BoJo – The Politics Of Style Over Substance


boris-johnson-hyde-parkIf there was one moment that summed up the enduring popularity of Britain’s favourite politician, one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, it was during the summer hysteria of the Olympics. Standing on stage, in front of a packed Hyde Park, Boris gave a stirring – if somewhat verbose (“The excitement is growing so much I think the Geiger counter of Olympo-mania is going to go zoink off the scale) – speech about the greatness of London and Britain, along with some public bashing of Mitt Romney, to be greeted with thousands chanting his name in reply.

It was a far cry from the reception received by the the Chancellor, who was roundly booed whilst handing out medals during the Paralympics. Osborne is undoubtedly a poor benchmark in which to weigh up a respective politician’s popularity, but, in the age of political apathy, the scenes of Hyde Park was still remarkable; a public show of affectation towards a member of a profession that are so routinely and widely disliked, often purely on principle rather than any actual coherent argument. Even more so considering most public representatives go about their jobs unknown and unheard of – a nobody.

It was quite simply a vision depiction of the power of Boris – or, ‘the cult of Boris’ in the words of Megan Sherman’s great Soton Tab piece on the Tory toff. The ability to turn everyday apolitical citizens into the ‘bread and circuses’ masses willing to such show adulation and exaltation in the ilk of that received by Roman emperors. Boris is the politician for those without any interest in politics – the people’s politician if you will.

Boris is the politician for those without any interest in politics – the people’s politician if you will.

It’s unsurprising; politicians are often considered out-of-touch, detached and unsympathetic careerists with little concern for those that they are meant to represent. Yet, by carefully cultivating a image of a ‘bumbling idiot’, Boris has escaped such a stigma.

Falling down in rivers, getting stuck on zip wires and walking around with hair comparable to a llama’s –  by acting like a buffoon, Boris has convinced the British public that is down-to-earth, a normal citizen who is one of them.

It undoubtedly has its merits; the whole British political establishment is seen as a small professional elite running Britain – “Westminster has become the equivalent of a gap year for middle-aged overachievers” – having little to do with the ordinary citizens up and down the country.

Such a stereotype becomes even more magnified when talking about MPs and politicians of the Conservatives Party; portrayed as rich posh-boys, currently willing to embark on a austerity policy ripping the country’s welfare state and services apart in the ‘interests of the country’.

BoJo getting 'skewered'
BoJo getting ‘skewered’

In many ways though, Boris is indeed just the same. He has similar right-wing views, comes from a family of privilege and was a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club along with George Osborne and David Cameron. If thats why politicians are out of touch, BoJo is just the same.

More importantly, however, is his actual record as London Mayor – which does not make pretty reading. Like his Tory party, BoJo has undertaken policies that have been felt most by the poor. Transport is just one of those thing, with bus tickets rising by over 50% and the daily Oyster cap in outer London by 70% in the last two years. He also rejected a Western extension of the congestion charge; a popular decision perhaps, but a foolhardy one considering the policy’s effect in bringing down pollution and traffic.

Even on crime – a Johnsonian policy that the Mayor is keen to claim as a successful – the situation is not as black and white as the mayor claims. In a Daily Telegraph article, Boris claimed that “virtually every single crime type is down” and that it had “fallen a further 13 per cent since I have been mayor.” Lies – in fact, some crime such as robberies, burglaries and knife crime have increased since 2008 and while overall crime is down, the fall has only been around 5%. He also admitted that there were ‘caveats’ – Boris mumbo jumbo for fibs – in his statistics that London youth re-offender rate had been reduced to 19%. Juking the stats.

Indeed, rather than dealing with problems of Londoners, Boris’s time in office has focused instead around publicity showpiece projects, giving the Mayor maximum publicity. One such ventures include the newly-build Emirates Air Line – the £60 million cable car that crosses the Thames in East London – which ended up costing taxpayers over £24 million-plus despite early BoJo promises that it any such budget overspend would not be picked up in such a manner. Even without the overspend, the Air Line is difficult to defend; sold as a much-needed transport link, it is nothing but a tourist attraction – a theme park ride – in the vein of the London Eye, especially considering that essentially the same journey can be done for five minutes on the tube (though without the views).

