The United Kingdom will soon have a new Prime Minister and if the bookmakers are to be believed, that man will be Boris Johnson. While almost everyone has heard his name, very few know the true history of Johnson’s political and personal career path, and that’s no accident. Johnson loves to portray himself as a ‘lovable rogue’ and on some level that’s been a great success. However, given this man may soon become Prime Minster of the United Kingdom it is surely worth a look at his past and what it could mean for our future.
I said above that most people know his name so lets start with that, because this truly where the great Johnson illusion begins. Think about it, how often do you hear Boris Johnson referred to as “Johnson”? Is it possible that more often you hear the words “Boris,” or even “Bo-Jo”? Well it would probably surprise you to hear that none of these are even his full name. That would be Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, though admittedly this is far from as catchy as the abridged version.
Any other political, or more generally any public figure, is always referred to by their last name, as a rule (would you refer to his opponent, Jeremy Hunt, as “Jeremy”?). By breaking this Johnson can easily appear far more down to Earth and relatable. Now It’s all an act, of course, and a clever one at that, but its high time we all started referring to the man as “Johnson,” thereby stripping this act of some of its credibility.
However, the name is far from where the illusion ends. Lets now take a look at Johnson’s past and upbringing, where we find the second part of the great Johnson illusion. Specifically this pertains to the lack of knowledge around Johnson’s past. I’m betting it would probably surprise a quite a number of people to learn that Johnson was educated at the European School of Brussels followed by Eton College, and he then went on to read Classics at Oxford University.
Now to be clear, there is nothing wrong with Johnson having a privileged upbringing. However, it’s important to acknowledge that Johnson has very little in common with the average person in terms of their upbringings and their starts in life, given that he has chosen to centre his leadership campaign around this idea. For proof of this fact look no further than his Twitter account, even his campaign video is full of him interacting with and celebrating ordinary people. And again, this by itself is fine, but surely the average people showcased in those photos and videos deserve to know the full history of the man who may be their next Prime Minister.
Moving onto act three in the great Johnson illusion, it’s worth digging a little deeper into his time as first Mayor of London, and then Foreign Secretary. Johnson, of course, will claim he was a huge success for London, in terms of crime, housing, roads and much more. However, in reality his legacy is much more mixed, filled with plenty of unfulfilled grand promises. As one should come to expect by now, these disappointments have been largely forgotten, with public memories instead turning to carefully choreographed photo opportunities (think Johnson on a zip line in 2012, or playing rugby in Japan in 2015).
One of these ‘grand promises’ however, that it is certainly worth a second look is that of the Garden Bridge plan. Originally supposed to be a bridge across the river Thames, the idea was put forward by Johnson in 2012 and planning permission was then granted in 2014. Fast forward five years and all Johnson or anyone else has to show for it is a £53.5 million bill, which of course is footed by the taxpayers.
It’s also worth noting that when pressed on this failure by current London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s spokesperson rubbished the idea as focussing on “issues of the past.” This should be no surprise by now, Johnson’s camp would be far prefer the public to forget that these failures ever happened at all, rather than try to explain why they happened or what could be done differently in the future to prevent such a spectacular waste of money.
This all being said, there are plenty of positives Johnson can point to with regards to his premiership as the Mayor of London, so perhaps lets now move onto his time as Foreign Secretary. After all, if Britain is to make a success of Brexit then one would think that a candidate with experience as Foreign Secretary would be ideal. I say “one would think” because a BBC ‘fly on the wall’ documentary, Inside the Foreign Office, reportedly captured Johnson calling the French “turds” over their Brexit stance. Of course, I have no experience in diplomatic negotiations myself but I can’t see how that would strengthen our cause.
It is also worth stating that the “turds” slur is just one of a long line of insults and missteps in Johnson’s political career. Of particular note are the times that he described Commonwealth citizens as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles,” when he liked women wearing the burqa to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers,” or when he criticised Labour’s “appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools.” There are of course more that I haven’t mentioned, and you can find a more complete list here. However, at this point one surely has to question how Johnson will possibly ensure good diplomatic relations with an organization that he has previously compared to Hitler and Nazi Germany, the EU.
It should also go without saying that it is important that we do have good political and economic relations with our closest neighbours, our allies and our biggest trading partners, and we deserve a Prime Minster that can ensure that continues to happen. But for all Johnson can talk the talk about how ‘great’ Britain can be, his true track record doesn’t suggest that he can walk the walk and actually deliver on his promises.
As a final note here, this is most definitely not meant to promote the cause of Johnson’s opponent, Jeremy Hunt as he has plenty of his own shortcomings. It is purely to try and illustrate the true character of Boris Johnson, and take away some of the smoke and mirrors that surrounds his “man of the people” act. Which, if you are still unsure as to whether it is real or not just ask yourself, why does Johnson deliberately ruffle his hair and pull his shirt out of his trousers before making a speech? The answer is that he knows how to play the game of politics. So please, don’t fall for the act.