Boris Johnson: international political phenomenon, recently elected to a second stint as Mayor of London and described by Jeremy Paxman as “hairdresser’s despair”. Johnson is féted as the revival of the old school Tory of PG Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh novels – classically ‘posh’, undeniably privileged and a political cartoonist’s dream.
In spite of his reputation as an insult to the political classes and example of the ‘born-to-lead’ type now said to dominate the Conservatives Boris is immensely popular, and perhaps a little more need be said about this rogue element.
A former editor of The Spectator Boris has had his finger on the pulse of UK politics for a while now. Interviewing Lord Bingham for the publication in 2002 he discusses the creation of a Supreme Court in this country (now come to fruition) and delivers a typical Boris performance: “Lord Bingham is a wiry, athletic-looking fellow”. He has a reputation for haughty honesty, willingness to get involved and weakness for anything bicycle-related.
As for earlier life, he explains an exit from a career in management consultancy: “Try as I might, I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth profit matrix, and stay conscious.” His extra-mayoral career has had ups and downs, when standing for Rector of the University of Edinburgh in 2006 he prompted an unprecedented high turnout to make sure he didn’t get the post (finishing third of four) – clearly a man with a tendency to polarise public opinion.
As Mayor of London he has been successful, his campaign message this year highlighted previous achievement and a good track record: “the murder rate is down by a quarter, crime on buses by over a third. We have increased investment in our creaking transport infrastructure, and cut tube delays by 40 per cent.” Okay, so Boris only won by a 3pc margin over Labour’s Ken Livingstone (former mayor and polar opposite of Johnson) but it cannot be argued that the ‘Boris effect’ isn’t immensely powerful.
Boris has been in the news recently due to his criticism of the BBC being overtly left wing and biased against the Tories. In his column for The Daily Telegraph he criticises the “mentality of the BBC man” for holding “an innocent belief that everything in life should be “free” ”. Boris drops the bombshell when he states the British Broadcasting Corporation is “statist, corporatist, defeatist, anti-business, Europhile and, above all, overwhelmingly biased to the Left”. He calls for a Tory successor to the post of Director General this Autumn in a hope to help Britain rediscover it’s “spirit of enterprise”.
But surely being lefty and rude to politicians and the rich is sort of, well, the job of the BBC? Harriet Harman tweeted that Boris should stay out of it. A BBC spokesperson told the Huffington Post that “Our approach means asking difficult questions of politicians”. Labour MP Ian Austin tweeted that “BBC job is holdng(sic) politicians 2 account”. Dare we examine whether the BBC goes too far when it comes ‘2’ politicians? Or whether the Labour party should get to work on an economic policy instead of spending all day on Twitter?
The BBC programme Newsnight hosted by media attack dog Jeremy Paxman is a great platform for a bit of old fashioned bullying and character assassination under the banner of ‘holding politicians to account’. In October 2011 JP started his interview with Boris by calling him a “hairdresser’s despair”. Well used to underhand and lazy insults from those with no accountability Johnson chooses to ignore Paxman in order to get on with the interview (focussing on the significance of the London riots of last Summer). Paxman, sensing the opportunity to maul Johnson on the original topic slipping away, quickly turns the conversation towards Boris’ potential candidacy for future Conservative leadership. As mayor of the city one would think that Johnson has a certain interest in talking about London and not indulging Paxman’s idle speculation. Boris good-humouredly says how the main differences between himself and the PM is their bodyweight, and tennis ability. Paxman furiously decries the politician for his childishness: begging the question – if you wanted a serious interview why kick-off with a quip about the hairstyle of the Mayor of London?
Whether this treatment is reserved exclusively for Tories (or people with eccentric hair) is a discussion for another day, but surely the BBC would reduce the accusation of bias if they employed interviewers with a little more modesty than the likes of Jeremy Paxman and John Humphreys. The Today Programme is the breakfast listening of many and is rarely without a bit of minister-bashing, perhaps the BBC should consider whether people want to hear terrified young MPs being shouted at by stale interviewers over the chance to hear a bit of, dare I say it, informative broadcasting?
Are Boris Johnson and Jeremy Paxman so different? Paxman left an exclusive private school for Cambridge where he was some time member of the Labour Club. Boris left Eton for Oxford where he was a member of the exlusive Bullingdon Club – backgrounds identical in privilege but with Boris choosing the Tory path to wealth and Paxman the noble role of servant of the public in broadcasting? Nowadays Paxman receives over a million pounds a year from the BBC (funded by the British taxpayer) and Boris gets a mayoral wage of £143,000 (paid for by taxes). During his first term as mayor Boris introduced the ‘freedom pass’ to give elderly Londoners free access to public transport 24 hours a day. In that four years was there a 24 hour period in which Jeremy Paxman took the sour puss off his face?
Blondes have more fun.
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