Skip to Content

Coffee House

A class act

23 October 2011

2:45 PM

23 October 2011

2:45 PM

When John Donne wrote that no man is an island he clearly didn’t have Boris Johnson in mind. Because, if Sonia Purnell’s well documented book, Just Boris, is correct, old Bozza, "like
Palmerston, has no friends, merely interests".

According to Purnell and her star studded cast of executioners Boris is a class act, but an act is all it is. He doesn’t emote, he’ll never pop down to the pub with chums for a drink
and is the "most ruthless man" that she have ever met. The bumbling, hair mussing, self deprecatory Bertie Wooster figure is an elaborate act. A defence mechanism and a camouflage for
what his real opinions are. And there’s the other problem, does Boris have a firm view about anything? The BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, was chairman of the Oxford University
Conservative Association. He never thought Boris was a Tory at all and assumed that he was SDP/Liberal Alliance. Even when Boris was making a name for himself writing venomous attacks on the EU
from Brussels for the Telegraph, one colleague commented, "The irony is that Boris is a pro European at heart. Why does he do it? Just pure opportunism."

And as for journalism? Well, those who work with him claim that his antics made Johann Hari look like a pillar of propriety. James Landale wrote this little poem, "mocking Boris’s
flexible relationship with the actualite."

Boris told such dreadful lies
It made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes
His desk, which from it’s earliest youth
Had kept a strict regard for truth
Attempted to believe each scoop
Until they landed in the soup.
The moral, it is indeed,
It might be wrong but it’s a damn fine read.

The trouble with Boris is in his genes. The tribe seem to be unemotional, driven and ruthlessly ambitious. He has a very close relationship, which is almost Jedwoodian, with his sister Rachel,
another ruthlessly ambitious Johnson. But despite a colourful private life, his marriage to Marina seems remarkably strong. She is fiercely protective of him and of their children who adore him and
he them. She takes no nonsense and is probably his social conscience. He is a very lucky man. Perhaps, in the security of the family home he lets the mask down. I hope so.

Boris is one of those people who sets targets. He desperately wants to be Prime Minister. But time is against him. He is older than both Cameron and Osborne and by the time there is a gap in the
market Conservatism is likely to be out of fashion.

The relationship with Cameron is unusual. Boris is fiercely competitive and has no scruples in upstaging his leader, which makes staffers at Number 10 sometimes seethe. As Conrad Black said of him,
"he is not Mr. Loyalty". But Cameron is relaxed and dines out on a story where he and Boris were in negotiations over London’s budget. The Mayor leapt over the table and tried to
wrest the PM’s briefing notes from him. Their mutual antagonism is over hyped.

So what will happen to Boris? God knows. He’ll probably win a second term in London. But can he stay the course? Will he just get bored and zone out? His problems are best summed up by Norman
Lamont and Simon Heffer. First Lamont, "he has a tendency to think that he has found a policy when he has merely found a phrase". And Heffer, "Mr. Johnson is not a politician. He is
an act. For some of us the joke has worn not thin, but out. Yet many less cynical than I am find it appealing. It conceals two things: a blinding lack of attention to detail and a ruthless
ambition. He is pushy, he is thoughtless, he is indiscreet about his private life, none of this matters too much these days, which is why he has gone so far in spite of them."

Whether you like Boris or loathe him he is a class act and Sonia Purnell’s excellent book is a must read to those who want to attempt to understand this mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Show comments