As commented by fellow blogger Andrew Allison, there was a recent huge swing away from the Labour Party to the Conservatives in Great Britain in the local elections. Whether this is a case of chronic mid-term blues or a real sea-change in the political climate remains to be seen. The most powerful Conservative after the election arguably isn’t David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives in parliament, although the results were a superb shot in the arm for him and his party. No, the current top dog is the Bertie Woosterish figure of Boris Johnson, elected as London Mayor. And many Tories will be holding their breath over the next year in the run up to the General Election hoping that Boris doesn’t make any of his infamous gaffes.
Boris’s background is one of wealth and privilege, similar to most prominent members of the Conservative front bench. He attended the elite public (i.e. private) school Eton and then went on to Oxford. He studied Classics at Balliol, the college of Prime Ministers and First Division Civil Servants. He was a brilliantly funny debater as President of the Oxford Union there but he was also a member of the notorious all male Bullingdon drinking club, open to the scions of the very wealthy. The club members would be fitted out in Oxford in an elaborately decorative (or ridiculously foppish, depending on your point of view) costume of coat and tails. The club would, meet, eat, binge drink and ceremonially trash local eateries. David Cameron was also a member of this club. But Boris always won people over with his bumbling, self-deprecating sense of humour.
His talents lay in journalism he was quickly working on the nationals, writing for the Daily Telegraph in Brussels. Trouble tends to follow Boris around he was quickly implicated in the affairs of Darius Guppy, a soon to be convicted and imprisoned fraudster. Guppy and Johnson were old Eton and Oxford friends – and the former rang the latter to seek his advice on how to beat up a tabloid journalist investigating his (Guppy’s) affairs.
Johnson moved on to become Editor of the entertainingly right-wing Spectator Magazine in 1999. While courteous and witty to people in person, some of the articles he ran appear to have overstepped the mark. Johnson became a Tory MP in 2001 but continued to edit his publication. As an Editor, he had to apologise to the whole city of Liverpool whom he said wallowed in their grief.
And gaffes are part of Boris’ strengths and weakness such as:
“Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3” – on the campaign trail in 2004
“I have not had an affair with Petronella. It is complete balderdash. It is an inverted pyramid of piffle’– on whether he slept with his journalistic colleague Petronella Wyatt – which he had.
Boris really made a name for himself on the BBC Satirical News Show Have I Got News for You. The format of the show requires the presenter to either hold back on their personality or flaunt it for everybody – Boris always went for the shambolic, messy, endearing, image, And this made him a huge hit with the viewers – more would tune in if they heard Boris was the presenter in the hope of hearing use his peculiarly aristocratic English accent and argot for the 1950s. And it made him a star.
So how do you manage a philandering, funny, outrageous (referring to commonwealth flag-waving children as ‘piccaninnies’) and who’s never managed a budget bigger than a small political magazine? Well, you keep him under very tight wraps for the duration of the campaign, have the Australian political consultant Lynton Crosby act as his chaperone and try to make the campaign gaffe-free.
And it worked. The Labour incumbent, Ken Livingstone, had done much good for London but was vulnerable to charges of croyneyism. Johnson was able to campaign as the affable new broom. And he won by over one million votes. In the most exciting, cosmopolitan city in the World.
Well done to Boris – now the waiting for gaffes begins…