Two actors?

It could be on course to become the real white elephant of London 2012, with rumours that there are only 16 regular users, that it is losing £50,000 a week and that BoJo has asked for a £8 million bailout from the EU for the project. Overall, the project became the most expensive cable car ever in the world; a giant waste of money which would have had better use as funds for more police or much-needed urban development.

Even ‘Boris Bikes’ have failed in their ultimate aim to give Londoners an accessible and cheap way to travel around the city; mostly they remain used by white professionals aged 25 to 44, with six out of ten subscribers earning more than £50,000 a year. The idea remains a good idea then, but have hardly started a cultural change of cycling in the city; in the words of the Evening Standard, ‘Boris bike users are… like Boris Johnson‘. (It’s a shame though that his office staff fancied using them though, with taxi fares expenses rising 540% under Johnson’s administration, from £729 in 2007/08 to £4,698 in 2008/09)

It’s easy to forget that the London Olympics – in which Boris’s public image and political sway greatly expanded – was not even won by him, with most of the work getting done by his predecessor Livingstone. Lest we forget the London riots, which BoJo spent the first few days ignoring as he lived it up in Canada. The people’s politician; only if it helps his image and has a corporate sponsor.

It is bewildering then why the media has been not sought to question the cult of Boris by looking at his track record, which is less than perfect. Clearly, even journalists seem to have been swayed by his buffoonery, explaining why Eddie Mair’s Paxman-esque interview last Sunday – which persistently question BoJo on his personal history and left him reeling – receiving widespread attention and acclaim.

A giant waste of money?
A giant waste of money?

In reality, Mair’s interview was focusing on the man rather than the politician, but it did throw into play BoJo’s less-than-perfect past. Voters, it seems, don’t care though with a recent YouGov poll indicating that the Conservatives would make up their current 6 point gap deficit if the London Mayor was in charge of the party. Perhaps then Mair did the perfect job, probing the nice guy image of Boris considering it is this that is his political and electoral power.

The big question then is if will Boris end up as PM? Never; for one, he isn’t even currently an MP and the chances of the Tory backbenchers and supporters advocating the current Mayor as leader of the party seems remote.

He is, however, something more dangerous: the start of a growing movement of politicians – begun in Britain by no-other than Blair, but reaching a new level under Johnson – who care more about the outer image than actual policies; deep down, he is just another Westminister politician, failing his duty. BoJo is ‘brand politics’

And in the era of apathy, that is an ominous sign.


Discussion20 Comments

  1. avatar

    Boris Johnson is a dangerous and evil man masquerading as a lovable buffoon.


    I’m sorry, ‘dangerous and evil’, you’re going to have to justify that!

    Miss Teen South Carolina

    Exodus 20:14


    Shuts fire stations. Shuts Rape Crisis Centres. Supports hospital closures. Dangerous and evil.

  2. avatar

    Yeah, this is the guy who said that the problem [with Africa] is not ‘that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.’ Yay, colonialism! What a dick.

  3. avatar
    Miss Teen South Carolina

    I disagree with the idea that Tory backbenchers and activists wouldn’t support Johnson for leader. These people are a) mad and b) desperate for an election winner, something they’ve not had since John Major.

    Alexander James Green

    Well, its debatable whether Boris would actually provide an election winner. Studies show his bubble bursts once you go north of say…Luton and that he doesn’t appeal to certain societal groups, thus the marginal seats the Tories desperately needed to win a general election seem beyond his reach. I see activists and some backbench support; just don’t see him being voted in as leader of the Conservatives.

  4. avatar

    The real question is who do you want running the country – a career politician with little or no charisma e.g Cameron, Clegg and Milliband – or someone with what many would describe as the X factor – Boris ?

