COMMENT: The colourful, chaotic world of Boris Johnson

By Peter Madeley | Opinions | Published:

Controversial, colourful and chaotic, Boris Johnson is a Prime Minister unlike any other to enter Downing Street in recent times.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a speech at the Convention of the North at the Magna Centre in Rotherham

After a landslide victory in the Tory leadership contest in July, he entered Number 10 despite a string of gaffes and scandals that would have ended the careers of many politicians.

Instead, the seemingly Teflon-coated Mr Johnson has been able to survive and prosper despite – or possibly due to – his capacity for attracting attention.

A row with girlfriend Carrie Symonds that saw police called to their home in the early stages of the Conservative leadership race was a glimpse into the complicated private life about which Mr Johnson tries desperately to avoid answering questions.

But it was his public actions – whether penning provocative columns or his record in the Foreign Office – which led to most scrutiny as Tory Party members decided on the next PM.

He has been repeatedly criticised for using racially charged or offensive language, including describing the Queen being greeted in Commonwealth countries by "flag-waving piccaninnies" and then-PM Tony Blair being met by "tribal warriors" with "watermelon smiles" while on a trip to the Congo.

In a 2018 Daily Telegraph column, he described veiled Muslim women as "looking like letter boxes".

Mr Johnson has also faced repeated questions about his blunder as Foreign Secretary in the case of jailed British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who he mistakenly said had been training journalists – comments which were seized on by the authorities in Tehran.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson, considering his words carefully

He has insisted that his comments made no difference – something disputed by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband – and said the blame for her continued incarceration should be on the Iranian regime.

While he has been all too willing to attract publicity for his political advantage, Mr Johnson, 55, has been reticent when it comes to details of his private life.

He met his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, while they were students at Oxford, and they wed in 1987, but the marriage was annulled in 1993.


His second marriage, to Marina Wheeler, ended last year after 25 years together, during which they had four children.

The marriage was turbulent. In 2004 he was sacked from the Tory frontbench over a reported affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt and the Appeal Court ruled in 2013 that the public had a right to know that he had fathered a daughter during an adulterous liaison while mayor of London in 2009.

Claims that Mr Johnson squeezed the thigh of journalist Charlotte Edwardes at a private lunch at The Spectator magazine's HQ shortly after he became editor in 1999 overshadowed his first Conservative Party conference as PM.

And allegations about his relationship with American entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri and whether she enjoyed preferential treatment while he was mayor also dominated the headlines in September.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson enters the hall to do morning interviews at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester

Mr Johnson's latest relationship with 31-year-old Ms Symonds has been the subject of intense intrigue.

But his status as a favourite of the Conservative grassroots was confirmed in the leadership election. Not only did he trounce rival Jeremy Hunt, he also secured the votes of more than half of Tory MPs in order to make it through the parliamentary stage of the contest.

Mr Johnson's ability to reach out to voters who traditionally shun the Conservatives was demonstrated by his election as mayor of London in 2008 and retention of the powerful position four years later.

When it comes to public reaction the usually rules do not apply, as was seen when he was mobbed in the streets by fans in the Labour dominated city of Wolverhampton last year.

It is certainly fitting that Mr Johnson is now staking his political reputation on his pledge to deliver Brexit, after all it was his decision to spearhead Vote Leave in the EU referendum which gave the campaign the impetus it needed.

After taking office as prime minister, Theresa May made him her foreign secretary, although he resigned in July 2018 over the direction she was taking on Brexit.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a thumb up after Sajid Javid, Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered his speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester

An old Etonian, Mr Johnson was a member of the elite dining society the Bullingdon Club while at Oxford.

Although he has had his sights set on Number 10 throughout his political career, as a child he held even loftier ambitions.

According to his sister Rachel, the young Mr Johnson's goal was to be "world king".

For now he has settled on the office of Prime Minister, but his decision to call an early general election could render him one of the shortest-serving in British history.

Mr Johnson's tenure so far has not been smooth. His attempt to prorogue Parliament backfired spectacularly when the Supreme Court ruled it was unlawful.

And he failed to deliver on his "do or die" commitment to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31, despite securing a new Brexit deal with Brussels, an achievement many thought was impossible.

The stakes could not be higher for Mr Johnson: if he secures a majority he could deliver Brexit and begin to heal the divisions in his party that have plagued previous Tory leaders.

But if his gamble opens the door to a Labour government, his political obituary will be written before Christmas.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.


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