If, as expected, Boris Johnson heads off to Buckingham Palace next Wednesday to become Prime Minister, I fear that a fleet of ambulances may be required at the Guardian’s headquarters in King’s Cross – as the newspaper’s collective Boris Derangement Syndrome moves into its final, and possibly terminal, phase. All week the Guardian has been running ever-more desperate stuff in its final attempt to dissuade Tory members from voting for Boris – which looks like being as successful as its appeal for readers to write heartfelt letters to US citizens, imploring them not to vote for George W Bush in the 2004 US Presidential election.
Among it all there’s inevitably some material which genuinely does count against Boris – his taste for vanity projects like the Routemaster bus and the Garden Bridge, or his infamous, horrible conversation with Darius Guppy. But the trouble with running an unrelenting hatchet job on Boris, or indeed anyone, is that you end up scraping material which actually puts them in a good light. No more so is this true of the two columns – or three as the Guardian claims – which Boris wrote while making up his mind which way to campaign in the 2016 EU referendum. According to the Guardian, this is a sign of Boris’s lack of principle. It quotes an unnamed supporter of David Cameron as describing Boris’ decision to campaign for Leave as ‘grubby’.
But why? Surely if you have a difficult decision to make it is a perfectly valid tactic to sit down and write out both sides of the argument and then judge which stands up best. There are alternatives. You could, for example, simply go with your gut feeling. You could adopt whichever position you sense that your friends and supporters are nodding towards. You could look at the opinion polls and try to calculate which side of the argument would win you the most votes. But why would any of those methods of arriving at your final decision be more principled and less grubby? What Boris’s Leave and Remain columns show is that he approached the matter with an open mind and used his intellect rather than his prejudice to make his decision.
Among the other evidence the Guardian puts forward for its assertion that Boris is unfit for Number 10 is that the ‘Boris bike’ scheme is losing £3 million a year. But is there any public transport in London which is not subsidised, much of it heavily so? For a scheme which takes cars off the road, removes pressure on polluting buses and the overcrowded tube, that seems pretty good value for money – especially, one might think, to a newspaper which is forever demanding higher public spending. Boris is accused, too, of Islamophobia for suggesting, in an appendix to his 2006 book The Dream of Rome, that religion may have played a role in the Muslim world falling ‘literally centuries behind’ the West. But surely it is a perfectly legitimate question (and hardly makes you a hater of Muslims in Britain now) why a part of the world which had been the cradle of civilisation, slipped behind as western Europe made scientific and technological breakthroughs, explored and settled the New World and precipitated an industrial revolution which has made the Earth’s population unimaginably rich. Or is the Guardian seriously trying to claim that the Muslim world was just as economically vibrant as the West from the Renaissance to the 20th century? That seems a pretty drastic case of what in Guardian language would be called ‘denialism’.
If there are any survivors at the Guardian’s offices after next Wednesday’s cataclysm (to use another favoured word of the liberal-left) we can expect much more of this sort of stuff. I wouldn’t put it past them one day to run a headline it has so far just about managed to keep back:
‘Boris – even bigger threat to the world than the climate emergency, according to experts.’