‘I do what I promise to do as a politician’
Is Boris Johnson trustworthy? Yesterday, he launched his campaign to be PM with another promise, the “guts and courage” to leave the EU. But many questions still remain about his character.
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.
Johnson is brilliant with words and very funny. But does he have the character of a 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 that Britain desperately needs a big personality as leader. No one else has the power to connect with the public, and win over voters from Labour and the Brexit Party. Johnson is just what’s needed to bulldoze a route through the Brexit mess.
- Do you think Boris Johnson should be Prime Minister?
- What qualities should a prime minister have?
- Using the Expert Links read the full text of Boris Johnson’s speech. Write down the three funniest phrases. (If time, everyone can share their choices with the rest of the class).
- Imagine you are about to interview Boris Johnson. What are the three toughest questions you could ask him? Write them down.
Some People Say...
“I told Boris I’d never doubted his integrity. But I was lying through my teeth.”Matt, cartoonist
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Boris Johnson has moved a significant step closer to Downing Street by already securing the backing of 81 MPs, more than twice as many declared supporters as any other candidate. As Tory MPs hold the first round of voting in the leadership election later today, Johnson will effectively be through to the final head-to-head if he can secure 105 votes, which would be more than a third of the parliamentary Conservative party.
- What do we not know?
- Whether other candidates will pull out tonight or tomorrow rather than facing a lengthy battle with Johnson if it emerges that he has the overwhelming backing of both Tory MPs and party members. This could mean he would be prime minister as early as next week, which still seems unlikely at this stage.
- Someone who strongly supports Europe.
- He refused to support the Brexit plan that Theresa May agreed with ministers at Chequers, her country residence.
- Like Boris bikes and the proposed Garden Bridge (which was abandoned).
- To publicly criticise someone or something through mockery.
- Often refers to non-elected members of political offices.
- 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.