‘Get off me’ and a question of character
Is Boris Johnson’s private life a matter of public concern? Jeremy Hunt says he is a coward. The papers demand that he comes clean over a domestic row. He says it is his politics that matter.
The facts, by now, are pretty clear.
In the early hours of Friday morning, several neighbours of the flat where Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds live in Camberwell, London, hear an explosive row.
There is shouting and crashing, and a woman (Symonds) yells, “Get out of my flat!” and “Get off me.”
One neighbour, Tom Penn, is so alarmed that he records (what is clearly audible through the brick walls) on his phone. Johnson is shouting at Symonds to get off his laptop.
She shouts back at him about spilling red wine on her sofa. “You just don’t care for anything because you’re spoilt. You have no care for money or anything.”
Then, there is silence.
After knocking at the door to check that all is well and getting no response, Penn alerts the police. They arrive in five minutes, but leave shortly afterwards.
Later, Penn decides to contact The Guardian and make the story public. He is a musician and his partner, Eve Leigh, works in theatre. They are well aware of the identities of their famous neighbours.
It is a story that has, of course, dominated the media ever since. Analysis fills all the papers today. Twitter is at fever pitch. Camps are sharply drawn. Opinion fiercely divided.
So, it is more important than ever to be rigorously lucid.
There is one key question: will this incident stop Johnson becoming prime minister? The debate can be split into three parts.
1. Security. The charge: Johnson’s colourful private life means he is vulnerable to blackmail from foreign powers. He has never admitted how many children he has. There are affairs and lovers yet to come out of the closet. The defence: If this was really serious, he would never have been cleared as foreign secretary. MI5 is not that incompetent.
2. Politics. The charge: It will be impossible for Johnson to survive the top job in the dirty, tough world of politics as long as the tape of this incident remains secret. It will be a constant distraction from the job of running the country. The defence: Voters love Johnson because he is not a plaster saint but a real, flawed human being like all of us. A scandal might destroy some politicians — but not Boris.
3. Character. The charge: This has shone a spotlight on what many who really know Johnson have been warning us for years. He is psychologically unfit for the highest office in the land. His cabinet colleague Michael Gove said as much. His former boss Max Hastings has spoken of “startling flashes of instability”. He is violent around women. His sister has said she is afraid of his temper. His secretary says he once smashed his desk so hard, he nearly broke his hand. The defence: We have no right to know about the private lives of politicians. Such matters have no bearing on their fitness for high office.
Brazen it out?
Johnson will ride this wave and it will eventually die down, say his supporters. Many people have rows with their nearest and dearest. Other politicians are so dull, bloodless and prudent. Thank heavens for one who has real passion.
That argument is wearing thin, say detractors. Johnson’s character is more like that of the Tory MP Mark Field who slammed a woman protestor against the wall at a black-tie dinner, or Donald Trump (who now has 16 allegations of sexual misconduct against him). Do not belittle it by calling it “colourful” or “cuddly”. He is psychologically ill and needs treatment.
- Is Boris Johnson a coward for not facing questions about this story?
- Should anyone applying for an important job be willing to have their private life questioned?
- After reading this story, what three questions would you ask Boris Johnson? Write them down. Share them with the class.
- Do some historical research. How many British PMs have been divorced? What are their names and dates? Did it have a bearing on their political careers?
Some People Say...
“Any incident in which a woman is heard screaming in her home, and shouting ‘Get off me!’ at a man, instantly becomes a matter not only of public interest, but public responsibility.”Matthew d’Ancona, British journalist
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- That Boris Johnson has refused to speak about his row. He was at a hustings event (activities and speeches given before an election) in Birmingham on Saturday, where his interviewer asked him four times about the story and Johnson batted him away. He is currently being kept away from the media by his minders.
- What do we not know?
- How much this is already damaging Johnson’s chances of becoming PM. A snap poll of the general public published in The Mail on Sunday after the incident, did show a sharp drop in support. But that was the general public, not the members of the Conservative Party who are voting between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. Tory Party members booed in support of Johnson when he was pressed about the affair on Saturday.
- Established in 1909 as the Secret Service Bureau, MI5 says today that its mission is to keep the country safe, both now and in the future.
- Plaster saint
- An image taken from the statues of saints often found in old churches, depicting extraordinary humans in a state of spotless virtue.
- Michael Gove
- Long-time Conservative MP, cabinet minister and rival to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in the race to be leader and PM, knocked out in the final round of voting last week.
- Max Hastings
- Famous former editor of The Daily Telegraph and Boris Johnson’s boss when he was a young journalist at the start of his career.
- Mark Field
- Conservative MP and junior minister who was suspended last week by Theresa May after marching a female, environmental protestor out of the Mansion House dinner last week, by the neck.