Boris Johnson, bypassing the social taboos

Normally I would say focus on the policy, not the presenter of the policy, but every rule should have its exceptions, and, in this case, Boris Johnson is very much an exception. His carefully constructed persona enables him to bypass the critical faculties and hit the base instincts that society is created to taboo.

When one thinks of Boris Johnson, it is very easy to think of the irreverent comedy of the Pythons, replacing the ministry of funny walks with the ministry for ruffled hair, or imagining Joe Johnson screaming ‘He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.’. The problem is that Boris knows that and he plays to it. His character is equally well crafted as those created by the Pythons, honed over many years and designed to work on many levels.

His latest statement on the wearing of the Burka is being seen as ‘Boris being Boris’, and it’s hard to argue against that, but let’s be clear even that phrase works on many levels. There is Boris the clown but, in his comedy, there is a much darker comedy cleverly concealed. He may not at first glance appear to have the dark edge of ‘The League of Gentlemen’ or ‘Murder Most Horrid’, but that cruelty is in there and very close to the surface.

This is not about causing offence, yes Boris appears to do that, but his comments don’t just cause offence and then fade away, they linger in mind and the heart turning offence to resentment and resentment to hatred in a carefully calculated script.

It is time to see this man for what he is. He is not a 1970’s comedian seeking to find the macabre and the peculiar and the downright odd and then combining that with the divisive language of the times, he is a scholar with the full understanding of the language he is using and the impact that it has on the people who hear it.

Boris Johnson is a skilled politician and wordsmith and should be respected as such. Once you respect that it is far easier to see him for what he is, a xenophobic, misogynistic Islamophobic toff who has no respect for anyone. Combine this with his constant vying for the leadership of his party and the premiership of his country and you start to see him without that Teflon veneer.

* Chair of Manchester Gorton Liberal Democrats, a member of the NW Regional Executive and the English Council and Vice President of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats

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  • Dennis Wake 8th Aug '18 - 4:45pm

    He seems to resemble Sir Oswald Moseley in the way he uses minorities by referring to their different ways to inflame others for political gain. Let us hope he soon crashes to earth.

  • I believe the burqa is an offence to women’s equality; however, that is my personal feeling and, if a woman wishes to show her subservience to an archaic belief by wearing one, that is her business and not mine.
    I would no more demand that she stop wearing that clothing than I would ask a nun to change hers.

  • Will he leave to Conservatives and join UKIP, in which case expect them to be polling 20 -25% in no time at all.

  • nigel hunter 8th Aug '18 - 7:53pm

    If he joins UKIP that is a horrible thought.
    Yes he has honed his ‘ talents’over many years.I also note he published this just before going on holiday therefore not having to face the limelight. This results in him being able to judge the comments on what he has said and then give his answer accordingly.Yes Johnson NOT Boris is a very dangerous politician

  • I think it is a mistake to try to pin labels onto Johnson. He is not xenophobic, misogynistic or islamophobic (OK, he is a toff), but he is a man whose moral compass is solely determined by what he sees at any one time will be of greatest benefit to himself. The dog-whistle phrases are there to keep his prospective constituency – Conservative Party members – on board. Whether they get to be presented with him as one of the two leadership contenders chosen by the MPs when Theresa May is finally toppled probably depends on whether a sufficient number of MPs decide that he is the person best placed to save their seats at the next election. Unfortunately both Johnson and Trump have shown that boorishness, apparent stupidity, a lack of sexual morality, selfishness and incompetence are no longer, in these polarised days, a hindrance to electoral success.

  • David Westaby 8th Aug '18 - 9:00pm

    Boris Johnson has learnt the lesson from his great idol Donald Trump. Just aim at your base. His opportunity to become conservative leader and prime minister has nothing to do with the large majority of the country. It is dependent on Conservative party members who appear to be clambering to support his ‘ straight talking’. I am saddened to see that politics in this country has fallen to such a low point My hope is that any move to position Johnson for the party leadership will lead to a dismembering of the Tories as hinted at by Dominic Grieve.

  • Neil Sandison 8th Aug '18 - 9:31pm

    Boris Johnson ,UKIP and the EDL all in it together , A back to the future 1930s style alliance We really must pull out all the stops to expose how sinister some of these people really are.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 9th Aug '18 - 8:55am

    Iain, You, and Caron in her recent article, are absolutely right to condemn Boris Johnson’s recent remarks about women who choose to wear a Burka. Boris’ comments were insulting, disrespectful and insensitive.
    But while it is right that, as a party, we should condemn Boris’ remarks, I feel that we should be speaking out even more strongly to condemn Denmark for its recent legislation banning the Burka. I have found it disappointing that we have not heard Vince Cable or other Liberal Democrat politicians condemn Denmark, or the other EU countries that have denied women the right to choose to wear the Burka. Boris’ comments were horrible, but at least he did say that he would be opposed to a burka ban.

