occasion, a student insisted that “anyone” could come here “without showing their passport” and walked off when I tried to explain otherwise. And then there was the time that a group of lads asked me what it was all about before ending with: “F*ck that, we’re voting for Boris.”
Boris Johnson was ‘the face’ of the Leave camp and their best weapon. For a public that was tired of slick-but-dull politicians, he seemed to offer something fresh. A thumbs-aloft, ‘man of the people’ – hopping about the place like an excitable Easter bunny, proffering up gifts of money and promises of a brighter new world outside of the EU.
His magic seemed to transcend all ages and social groups. Twice elected Mayor of London – in a city famously averse to Conservative politicians – polls demonstrated that he was the most popular politician in the UK by a very long margin. And it wasn’t just those lads outside Brockley station.
I had left-leaning friends who admitted that they had voted for him because “Boris is fun”. My uncle liked him. My mother liked him. Even my student neighbours told me that they liked him. But I most certainly did not.
When he first stood for London, back in 2008, the striking thing was that he didn’t have any ideas. His one policy seemed to be to replace bendy-buses with an ersatz Routemaster. Apart from that, all that was on offer was his self-proclaimed genius, which frankly did not hold up to much scrutiny.
Despite many people hailing him as a ‘brilliant writer’, I couldn’t see it. I frequently read his pieces and they were fundamentally all the same. Bluff, guff, funny words and racy (and sometimes racist) observations. The striking thing was that they were not very good.
Johnson seemed to me to be a of a type of ex-public schoolboy that I – myself an ex-public schoolboy – knew well. The kind who goes around with a lot of bluster and self-confidence but who hasn’t really progressed mentally or intellectually since Upper Sixth. The kind of person that becomes ‘great’ because everyone agrees that they are ‘great’ and not because they are great in and of themselves.
Since then, I have read and written hundreds of thousands of words about him. I know more about the life of Boris Johnson than is good for a man.
I know about his eccentric childhood, his Eton reinvention, his time at Oxford and his desperation to be President of the Union. I know of the deceptions he evinced to get the gig. I know the ins and outs of his time as a journalist – the time he got sacked for lying, the other time he got sacked for lying, the time he offered to get an address so his old chum Darius Guppy could arrange for a journalist to get beaten up. I am at expert level on his London mayoral terms; the promises he made and failed to keep. And his numerous extra-marital girlfriends along the way.
I could probably sit, revision free, in the Mastermind chair with this man as my chosen subject and complete a perfect round of answers.
The more I have learned, the more I have come to intensely dislike Boris Johnson. Half a decade of writing about him has left me with the conviction that the current British Prime Minister has not one redeeming characteristic.
He is lazy, self-serving, arrogant, petty and deeply, deeply unimaginative. He lies to those who love him and disregards the promises he makes in pursuit of his own pleasure. He has been a terrible husband, an untrustworthy ally, a deceitful employee, and a deeply dishonest and entitled public servant.
He doesn’t care about the truth any more than he cares about other people’s feelings or the needs of those he has conned into voting for him. He has been elevated beyond his talents to the most powerful job in the country for no other reason than that he has powerful friends and allies in the press and in public life, and the arrogance and self-conviction to propel himself into it.
He had no vision when he entered Downing Street beyond getting ‘done’ the Brexit catastrophe he himself had created, and doing up his flat to a standard that he and his wife could not afford. He has treated the Coronavirus pandemic like an inconvenience. He said he would rather the “bodies pile high” than risk denting his popularity by bringing in another lockdown. Pile high they have. Offered the chance to lead his nation through the crisis, he instead sat down with a glass of Rioja and wondered who he could get to write his Shakespeare biography for him.
More than all this, he has quite clearly decided that the rules are for the plebs and not for the World King. The rest of us couldn’t bury our loved ones but he held parties and then refused to accept that he had done anything wrong, even as the pistol sat smoking in his hand.
Like Nero, he has fiddled while his country has burned; has dissembled when his lies have been found out; and run away when his fellow politicians have tried to hold him to account.
This disgraceful phony was not fit to be an MP let alone leader of this great country. His time as Prime Minister has not only diminished that office. But it has also diminished us all.
I have come to hate writing about him almost as much as I have come to hate the man himself but do look forward, very much, to penning his political obituary which cannot come soon enough.
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