A Conservative Party poll has suggested that party members support Boris Johnson to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. If Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, faces Mr Johnson in the next general election it would pit Britain’s worst ideologue against its worst opportunist.
Where to begin with the terminally selfish, sleazy and inept Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip? I should admit that I have history here. I wrote for an anti-Boris blog back when he was Mayor of London and I was on the left. Ten years later, my politics have travelled rightwards but my esteem for Mr Johnson has not shifted an inch.
On a personal level it is obvious that the man has few redeeming features. His sense of humour and superficial charm have made him famous but it is a mask he wears in public. Behind closed doors, he is a serial cheat whose wife has just divorced him after one extra-marital affair too many. His previous flings, which have humiliated his wife, his children and his colleagues, have led to one child being aborted and another being born out of wedlock.
I am sceptical than one can draw clear distinctions between most men’s private and public lives. In this case, one cannot. Johnson’s opportunism, dishonesty and disloyalty is just as evident in his journalistic and political career. Sacked by the Sunday Times for inventing a quote, he began to edit the Spectator, the proprietor of which described him as “ineffably duplicitous” after he reneged on a pledge to put his political ambitions on ice.
In parliament, Johnson has cheerfully drifted with the winds of opinion. In his own words, he “wrote, spoke and voted” in support of the Iraq invasion, and he claimed in 2004 that George Bush deserved re-election because he “liberated Iraq”. Later, Johnson could be found criticising Tony Blair – who had, he claimed, “dragooned” Britain into the Iraq War – without the slightest self-reflection on his own role.
Johnson’s role in “Brexit” was infinitely shiftier. He wrote two articles prior to his announcement that he would join the Leave campaign: one in favour of Brexit and one against it. He had told David Cameron that he would support Remain but then flip-flopped, becoming an enthusiastic advocate for Leave. Well, everyone can change their mind, yet Johnson is never honest about what he thinks. A key theme of the Leave campaign was its fomenting of the fear of Turkish accession to the EU. One could never have guessed that Johnson had promoted exactly that in a film for the BBC. With striking shamelessness, he still promotes Turkish accession to the EU even after doing so much to pull Britain out of it.
One of the greatest assets politicians can have is the ability to make people think they share their thoughts even if they do not. Johnson is a master of this. Traditional Conservatives flocked to defend him after his mischievous comparison of niqab-clad women and letter boxes caused a hysterical response among liberals and leftists but a cynic – such as me – might suspect that Johnson engineered the episode in order to attract them to his cause. A bed-hopping libertine who describes himself as “broadly libertarian”, sees Brexit as a chance to allow more non-European immigrants and, in one first decisions as Foreign Secretary, lifted a ban on UK embassies flying rainbow flags during gay pride events, Johnson has nothing in common with traditional conservatives but has coaxed many of them onto his side with his façade of “telling it like it is” fearlessness.
Conservative columnists are struggling to cast Johnson’s potential leadership in an optimistic light. Quentin Letts describes him as “box-office”, which appears to mean that he is not dull. Great. We might as well give the job to Hulk Hogan in that case. “Give Boris his shot at the top job,” insists Sarah Baxter, “He’s earned it.” Perhaps only in the politics and the media can years of personal and professional disgrace make one a deserving candidate for promotion.
Some compare Johnson to Trump. I think that is unhelpful and unimaginative. He seems more like a bargain basement Berlusconi: a charismatic and opportunistic womaniser with few principles beyond his dedication to self-advancement. Sure, nobody can deny that Theresa May is a lame duck Prime Minister, or that Johnson’s clearest rival, Saajid Javid, is as inspiring as a salad made of undressed lettuce leaves. Sure, I prefer Johnson to Corbyn, just as a broken leg is better than a ruptured spleen. Still, what a disgrace for Britain that these are its choices. What an embarrassment for a once proud nation, sinking, as Peter Cook once suggested that it would, giggling into the sea.