Boris Johnson has spent his adult life being underestimated and sneered at. But today’s attack by Tim Farron, the leader of what remains of the Liberal Democrats, rather takes the biscuit. Today it emerged that, with Theresa May in Switzerland and Philip Hammond out of the country, Boris is running the British government. So Farron pipes up to say:
Putting Boris Johnson in charge of the country is like putting the Chuckle Brothers in charge of Newsnight. Still, at least if he’s here, he’s not in Rio offending everyone he meets – and there’s always Larry the cat to stop him doing anything silly.
But Boris Johnson is arguably more qualified than anyone in any front bench to run the government. He was elected Mayor of London, twice, winning the largest personal mandate of almost any leader in Europe. For eight years he ran a city with a larger population than many European countries, and ran it very well – hence the re-election. And has it escaped Farron’s notice that, a few weeks ago, Boris just took on the entire British establishment in the EU referendum? And that he actually won, an epoch-defining victory in which 17.4 million people voted with him for Brexit?
If you compare Boris’s accomplishments to those of Farron – or to pretty much anyone in the Cabinet – then there really is no contest But to his immense credit, Boris refuses to indulge in the pomposity and self-importance that normally afflicts men with large egos who wind up in a position of power. His refreshing lack of self-aggrandisement helps explain his huge electoral appeal.
Winning Brexit, running London, becoming Foreign Secretary – it’s hard to know what more Boris can do to be taken seriously by his Lilliputian detractors. But it is fashionable, right now, to regard him as a joke figure: a former journalist who had a long lunch and stumbled into the Foreign Office by mistake. He quit as editor of The Spectator in 2005; he entered the Cabinet in 2015. Between those dates, he achieved more than most politicians do in a lifetime. That’s the simple truth about Boris Johnson, and his jealous critics had best learn to accept it.