I’m aware I’m straying above my pay grade here, but the apparently bemused and incredulous worldwide reaction – covered with such relish by the British media – to the announcement that Boris Johnson has joined Theresa May’s government team leads me to offer a word or two in defence of our new Foreign Secretary.
For a typical such reaction – that of Labour leadership candidate Angela Eagle – see here, courtesy of YouTube: ANGELA EAGLE HEARS THE NEWS
No doubt the political – and perhaps Tory – Establishment regards Boris as a Grade A potential liability. I’d even go so far as to admit that his appointment does have its dangers because anything or anybody whose general demeanour and attributes can be encapsulated in the dismissive description ‘loose cannon’ is always likely at some point to offend through either exuberance or inherent lack of restraint/sensitivity.
Nevertheless, on a completely non-political basis, I cannot disguise the fact that Boris does amuse me. He adds something to the enjoyment of life. I don’t care that amongst ‘serious’ people he is regarded as an attention-seeking buffoon who detracts from Britain’s reputation at home and abroad – indeed, as far as I am concerned, their attitude says as much about them as it does about Boris.
I’d ask you to consider whether our new ‘sound, hard-working, competent, safe pair of hands’ Prime Minister didn’t appoint him to high office partly to enhance her own reputation. After all, the decision certainly wrong-footed those who felt sure that – with her widespread perceived ‘Roundhead’ reputation – Boris would be the last person she’d like to see on the inside of her government tent (whether pissing in or out).
Furthermore, it’s just possible that there was element of ‘contrary’ psychology in her thinking. There’s an old adage ‘by his subordinates shall you know him’ – or indeed her (in Mrs May’s case).
In other words, because people lacking in ability and self-confidence tend to avoid picking high quality people to work for them (for fear of being shown up or finding it difficult to control them), when outsiders spot a number of highly-quality, sometimes maverick and/or difficult, executives on a team, it can reflect well on their boss (“Crickey, if his team is this impressive, then he – or she – must not only be even more so, but also have plenty of cojones …”).
It does not perhaps become me to mention him in the same breath as the recently-departed Muhammad Ali, but there’s something of the loveable charisma of ‘The Greatest’ in Boris.
Despite all the reasons why it might well not have done so – not least his cutting up of Henry Cooper in their first fight – the British public fell completely in love with the former Cassius Marcellus Clay in the mid-1960s and has worshipped him and what he stands for ever since. It didn’t matter whether Ali was in a humorous, playful mood – or alternatively spouting hateful Black Power slogans – whenever he was billed to appear on The Michael Parkinson Show, or there was one of his interviews with ‘Arry Carpenter chucked into a Grandstand or Sportsnight with Coleman, we tuned to our televisions with alacrity and anticipation.
It’s the same with Boris. Not only is he wonderfully watchable and entertaining, the ever-present element of potential unpredictability and humour in any of his public appearances (serious or not) is highly-seductive.
I’ve seen him on Have I Got News For You twice, once as a panellist and once as the chairman, and (for me) the hilarity and chaos that resulted made them the two funniest-ever episodes of that much-loved series over the past twenty-five years.
My hunch is that a large degree of the adverse response of statesmen and bureaucrats around the world to the concept of Boris in high office is rooted in jealousy.
Two things about him annoy them. Firstly, by being resolutely himself – and by his attitude and performances – he tends to draw disrespect and derision towards every aspect of what they plan, do, and stand for. He doesn’t seem to take any of it seriously. On top of that, rightly or wrongly, he comes across in public as a normal human being – and a rather amusing one at that.
Again, something that they never will.
The upshot is that, even amongst those who would rather go to the stake than support any policy that he, his political party and/or government, might espouse … and indeed who regard him as a total clown who shouldn’t be allowed in public life … there’s a degree to which – if he does something outrageous and/or which (done by anyone else) would destroy a reputation and career – they simply shrug their shoulders, sigh “It’s just Boris, isn’t it …?” and then get on with their lives.
I don’t doubt for a moment that there’s a decent chance Mrs May’s appointment of Boris as Foreign Secretary will prove to be a complete disaster – indeed that element of danger is one of the things that attracts me to the news – but even if it does, there could be a win-win element to it for our new Prime Minister. She’ll at least be able to say “I told you so …” [i.e. this is exactly what would have happened if you EU Referendum idiots had caused him to appointed Prime Minister].
At the same time – if the wind blows his way – I can see a possible future in which Boris, with his bumbling, disarming charm and off-the-wall quips – whether displayed e.g. in press conferences at the US State Department, or perhaps on one of the American late-night chat shows – could do a sensational job promoting Britain’s cause around the world.
Strap yourselves in for the ride, folks!