  • David Goble 9th Aug '18 - 9:04am

    Boris Johnson is a politician whose sole aim is ensuring that Boris Johnson is seen as number one. His remarks were, to say the least, gratuitously offensive and not worthy of an ex-Foreign Secretary. I also cannot forget that, as Foreign Secretary, he ensured that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe spends longer than necessary in an Iranian jail and also ensured that her husband and daughter have their lives disrupted. He is, for these reasons, not fit to be considered as Prime Minister.

  • Dennis Wake 9th Aug '18 - 9:37am

    theakes: Boris would only join UKIP if the Conservatives rejected him as leader but they probably see him as their only hope. He did become Mayor of normally Labour London and won a second term so he has a track record and we are in more difficult times now. He is best placed to beat Corbyn at the next election and the Conservatives know it – who else have they got ?

  • Boris’s comments had little to do with female attire. The increasingly desperate attempts to catch a little media attention by a failed foreign secretary, whose age is catching up with him and who hasn’t yet realised that his ambition exceeds his ability, is a pitiful sight to behold.

    What was more edifying is the clear and unequivocal intent by senior figures within the Conservative party to nip his inflated ambitions in the bud.

  • Dennis Wake 9th Aug '18 - 9:05pm

    Ian: I expect his Conservative opponents want the job for themselves. In these times attacks by establishment figures seem to boost the reputations of people like Boris Johnson. It made Trump President of the USA. People seem to be looking for a larger than life figure and Johnson’s manifest faults are probably his best asset.
    His majority at Uxbridge and South Ruislip may have dropped (due to the opposition voters swinging to the Labour candidate) but the number of votes for him and the percentage increased. The omens do not look good for the opposition.

  • Dennis Wake 10th Aug '18 - 8:59am

    The Conservatives have been doing significantly better in some local government by elections recently and very much better in the one held yesterday. I cannot see Boris Johnson apologising any time soon as he seems to have the support of the grass roots Conservatives both actual and potential – and what about Mrs May ? She will be lucky to survive.

  • Dean Crofts 10th Aug '18 - 8:27pm

    We have all been sucked into talking about Boris. Me included! He has used language which, unfortunately, resonates with the conservative grass root members and possibly the 30% of the population which would vote for him in a general election. Add the anti -Corbyn vote to that figure and you probably have the next prime minister if he gets through the conservative leadership battle.
    If the media had ignored his comments would we be talking about it now?
    Would he have gained all the headlines after 7 days of publishing his article?

    As liberals, hate is not to be ignored however reading the article it was expressed as a view, Boris’s view while also advocating no ban of the burka in the UK, which is a liberal position (the no banning , not the personal view).

    For Boris – week achieved as maximum publicity has been gained – he is definitely playing a Trump!

  • Simon Banks 13th Oct '18 - 8:14pm

    I regret that expats has thrown out a comment about “subservience to an archaic belief”. Presumably this is Islam. Elements of Liberalism have been around almost as long as Islam and some people certainly think it’s outmoded, so why not archaic? There is a lazy attitude that if someone follows a religion, that’s “subservience”, but if someone believes in equality or capitalism, and acts accordingly, that’s free choice.

    Now about Johnson. I am going to start a trend by not calling him by his first name. As Iain says, his persona is carefully constructed and allows him to say things that would wreck the career of, say, Philip Hammond or John McDonnell. I’m still sceptical about Johnson as PM. English and to a lesser extent Welsh “floating voters” (between Con and Lab) seem to look when a general election approaches not much at policy or values, but at whether someone would be a credible PM, whether they lead a united party, whether they seem to know what they’re doing and are showing signs of achieving it. I suspect some would say to themselves, “Boris? Great fun, but as PM in a crisis? Can’t see it.” I could be wrong, but I did say “sceptical”, not “incredulous”.

  • Richard Underhill 6th Mar '19 - 2:34pm

    Alan Johnson’s question to Boris Johnson is history. Woody Johnson’s advance support for farmers in the USA may need an undiplomatic reply for which Boris Johnson is uniquely suited.
    The former Foreign Secretary was not a former diplomat, but does try a ‘bon mot’ occasionally. Woody Johnson’s support for chlorinated chicken etcetera needs to be trumped, perhaps by a suggestion that market forces applied to food prices would cause more vegetarianism, so maybe he should try selling us the soya that China is not getting.
    The US trade deficit is $621 billion (£472.5 billion)
    Woody Johnson is a strong supporter of his President’s policy of “America First”.

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