Why Does Boris Johnson Get a Free Pass?
The Prime Minister hides his obvious flaws in plain sight, so why are so many people willing to ignore them?
Confronted by an angry father, Boris Johnson was accused of coming to the hospital merely for a press opportunity. As the cameras flashed and the confrontation became heated, Boris Johnson said something remarkable, but revealing.
“Well actually, there’s no press here,” he mumbled.
The father looked stunned as he turned to the gathered press and pointed at the row of cameras that were filming and taking pictures of the confrontation.
“What do you mean there’s no press here?” he said, “who are these people?”
It was a striking moment because Johnson immediately realised that the mask had momentarily slipped. His casual disregard for the truth was notorious in his journalistic career. After all, he had been let go from The Times for making up a quote. But now here it was for us all to see — Johnson’s default reaction when backed into a corner was to look the man in the face and lie.
We were warned about Mr Johnson’s character. During the Conservative Party Leadership Election in 2019, his old boss, Max Hasttngs, penned a caustic comment piece about Johnson in The Guardian in which he accused the Prime Minister of being someone with a “contempt for truth” who “cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification” who “would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade” and whose “premiership will almost certainly reveal a contempt for rules, precedent, order and stability.”
Here was a man with a classical education whose mumbling grandiloquence and penchant for metaphor and circumlocution could entertain and delight, but there was a darker side to his character. As Hastings writes, “he has long been considered a bully, prone to making cheap threats.”
Rewind to another revealing moment in an interview with Eddie Mair in 2013. In the car crash interview, Johnson is questioned about a recording in which he is asked by a friend to supply him with the address of a journalist so that he can have him beaten up, something Mr Johnson assents to.
“This guy has got my blood up,” says his friend, “there is nothing which I won’t do to get my revenge.”
“How badly are you going to hurt this guy?” replies Mr Johnson, “…if this guy sues me I’m going to be fucking furious.”
It’s a shocking recording that would have ended most people’s political careers, yet Mair’s final line of questioning is to ask Boris Johnson about whether he has an ambition to be Prime Minister. Fast forward 7 years and Johnson’s denial again rings hollow.
For me what is shocking about Mr Johnson is not what the above reveals about his character. It is the fact that the public are so willing to ignore his obvious flaws. As Hastings wryly observes, “we can scarcely strip the emperor’s clothes from a man who has built a career… out of strutting without them.”
So why is it that Johnson gets a free pass? Is it the nature of political journalism, which has a tendency to see politics as a soap opera? Is it the chummy relationship between political journalists and their subjects? Is it the political agenda of the right-wing press, who were willing to hold their noses during the election because Johnson served their agenda of getting Brexit done and keeping Corbyn out of power?
Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I think it’s important to pose them, because the man whose obvious flaws many are so willing to dismiss as they chummily call him ‘Boris,’ is now Prime Minister. His character might not matter as much in normal times, but the UK is in the middle of a crisis larger than any we’ve gone through in peacetime. I think it’s about time we saw this man for who he really is.