    Alexander James Green

    I think charisma is an overrated trait of politics; surely its better to have the best person for the job even if they boring (intelligent, pragmatic)…yet in the digital age, charisma has become the most important.

    Luke Goodger

    In the case of Hollande vs Obama it is shown to be a necessary trait for any modern politician. It may be overrrated but a basic level of Charisma is essential. Hollande; immobile and bureaucratic- Charisma = most hated French president of all time, including by the notoriously left wing French press. Obama; Charisma and ideas -senate = still pretty loved and still sometimes gets stuff done. Poor examples but you catch my drift.

  5. avatar
    The Crimson Necklace

    “The big question then is if will Boris end up as PM? Never; for one, he isn’t even currently an MP and the chances of the Tory backbenchers and supporters advocating the current Mayor as leader of the party seems remote.”

    ^ In the documentary which you seem to have regurgitated poorly it was mentioned that a number of back benchers were prepared to give up their seats for him if he were to challenge for the party leadership.

    I think the point which you hint at though don’t seem to quite make, is that 1) He PRESENTS himself as style over substance, but is in fact quit intelligent and organised underneath and
    2) The basis for his popularity is in part his fun (if you will) image but also the fact he seems to go against the party-line and is his own person, perceived to stick up for London rather than obey the whip (not perceived), and is in fact not as “right-wing” as you suggest, with a mixture of policies from the centre and centre-right.

    The Crimson Necklace


    Alexander James Green

    Hi. Thanks for the comments, though I didn’t watch most of the documentary in the end, so if it seems a regurgitation of it, its merely cause it had a similar thread/focus. I would dispute that comment though, considering the documentary was done by Boris, so its unlikely he would share the same feelings as I do.

    On your other points, 1) I’m not disputing his intelligence; I’m acknowledging it, saying he is just like other politicians, but manages to find it under his bumbling idiot facade.

    And 2) He goes against the party-time line, sure, but I disagree that he isn’t right-wing. I actually think one of the biggest issues with Boris is he doesn’t really know what he himself thinks and is many ways just a populist.

    The Crimson Necklace

    Thanks for the reply, I was a bit harsh as I wrote that while failing to sleep. On the documentary, it was done by Micheal Cockerill and there just seemed to be some crossover on issues such as the fact he is bumbling on the surface and intelligent underneath. And I partially agree with your second point, I think he just has a mixture of policies (and I did say he was partially centre-right), which I suppose pretty much amounts to populism, either way he’s dangerous, which I believe we both agree on.

  6. avatar

    Thanks for compliments paid to my article 🙂

    It’s scary how easily Boris can bumble in to public affections without question. His record of policies and comments are alarming.

    Sadly the media is more interested in Boris the Westminster personality than Boris the shite mayor 🙁

    Alexander James Green

    No problem Megan! Your article was far better and more eloquently written, so felt it deserved some attention!

    It is definitely alarming how popular it seems Boris is – especially considering the average feelings directed at most prominent politicians. I can’t really get to grips as to why it is, except that he seems half-celebrity, half-politician compared to most of the robotic drones of Westminister.

    Just wish the media would hold him more to account.

  7. avatar

    Cameron actually leads Boris in the ‘Best Leader’ polls for Conservatives. All of the (hyperbolic) bounce in the polls comes from disgruntled UKIPers, none of whom have much of a say in the Tory leadership decision.

    Alexander James Green

    Yeah, I would agree. I think the tories are a bit of lost party without Cameron; attempting to modernise the party and its beliefs with no other suitable candidates for leader…

    Lynton Crosby

    Not too sure about them being a lost party though… I think Cameron tried to modernise ‘too far too fast’ (to borrow a phrase), and put sizeable parts of his own party off from going one way, then loosing more potential voters by having to backtrack the other. Someone who could conceivably sort out Cameron’s current problem with women voters (Theresa May?) and who doesn’t have any of his baggage (huskies etc) could do quite well… Horrifying thought I know.

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