Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On reading "The Empty Promise of Boris Johnson"

The Empty Promise of Boris Johnson (Sam Knight, The New Yorker)

This is a very interesting and educational article, containing a potted biography of Boris Johnson, charting and explaining his political aims, which can be summed up nicely in his own words as "I have nothing." In short, he has no fixed beliefs and doesn't believe in the perfectibility of people or systems and treats life, journalism and elections as a rambunctious game of King of the Castle, which he is determined to win.

His main virtue, if you can isolate any, is that he cheers people up. I think that is very fair, the life and soul of the party but in more ways than one, "not the man you want driving you home afterwards," as Amber Rudd famously quipped. It is hard to be cheered up in the face of an oncoming juggernaut or cliff edge and a driver full of Pimms.

Johnson is portrayed as a real-life version of PG Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster. If the final two in the Tory leadership ballot turn out to be Gove v Johnson, it will be like a contest between Jeeves and Wooster, which does indeed happen from time to time in the books. Hunt, Javid or Stewart as the opponent would merely be one of Wodehouse's frequent unsatisfactory stand-in butlers. When it comes to Wooster v Jeeves, it's always Jeeves who wins but he lets Wooster think he's won. Johnson would be a figurehead and Gove the man with the plan:- and that's where the analogy breaks down.

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