Boris Johnson: inside the mind of a maverick

Mad, bad and dangerous to lead? Britain’s most colourful politician, with a long record of gaffes.

“World king,” he famously declared aged five, when asked his ambitions. Now Teresa May has quit, Boris Johnson could very well be our next prime minister. Who is he and what makes him tick?

The biography. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (better known as Boris) is the son of Stanley Johnson, a committed Europhile and former MEP, and mother Charlotte, an artist. They divorced when he was young. As a child, Johnson moved between New York, London and Brussels. He attended Eton and Oxford University.

Before entering politics as an MP in 2001, Johnson worked as a journalist and became editor of The Spectator magazine. In 2008, he was elected Mayor of London and stayed in office until 2016. In Theresa May’s government, he served as Foreign Secretary for two years until his resignation last year.

The politics. Johnson’s political views are famously fuzzy. As London Mayor, he was known for eye-catching projects over clear policy. Now, he is one of the country’s leading Brexiteers, but his views on the European Union (EU) weren’t always so clear.

As a young journalist in Brussels, Johnson made a name for himself by lampooning European bureaucrats. But later, as Mayor of London, he defended the UK’s EU membership.

In 2013, he said that leaving the EU would divert “energy from the real problems of this country […] that have nothing to do with Europe.” Johnson’s u-turns have prompted accusations that he puts ambition ahead of principles.

The personality. Boris’s disorganised, gaffe-prone persona dates back to his Eton days, where a teacher said he had “a disgracefully cavalier attitude” to studying, and amused audiences at school plays by never learning his lines.

Those close to him say he has few friends. “Like many loners, he has a compensating need to be liked,” wrote his ex-lover Petronella Wyatt. By his own admission, he is terrified of introspection and “abstract contemplation”, and must occupy himself with “an everlasting agenda of things to do”.

The scandals. His career began with a scandal, when he was sacked by The Times for making up a quotation. In 1990, Johnson was recorded offering to help his friend Darius Guppy have someone beaten up.

Johnson’s many love affairs have become public knowledge, including one which produced a love child. Just last year, his divorce from second wife lawyer Marina Wheeler was announced amid rumours of infidelity.

Premier or piffle?

Would Boris Johnson be a good prime minister? Not only have his careless remarks widely offended, but they endangered a British citizen imprisoned in Iran. Is he too clownish for real responsibility? And what about his private indiscretions? Should prime ministers have to meet certain moral standards?

But his fans say no one else has the power to connect with the public, and win over voters from Labour and the Brexit Party. Could Johnson be just what’s needed to bulldoze a route through this Brexit mess?

You Decide

  1. Do you think Boris Johnson should be Prime Minister?
  2. What qualities should a prime minister have?

Activities

  1. Write down 10 words you associate with Boris Johnson. Discuss them as a class. What do your choices tell you about how the public sees him?
  2. Imagine you are about to meet Boris Johnson. Write 10 questions you would like to ask him.

Some People Say...

“If we judged everybody by the stupid, unguarded things they blurt out to their nearest and dearest, then we wouldn’t ever get anywhere.”

Boris Johnson

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
After repeatedly failing to get her deal through the House of Commons and delaying Brexit by seven months, Theresa May launched a “new deal” this week to persuade MPs to support her Withdrawal Agreement. The plan includes a promise of a vote on a second referendum. However, it has been poorly received by MPs. Last night, May met with the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs as calls for her resignation escalated.
What do we not know?
When Theresa May’s time will finally be up, and who will succeed her. If she does not resign in the coming days, under current Tory rules a vote of no confidence cannot be held until December 2019 — 12 months after the last one. However, the 1922 Committee could change the rules if the majority of Conservative backbenchers vote to do so.

Word Watch

Europhile
Someone who strongly supports Europe.
Resignation
He refused to support the Brexit plan that Theresa May agreed with ministers at Chequers, her country residence.
Projects
Like Boris bikes and the proposed Garden Bridge (which was abandoned).
Lampooning
To publicly criticise someone or something through mockery.
Bureaucrats
Often refers to non-elected members of political offices.
Offended
In 2018, he was accused of racism after comparing women who wear burkhas to “letterboxes”.
British citizen
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is imprisoned for espionage in Iran. Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson said she was “training journalists” in the country. Zaghari-Rafcliffe maintains she was simply visiting family.