Who is Boris Johnson’s political hero? ‘Obviously Winston Churchill,’ said the Prime Minister yesterday. But Boris also named another figure from antiquity who has inspired him: Pericles of Athens. ‘He believed in the importance of the many, not the few,’ said Boris, helping himself to Labour’s slogan.
Boris and Pericles have a few things in common, notes Mr S. Not least a love of speaking and having a younger girlfriend: Pericles’s partner was 25 years his junior, while Carrie and Boris Johnson have a 25-year age gap. So if Boris is Pericles, which other Greco-Roman figures are today’s politicians following in the footsteps of?
Priti Patel – Draco
The Home Secretary has made it her mission to get tough on crime, recently stating that she wanted criminals to ‘literally feel terror at the thought of committing offences’. This passion for tough justice isn’t new to Patel. Back in 2011, she argued on Question Time that she ‘would actually support the reintroduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent’. Her law and order stance would be music to the ears of Draco, ruler of Athens during the 7th century BC. He was particularly known for his fondness of the death penalty; Plutarch records that when asked the reason for using this punishment for most offences, ‘he replied that in his opinion, the lesser ones deserved it, and for the greater ones, no heavier penalty could be found’.
Dominic Raab – Leonidas
Raab is known for his strong Eurosceptism and keen interest in martial arts. Who else could he resemble but the leader of the 300, the ancient King of Sparta, Leonidas himself? The Foreign Secretary boxed for the varsity team during his time at Oxford and has worked his way up to a third dan black belt. The ancient historian Philostratus claimed that the war-hungry Spartans developed the art of boxing in order to prepare themselves for hand-to-hand combat. And when the expansionist Persians came knocking, the Spartans held them back at all costs.
Sajid Javid – Crassus
Sajid Javid’s banking experience made him well qualified for his promotion as Chancellor. When he left his high-flying job at Chase Manhattan, Javid was earning megabucks, reportedly around £3m a year. And his ability to make money also means he has something in common with Marcus Licinius Crassus, a Roman general who earned his fortune before entering politics and forming a triumvirate with Pompey and Caesar.
Jacob Rees-Mogg – Cato the Younger
Rigidity, tradition and conservatism. These words are as easily associated with Roman senator Cato the Younger as they are with the Leader of the House of Commons. A social conservative and enthusiast for impossibly obscure words, he’s often been referred to as the ‘honourable member for the 18th century’. Rees-Mogg would surely get on like a house on fire with Cato the Younger. Cato was a man noted for his staunch support for Roman republican tradition and his refusal to bend the knee to Caesar’s progressivism. As Plutarch wrote: ‘In general, Cato thought he ought to take a course directly opposed to the life and practices of the time, feeling that these were bad and in need of great change. For instance, when he saw that a purple which was excessively red and vivid was much in vogue, he himself would wear out the dark shade.’ Perhaps this is Cato’s version of a loosely-fitting double breasted suit?
Tony Blair – Emperor Diocletian
When Blair’s New Labour was swept to power in 1997 ambitious constitutional reforms followed, including new steps towards devolved governance in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Andrew Marr would herald the 1999 reforms as ‘The Day Britain Died’ – expressing worry over the prospect of the Union breaking away. Emperor Diocletian undertook his own territorial reform, dividing the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern regions, with each granted legislative autonomy. Ironically, the Eastern Roman Empire would survive the original Western one by just under 1,000 years. Mr S hopes that the English won’t have to endure the same fate…