For 10 years, maybe more, Boris Johnson – who once declared that “voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts” – has been touted as the next leader of the Conservative party in the UK.
The idea of giving Mr Johnson the top job has always smacked a little of subversive primary schoolers electing the class clown as class captain; anything for a laugh.
As Max Hastings, the former editor and Johnson’s boss at The Daily Telegraph (UK), shared in a 2012 piece that begged the UK to come to its senses and never elect Johnson to the top job: “When will you understand that the reason the young are potty about Boris is precisely because he is not serious, because he treats the whole business of politics as a bit of a lark.”
Mr Johnson, true to form, has swung from self-mockery – “My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive” – to insisting he’s the one and only who can save the day.
That is, he’s vowed to fix the mess that is Brexit
His strategy for leaving the EU is much the same he famously he deployed on an eight-year-old child in a rugby match, crashing through with a full-body tackle. Appalling, yes. But the primal response was to laugh because of Mr Johnson’s lumbering, desperate physicality.
The chaotic consequences of a hard Brexit have been spelt out at length – outside of the customs union, imported goods will suddenly become much more expensive, the UK economy will shrink by 8 per cent in a year, domestic house prices will fall by a third, and the global slowdown will be exacerbated.
English folk, who have a long-standing fetish for a siege, have started stocking their cupboards with canned food and medicines, in preparation for when the trucks come to a halt.
And we’re getting used to pictures of people in the Remainer camp standing on street corners in tears, holding aloft forlorn placards, begging the powers that be to come to their senses.
Still, a question has emerged: why does Mr Johnson favour the most disruptive, volatile strategy possible in resolving the Brexit stalemate?
A theory is emerging that he is seeking personal revenge on Brussels, where he lived unhappily as a boy: it was there his mother had a breakdown as a consequence of his father’s philandering, a sport that he later excelled at. (Stanley Johnson is a former Conservative member of the European Parliament, author of many books and former employee of the World Bank.)
Sacked for making up a quote, then promoted
Despite being sacked from his first journalist job for making up a quote, Mr Johnson in 1989 was appointed to The Daily Telegraph’s Brussels bureau to report on the European Commission. This is where his campaign of revenge – if that’s what it was – began.
For five years he ridiculed the EU in stories that were either exaggerated or made up. He might have bankrupted his credibility as a reporter, but he’s credited in doing significant damage to the EU’s standing in the UK.
As Martin Fletcher, a former foreign correspondent at The Times, noted in a 2016 Facebook post: “For 25 years our press has fed the British public a diet of distorted, mendacious and relentlessly hostile stories about the EU – and the journalist who set the tone was Boris Johnson.”
As Mr Johnson admitted to the BBC’s Desert Island Discs in 2005, when he was riding out scandal as a Tory MP: “Everything I wrote from Brussels I found was sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England. It really gave me this, I suppose, rather weird sense of power.”
Sacked for lying, then elevated to nation’s favourite
A year before he gave that interview, Mr Johnson was sacked as the shadow arts minister for lying about an affair with an underling.
Three years after that interview, he was voted in as the Lord Mayor of London. During his first four-year term, he allegedly fathered a child out of wedlock, frequently ran late to official functions, and was caught up in a parliamentary expenses scandal.
By 2012, after a “rock star” appearance at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, and with talk of him becoming the new Tory leader running hot, he was the most popular politician in the country.
His old editor from The Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings was moved to write, in a widely published diatribe, a jaw-dropper to read in full:
“If the day ever comes that Boris Johnson becomes tenant of Downing Street, I shall be among those packing my bags for a new life in Buenos Aires or suchlike, because it means that Britain has abandoned its last pretensions to be a serious country…
“Most politicians are ambitious and ruthless, but Boris is a gold medal egomaniac. I would not trust him with my wife nor – from painful experience – my wallet…
“He is not a man to believe in, to trust or respect, save as a superlative exhibitionist. He is bereft of judgment, loyalty and discretion. Only in the star-crazed, frivolous Britain of the 21st century could such a man have risen so high, and he is utterly unfit to go higher still.”
But he’s going to do it anyway.