🔒 Meet Boris Johnson – here’s why he is a future UK PM

By Alec Hogg

LONDON – Modern biographers have an unfortunate habit of accentuating the negative. You’ll quickly pick that up, for instance, in Walter Isaacson book on Steve Jobs and in Alice Schroder’s lengthy analysis of Warren Buffett called Snowball.

It’s almost as if the authors are so concerned with retaining their neutrality, that they insist on raising random unflattering facts to ensure their own reputation is intact. I expected and duly pickled up a similar approach in Andrew Grimson’s best-selling and recently updated biography on Boris Johnson, the charismatic British politician who almost became the post-Brexit vote Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Boris Johnson. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

The author says Johnson initially agreed to the biography but then turned against the idea so violently, offered £100 000 were he to abandon the project. Once published, Boris reputedly told Grimson he has definitely “done enough to ensure there will be no charge of sycophancy.”

That much is certainly true. Indeed, if every British voter read and believed this book, Boris would struggle to win any election, must less ascend to his nation’s top position.

But we live in changing times and as Donald Trump’s election to the US Presidency shows, voters want someone they can relate to. The age of populism has arrived. And there is no more popular politician in the UK right now than the blonde, mop-haired Boris Johnson.

So what makes this (probable) future British Prime Minister tick?

On the plus side, Boris is extremely bright. Although soaked in privilege (Eton, Oxford) he possesses the common touch, reaping dividends from a lifetime of ascribing to Dale Carnegie’s advice of treating everyone the same. He also has the rare humility to apologise, tending to do so often because of some very human defects of character.

On the flip side, his well-documented weaknesses are given plenty of airplay in Grimson’s book.

Boris Johnson’s father was an unapologetic philanderer and judging by the regularity of his extra-marital affairs, the son has followed suit. Boris, a former journalist, is also repeatedly accused of not letting the facts get in the way of the story he wants to tell. He is also accused if being a serial joker, a cover for his belief in “winging-it” no matter how important the subject.

An example was his apparently regular criticism of US President Barack Obama removing the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. Boris, who wrote a biography of Churchill and regards the great Briton as a role model, interpreted this as part of Obama’s “anti-British” demeanour. He built on the assumption suggesting it stemmed from Obama’s part-Kenyan heritage.

Barak Obama
US President Barack Obama: REUTERS/Larry Downing

Obama put the record straight when visiting Boris’s long-time rival, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron. He explained how Churchill’s bust had been moved to a prominent position in the private residence where the President “sees it every day – even on weekends when I go out to watch basketball.”

Its removal from the Oval Office had nothing to do with Obama or the US’s friendship towards the UK, which remains solid. It was, instead, to make room for Martin Luther-King and serve as a reminder of the contribution African Americans made to putting the first Black President into the White House.

Political insiders here in London tell me Boris Johnson is brilliant but lazy.

This is reflected in an insistence on taking his own counsel, even if that means guessing. Governing is hard work which requires lots of reading and listening, taking time to absorb advice of those who know better. This is not the easily bored Boris’s strength.

His first trip to the US on behalf of the new Theresa May government was pointed to me as an example. Boris spent most of the press conference parrying questions about something that appeared in a column which he wrote some years ago. But more significantly, the private reaction was from members of the US State Department was that he was the worst briefed British Foreign Secretary in recent memory.

Some might argue that this is a strength rather than a weakness. That Boris is just the kind of maverick which a disruption-ripe political establishment desperately needs. Time will tell.

Whatever one’s opinion of his suitability, it looks a pretty a pretty good bet that Boris Johnson will one day lead the UK Government. He possesses dollops of charisma. In this era of the sound byte and instant recognition, that’s become the biggest single requirement for any would-be national leader.

During a session with a few of us in Davos a couple years back, World Bank President Dr Jim Yong Kim complained that one of the biggest problems his team faces in developing countries is the character attributes required to grow an economy are the opposite of those needed to get elected.

The two-steps-forward-one-step-back rise of Boris Johnson suggests it is no longer just in developing countries where this applies. But have a read of the book. It kept me enthralled throughout more than 350 paperback pages and provides some wonderful insights into a First World country tackling some huge challenges. And strips away the veneer from one of the country’s most relevant players.