Booing was heard in a Paris diplomatic salon when news of Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary filtered through. It was grist to the mill that this was Mrs May’s little joke, and that foreign dignitaries would never take him seriously.
But here’s one of those revealing little facts of history that rarely get in the way of a good story. The booing turns out to have come from a contingent of 15 British journalists and personnel present. The French maintained a diplomatic silence.
Still, it’s undeniable that if Boris messes up this opportunity he is unlikely ever again to be taken seriously as a political figure, and would never make it to Number 10.
By making him Foreign Secretary, Theresa May has buttered her bread on both sides. She has him, as Lyndon Johnson (no relation) put it, ‘inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent pissing in’. And if she ends up having to sack him, she will have effectively neutralised him as a political force and potential opponent.
As further insurance, she has put David Davis (prominent EU-sceptic for decades, and a Brexiteer, into the major job of heading up our negotiations to exit the EU. And she has put Liam Fox – ditto and ditto – in charge of opening up new trade deal opportunities. So where discipline and attention to detail are required, she has cleverly cleaved roles away from the Foreign Secretary.
Mayor of London
Which means Boris gets to do the fun stuff, all the things he proved so good at as Mayor. And some of the big, daily, serious stuff, like responding to the Nice attack, and the attempted coup in Turkey.
Talking of his role as Mayor of London, winning his first term might have been put down to London having a sense of humour or just being taken in by the jovial bluster.
But then he won a second term, because the mostly Labour-voting inhabitants of Britain’s capital thought he had done a bang-up job for the first four years. Further to his credit, he brought no ideological baggage to the role. He simply got on with the job that needed to be done.
Through his communications skills and relationships abroad he brought investment and business to the capital. He can’t take credit for the Olympics, but he certainly saw the plan through to a massively successful conclusion, burnishing it here and there with ideas of his own.
Eight successful years as Mayor of London absolutely qualifies him to be Foreign Secretary – as does the fact that he speaks other languages (three of them European). He has an exotically mixed heritage of his own, including Turkish ancestry. He was born in America, and will likely have a very healthy relationship with whomever is his counterpart there after this year’s election.
For all the bumbling, he is one of the brightest people on the planet, although he hides it well. In the UK, no-one likes a smart-arse.
In the pages of The Spectator nearly 20 years ago his eloquent and on-point writing set his readers up to be gob-smacked when they later first saw him on television. As a panellist on Have I Got News For You, he was like Bertie Wooster, bumbling and blushing, telling Ian Hislop – who ribbed him mercilessly – “Ah, I see, it’s a stitch up!”
“Surely not,” his readers thought. But yes, it was/is the same guy. And by that time, he was Editor of The Spectator, a job you don’t get by being dull, dumb or disastrous.
Boris Johnson is quite possibly the most popular political figure in Britain since Churchill, and a lot more entertaining. Yes, the left loves to try to take him down, and sometimes he makes that easy. And some on the right misunderestimate (sic) him.
First name recognition
But how many politicians can we recall who have been recognisable from their first name alone? Or even, simply, recognisable? Johnson connects with people in ways – mostly human, very lacking in our politicians – that others don’t.
It remains to be seen whether he can translate all this into making a success of taking on so serious and burdensome role as that of Foreign Secretary. But as The Independent says, it would be foolish to bet against it.
Boris Johnson might be very good at the job – The Independent