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The attack on Boris Johnson’s character by his former boss Max Hastings which was published in the Guardian earlier this week has obviously hit a nerve amongst the Borisketeers. Max Hastings was the editor of the Telegraph when Boris Johnson wrote all those lies about bendy bananas. There is clearly little love lost between them. No one knows how the bananas feel about it, possibly because they don’t exist. Rather like Boris Johnson’s plan for exiting the EU. Hastings said of his former employee, “Johnson would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade.” Then for good measure he added that the only people who like Boris Johnson are those who do not know him. Ooooh burn.
In response, the Spectator Magazine, which Boris Johnson used to edit, has published a defence of Boris Johnson penned by Conrad Black. Yes, that Conrad Black, the former owner of the Telegraph and convicted fraudster. Because the best person to give a character reference for Boris Johnson is a former convict and convicted fraudster, who was pardoned by Donald Trump after Conrad wrote a book in praise of the president. The Spectator was once a respected publication. The voice of the intellectual Conservative, or for what passed as such. It’s rapidly turning itself into Hello magazine for Boris Johnson fans.
The truly amazing thing here is that Fraser Nelson, the sufferer from irritable vowel syndrome who is the current editor of the Spectator, thought that a character reference from Conrad Black was going to help. Or more likely, it was because he thought it would help Boris Johnson’s chances to attack those who criticise the leading contender for the Conservative leadership. It sends a useful signal. Attack the darling of the Tory right and you will not be safe, no matter who you are.
Boris Johnson’s public image is of the bumbling fool, the friendly buffoon, the cuddly teddy bear who tells funny stories. But it’s well known amongst those who know him that he has a vicious and foul temper. That’s why Max Hastings said that the only people who like Boris Johnson are those who don’t know him. In part his support amongst Conservative MPs was built upon threats about what would happen to them if they didn’t back him.
Maybe the only reason that they got Conrad to give a character reference was because Darth Vader was too busy. Next week in the Spectator, Kenneth Noye writes an impassioned plea for better customer service in banks, and berates road users for their lack of courtesy. Meanwhile Harold Shipman’s thoughts on how the NHS can improve care for elderly patients is being prepared for publication.
Conrad Black’s article in the Spectator is a pretty weak defence of Boris Johnson. It’s more of an attack on Max Hastings. It’s amusing to witness the British establishment knock lumps out of one another. It would be even more amusing if it wasn’t for the sad truth that the entire UK is perched on the edge of disaster while the patricians play pretend politics.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, attacks on Boris Johnson’s character, as entertaining as they are, are unlikely to prevent him from winning the support of the Conservative party membership. The reason that they like him is because of his character flaws. They’re not a bug, they’re a feature. They like the fact that he’s an unreconstructed posho with a sense of entitlement. They like the fact that he has the tact and diplomacy of an enraged elephant in a glassware shop. They like the mock bumbling shambolic nature of his presentation, because deep down the Conservatives dislike and distrust intellectuals. Because intellectuals think for themselves. They are less likely to bend the knee to the authority of the established order. Recently a Conservative canvasser admitted that if they looked through the window of a house they were considering canvassing, and saw books on the shelves, they knew the householder would not be a Tory.
Words are powerful things. They can protect and defend against charlatans and liars, but they can also cast spells that bewitch and betray. Boris Johnson’s greatest sin is is his sin against language. He uses words not to illuminate, but to distort and deflect. He didn’t tell us about his bus making hobby in order to inform us, but so that whenever someone Googles Boris and buses they’ll be confronted with articles about his confection of models from cardboard and not pieces about the lie about £350 million for the NHS that he had painted on the side of the leave campaign’s tour bus. As if by magic, the bus that’s a danger to his ambition vanishes.
Words are living things, they are creations of the soul of humanity. The druids, the priesthood of the ancient pagan Celts, believed that words were sacred. The Gaelic word for soul, anam, is descended from an ancient Celtic word that originally meant breath. So our pagan distant ancestors believed that it was sinful to write words down, because by writing a word down you deprived it of the breath that gave birth to it, and in doing so you risked destroying its soul. A word that was written without respect for truth was a murdered word, and murdered words contain the potential to become a lie that lasts forever, a dark magic incantation that builds a world of untruths.
Boris Johnson is a killer of words. He uses murdered words to pen articles which create a false universe constructed of lies and deceit. He casts his spell over the Tory party like the Pied Piper who is playing the fool, because he tells them the stories that they want to hear and they lose themselves in a dreamscape made of comforting lies and self-congratulatory laughter. They think that Boris Johnson is letting them in on the joke, when in fact they are the joke. He’s the Pied Piper of shamblin’ who is leading them to their destruction and he’s taking the union between Scotland and England with him. We won’t mourn for any of them.