The new British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has spent most of his political career affecting a benign, clownish image of an upper-class English aristocratic eccentric. With his flowing mop of blonde hair, self-deprecating wit, irreverent style and penchant for flamboyant rhetoric and acerbic put downs, Johnson stands out as a colourful character in what has become an otherwise depressingly grey sea of Westminster politicians who talk more like management consultants rather than national leaders. He has also managed to pull off an extremely successful political trick which is the envy of other politicos.
In an age of anti-Establishment anger and populist authenticity, Mr. Johnson, has managed to position himself as the supreme anti-Establishment superhero, ready to do battle for the ordinary non-Establishment working people. Ironically, Johnson himself is the most Establishment as they come. A product of Eton and Oxford and a member of the notoriously elitist and thuggish Bullingdon Club to boot. He is married to a Queen's Counsel while his younger brother is an MP as well, sister a journalist for the Daily Mail and father a former employee of the World Bank and European Commission.
But just how benign is Boris Johnson? Probably one of Theresa May's biggest mistakes, and most disturbing, was her immediate appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. It was an inexplicable appointment and raised serious doubts over Mrs May's judgement. It had been Johnson who had played the most vocal and egregious leadership role during the monstrous Leave campaign, comparing the project of European unity to Hitler's vision for Europe and making racially charged comments about President Obama's Kenyan ancestry. Many have speculated that his support for Leave tipped the balance in their favour.
Many political commentators and MPs within his own party also speculated that his only motivation for going against David Cameron and campaigning for Leave was to further his own political prospects with the rank and file of the Tory Party grassroots, setting himself up for a post-Cameron Downing Street. So, by bringing Johnson into her Cabinet, May could very well be exercising the dictum of LBJ that it is better to have your political rivals «inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent pissing in». Yet at what cost to British diplomacy will this appointment have? Of all the Tory politicians Mrs May could draw on to represent Britain on the world stage, Boris Johnson is quite possibly one of the most unsuitable.
Firstly he is a very greedy individual who seems more interested in feathering his own nest than furthering the national interest. While Mayor of London he continued to draw a retainer for writing a column for the Daily Telegraph worth 250,000pounds a year. He compared this amount to «chicken feed» and justified it on the grounds that his Mayoral salary was too little even though in reality it was way above the national average. In reaction to the backlash at such a flagrant act of brazen greed his media team persuaded him to donate a portion of his Telegraph earnings to charity. Johnson pledged to do this and then never did. Also, towards the end of his tenure as Mayor of London when he was re-elected to the House of Commons he continued to claim both his Mayoral salary/expenses AND an MPs salary and expenses too.
Besides his greed, it is well known that he is a very lazy individual, with little appetite for attention to detail and disciplined concentration. Then there is his by now well documented casualness with the truth. Indeed, from the consistent lies he spewed forth during the referendum campaign, who could hazard an observation that Mr. Johnson is a compulsive, pathological liar, someone who lives in his own alternate reality and lies so much that he even believes his own lies. As the former Chancellor Ken Clarke MP described him: «Boris is just a nicer version of Donald Trump».
What is most disturbing about Mrs. May's appointment of Johnson as the man in charge of British foreign relations is the fact that he was the central spokesman for the Leave campaign and managed to alienate so many European heads of government and fellow European politicians in the process. Then there is his «reckless» behaviour as described by a Judge after he fathered a daughter with Helen MacIntyre, an arts consultant, while he was married to his wife Marina Wheeler. Her existence was the subject of legal action in 2013 with the Court of Appeal quashing an injunction seeking to ban reporting of her existence; the judge ruled that the public had a right to know about Johnson's «reckless» behaviour.
His early days as Foreign Secretary have proved concerning such as his cheap gesture urging people to protest outside the Russian Embassy regarding Syria, as if that would achieve anything. Meanwhile, respected political figures around Europe reacted with distaste at his appointment. Former Prime Minister of Sweden Carl Bildt said «I wish it was a joke», and France's foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stated: «I am not at all worried about Boris Johnson, but… during the campaign he lied a lot to the British people and now it is he who has his back against the wall». Johnson has supported the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen and refused to block UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying there is no clear evidence of breaches of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. In September 2016, he was accused of blocking the UN inquiry into Saudi war crimes in Yemen.
Perhaps what sums Johnson up the most is a passage of his speech to the Conservative Party Conference he recently delivered as Foreign Secretary: «When I go into the Map Room of Palmerston I cannot help remembering that this country over the last two hundred years has directed the invasion or conquest of 178 countries – that is most of the members of the UN». Johnson's political identity is at heart that of an imperialist and English nationalist and it is precisely these types that have caused so much damage to the rest of the world and alienated so many from the British. Theresa May seems intent on letting Mr. Johnson live in his alternate British Empire reality. Yet at a time when Britain is becoming more and more isolated and alienated from the rest of Europe and the world this is a dangerous appointment which could backfire on the May Government.