There are few people in public life who are instantly recognised by just their first name. They are mostly sportspeople: Martina; Tiger; Seve. There are fewer still who, unless they have a very unusual name, come from the world of politics and current affairs. But Britain has one. Its very own blonde bombshell. Its very own X Factor politician. Its Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt Hon Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson PC MP.
Boris is known to be a politician – particularly in conservative circles – who reaches the parts others cannot reach; who connects with the public in a way that few find possible. His career is littered with electoral success, especially in seizing the London Mayoralty – seen as a Labour city for very good reason – and his pivotal role in the Leave campaign during the 2016 EU referendum. He has been elected to Parliament in two stints in two different seats. He is a hugely popular figure within his party (just look at his rating with party members on the monthly Conservative Home website poll).
And yet, despite this, and the fact that he occupies what is regarded as one of the “great offices of state” his reputation and standing is, being kind, somewhat mixed. Further evidence of this was presented this week, as it is widely reported that senior civil servants and diplomats, shocked by his lack of discipline and below par performances in his cabinet role, regard him as a “clown” and believe many foreign governments share that view. The Prime Minister has leapt – well, stepped cautiously – to his defence, expressing full confidence in him. Is she right? How should we regard Boris? Is he highly intelligence, canny political operator masquerading as a fool or is he simply a buffoon, giving his party and his government a bad name?
My judgement on him is clear. I have held my view of him for years – since before he entered parliament and catapulted himself – often literally with the help of zip wire – from the sidelines to the political pitch. My view would be hard – no, I believe impossible to shake. Let me put it like this. If Boris Johnson was ever elected leader of the Conservative Party, I would resign my membership within minutes. A membership I have held through 25 years and some awful leaders, sorry IDS.
He is totally and completely unsuited in my view to being a leader. He is not a team player. He lacks the attention to detail or the patience and temperament to do the hard yards required of a serious political figure. I don’t know whether he is a clown – I have never met him – but he sure as hell comes across as a clown. And like all clowns, I’m not laughing. I find them a little creepy and someone I avoid like the plague. For all the entertainment value he may provide in politics – as amongst the blind the one-eyed man is king – and for all his apparent “authenticity” – he is not my cuppa of tea. In fact, he is more like a cup of cold sick.
I understand Mrs May’s political problem and admire his decision to strip the Foreign Office of its meaningful key roles as she gave hm the job he holds at its head – on trade and Brexit. Better to have Boris inside the tent that outside. Better to have him travelling the world where he cannot organise cosy teas and dinners with backbenchers and rally support for a leadership bid. Better to have him tired and grumpy from all the arduous foreign travel he has to do in his role making him less sparkling and attractive to journalists who help shape political and public opinion. But, every day he remains in his current role, the standing and reputation of the UK – let alone the Foreign Secretary – diminishes.
Whether the diplomats are right or not about his clownishness who cares; he is joke and being a joke in a position of authority and standing is not funny. It’s deadly serious. It’s damaging. It’s time – long overdue time – to call his bluff and call him a taxi. Time for him to do what he would be best-suited to; appearing on Celebrity Masterchef or Strictly as the token personality politician. Time to put diplomats, senior civil servants, foreign governments and me out of our misery. Time to call time on Boris.
Photo taken from FT feed on Twitter