Boris Johnson has unique political gifts. Fortunately, being unique does not also make these gifts useful, desirable or of particular public value.
In truth, Johnson’s most consistent gift has been the gift of ‘getting away with it’. Such a gift has little political value other than to the individual in possession of it.
Johnson has built a political career on getting away with it: being wedgied on a zipwire, rugby-tackling children, making up false quotations as a journalist; and he has a catalogue of buffoonish and boorish bullshit interventions to his name stretching over many years.
Latterly, his increasingly bizarre pronouncements have been defended in the media by his father (I can think of no other politician who does this and it is to the shame of certain media outlets that they indulge it) but the truth is that, to date, Johnson’s carefully cultivated shambling persona, the studiously unkempt hair and the occasional invocation of Euripides or Aeschylus have given him licence to articulate a variety of extreme opinions almost certainly out of kilter with the mainstream majority of our country.
The most dangerous place for anyone to find themselves in British politics, as David Cameron has discovered, is between Johnson and the limelight.
Like many of his political contemporaries and party colleagues, Johnson struggles away from the supine London media, where access to wealth and personal advancement are traded for journalistic integrity. A bubble politician par excellence, the incessant feting of Johnson by the suffocatingly self-important and hermetically sealed commentariat in the capital furnishes him with a feeling of invincibility.
Unfortunately for Johnson, incapable of remaining respectful or dignified on the occasion of Barack Obama’s latest visit to the United Kingdom, his end-of-the-pier show is now approaching its final run. As the Clash would have put it, Give ‘Em Enough Rope …
A former advocate of Britain’s membership of the European Union, Johnson blew the gaffe on his diminishing credibility when he hitched his shambolic charabanc to the Leave campaign. No principle is so sacred that Johnson will not abandon it in the cause of his perceived self-advance. Now Johnson has accused the most iconic global politician since Nelson Mandela of having an ‘ancestral hatred’ of Britain for voicing his view that Britain’s interests will be best served within the EU.
Scions of uncommon wealth and privilege would be wise not to invoke such thoughts.
If Johnson would like to test the theory that he can connect with ordinary people outside of the Westminster bubble, away from tightly controlled and stage-managed environments he inhabits, he should set out to visit some of Britain’s post-industrial communities. He should visit the coal-mining towns where generations of people could take him to the sites where their ancestors are entombed. They could take him to the sites of the poorhouses where their ancestors toiled. They could take him to places in which they still find within themselves sources of incredible pride and loss and they can ask him about what he means by ‘ancestral hatred’ …
Bill Clinton used to observe that it was not until the political messenger became tired of hearing their own message that the message has registered with the voting public. Johnson is the latest politician to prove Clinton right. After years of offensive ambulance-chasing, cynical manipulation, dog-whistling, flip-flopping and blatant opportunism, Johnson’s message is crystal clear to every British citizen: this man is unfit for high office.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.