Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” All too easily, the same phrase might be applied to certain British politicians of many stripes. Rather more often than we care to admit, our electoral system and our mandate system of open, free and fair elections lets an idiot, or more often, a catastrophically monumental bellend, hold public office. But then, as Churchill put it in his so oft-misquoted way, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." (From a House of Commons speech on Nov. 11, 1947.)
If anything can be said for Boris Johnson, it is that he is not stupid. He may well be a bellend, but he is no idiot. The recent documentary about his rise to power and fame, or at least becoming Mayor of London and a minor celebrity, investigates Johnson’s dichotomy of behavioural traits, one side rarely seen. The ‘bumbling’ demeanour and dishevelled appearance hide, as you can tell by watching it here, a calculating and savvy political operator, with serious potential to hold national office. It has long been said that Boris will be the next Prime Minister.
The title of the documentary is ‘The irresistible rise’. That unfair allusion to Johnson’s propensity to extramarital affairs aside, watching it is a fairly serious hour punctuated, of course, with Johnson’s rambling and likeable guff about wanting to be a rock star and a painter.
With the usual “Well, I mean, you know” sentences, and a measure or two of mock-baffled amazement at his own decision to take part in the documentary, Johnson is his usual plummy, toffish, loveable self. I don’t, however, think that his performance historically merits that attention. That is to say, he merits it by the laws of celebrity culture, from his Have I Got News For You appearances and so on. Fair game. His principled, political outlook, though, is shallow. I fail to understand how this is not worrying for conservatives.
The loveable chap might well want to be PM, not that he would admit it on the Andrew Marr show last weekend, to the panic of newspapers everywhere, whose editors went into political cardiac arrest. A drive to be PM is not unreasonable or idealistic. It would, however, be a shame to see him reach such office by means of his personality alone.
The best politicians, in my opinion, are elected by voters concerned about what an American might call ‘issues.’ I can bear no grudge against you and you should have no compunction in voting, if you do so based on your concerns, be they over abortion, economics, reformism, platypus care budgets or anything else. An electorate which votes for a character, in ignorance of the issues though, is something up with which I will not put.
Voting for X because X is a lovable character gets you nothing. It does not buy you influence in your ideology, or progress on your ‘issues.’ The tendency for politicians to sequester their true agendas and ambitions is dangerous, and their total honesty of political positions and ideas must be a minimum requirement, a much-needed gold standard for ensuring accountability in public office.
Boris is no devil, though. The “multiplying villainies of nature” do not swarm upon him, as the zeitgeist of Shakespeare frames it. It is instead the multiplying illusions of celebrity which turn this loveable oaf into a credible statesman. It might even be fair to say that he not only bumbles but veritably ‘Bunbries’ his way around a political sphere that Oscar Wilde himself would have been proud of devising.
Massaged truth upon massaged truth in lieu of stances creates a farcical political world, and one bereft of great figures. Boris has no issues, no real stances. Being Boris is not enough to warrant all this love. Deputy Mayor Munira Mirza mentioned education, culture, press freedom and multiculturalism, but I defy the public to claim they knew of a Johnsonian stance on these. Your ignorance will not protect you, nor will the politics of soundbites.
If Johnson is to fairly claim high office, the bluster must end.