Boris Johnson’s ascension to the job of British prime minister is the culmination of years of scheming and plotting. His buffoonish exterior hides a calculating egotist beneath.
Apart from his own self-advancement, it is hard to pin down just what it is Johnson believes in, given his habit of doing and saying whatever is needed at the time to achieve his goals. He has left some clues along the way about his character, though. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers that have characterised his career to date.
Johnson’s first foray into journalism was in 1987 when he acquired a job at The Times through a family connection. He was fired shortly thereafter for making up a quote in a story about Edward II.
He bounced back quickly, though, using another one of his connections to land a job at The Daily Telegraph, a publication with which he has been associated ever since. As the newspaper’s Brussels correspondent, he established himself as one of the key eurosceptic journalists. He was regularly criticised for fabrications and untruths, but Johnson was never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story. He has openly admitted that he enjoyed the feeling of seeing his articles having an “amazing, explosive effect” on the Conservative party, which, in the early 1990s, was becoming much more hostile towards Europe.
While working as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson was recorded having a discussion with his friend and convicted fraudster Darius Guppy, who wanted to have reporter Stuart Collier physically assaulted. In the recording Johnson can be heard saying he will be furious if any significant harm came to Collier, but when assured he would just get a couple of black eyes and a cracked rib or two, and that no one would be able to trace this back to him, Johnson seemed happy to give Collier’s address to Guppy. The attack never happened and Johnson brushes it off as a joke – although the proposed victim failed to see the funny side.
Despite making his name in journalism by regularly criticising the EU, Johnson did not immediately join the Leave campaign once the prospect of a Brexit referendum became reality. True to form, Boris first needed to spend some time weighing up his options and calculating what would be best for his career, courting both sides until he could decide.
As the time came for him to declare, he wrote two different editorials for The Telegraph, one advocating leaving the European Union and one backing the option to remain. Eventually, he decided the former was his best option. People close to him suggested that he expected to lose, but hoped to look magnanimous in defeat and increase his standing with the eurosceptic party membership.
As his subdued performance during his post-referendum “victory” speech clearly showed, the fact that his side won put him off-balance in the short term, but it was nothing that a bit more plotting couldn’t resolve.
In 2015, as London Mayor and newly elected MP for Uxbridge, Johnson promised to lie in front of the bulldozers to stop construction of a controversial third runway at Heathrow airport in his constituency. He has, thus far, not appeared on the tarmac.
Boris Johnson speaking after his election: "I will lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction of that third runway." pic.twitter.com/6Pzvjfwehf— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) June 25, 2018
On the contrary, he missed a key vote in parliament on the matter in June 2018 and the suspicion is he deliberately went abroad “on business” to avoid having to vote against the expansion and his party leadership. Recently, he has suggested that he will drop his opposition altogether as prime minister because parliament has tied his hands on the matter. You can decide for yourself why he is so content to acquiesce to parliament on the runway but not Brexit.
One of Johnson’s flagship policies during the 2008 mayoral contest was a vanity project that fed into Londoners’ fond memories of the iconic red Routemaster bus. The model had been scrapped in 2005 by Johnson’s predecessor as mayor, Ken Livingstone, and replaced by the unpopular “bendy bus”.
But Johnson’s decision to update the Routemaster became an expensive series of broken promises in the name of nostalgia. Funding shortfalls meant a key feature that made the original Routemaster so popular could not be delivered. The new versions would not have open backs, so passengers could not hop on and off between stops. The lack of opening windows on the top deck saw temperatures onboard soar, leading the new model to be dubbed the “Roastmaster”. It cost £2m to correct these errors.
The “Boris Bike” bicycle hire scheme is probably Johnson’s most famous legacy as London mayor. But the truth is it’s far from clear if he actually originated the idea. Livingstone first proposed emulating the Parisian bike hire system back in 2007, and even the Liberal Democrats claim it was actually their idea. Regardless, Johnson has been more than happy to take credit for what has been, on the whole, one of the more popular additions to London of recent times.
Johnson’s time as foreign secretary is not regarded as much other than a failure. His is a legacy of poor diplomacy and bad decisions. He compared former French president François Hollande to a World War II prison camp officer, recited a colonial-era poem while visiting a temple in Myanmar, and suggested businesses would start investing in Libya once the dead bodies had been cleared away.
But perhaps the most damaging to him was his carelessness surrounding the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian citizen who was arrested and sent to prison for five years in Iran for plotting a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic.
Instead of helping the situation, Johnson made things much worse by suggesting that she was there “teaching people journalism”, comments that were used against her by the Iranian authorities to “prove” she was spreading anti-establishment propaganda. Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains in an Iranian prison to this day, with Johnson’s comments still being used against her.
5?, 6? Who knows?
One thing Johnson has repeatedly refused to discuss is how many children he has. His proponents have defended his lack of answers as a right to privacy, although why he would stay so silent about this if he thought it wouldn’t damage him is anyone’s guess in that case.
The number of his offspring is not necessarily relevant to his ability to lead, but the fact that he repeatedly lies to, and cheats on, his partners certainly casts doubt over his trustworthiness.