When I look at Boris Johnson, I am reminded of one of my favourite books from childhood-The Wind in the Willows– the story of Toad of Toad Hall. Toad is rich, jovial, friendly and kindhearted, but aimless and conceited; he regularly becomes obsessed with current fads, only to abandon them abruptly. That is kind of what Johnson is. He has crammed a lot of living in his 58 years. Born in Manhattan, of all places, where his British father was studying economics. He also lived in Washington when his father was working for the World Bank, and later in Brussels when his dad got a job with the European Union. He speaks French from his years there. He was educated at Eton and then Oxford—where he excelled in the study of classics and was a good rugby player. At age 23 he embarked on the first of three marriages which produced six children, A seventh child was also born.
Wouldn’t you know that Johnson spent over 20 years as a journalist—first with the Times where he soon got fired for manufacturing a quote; then with the Telegraph where he became an award-winning political columnist. Later allegations surfaced of Johnson getting handsy with female colleagues. In 1999, Conrad Black, who owned the Telegraph invited Johnson to also become editor of a sister publication, the Spectator—a weekly political magazine. While editing the Spectator Johnson ran for Parliament and won and was re-elected to a second term.
At this time, he was earning £250,000 a year or £5,000 for a weekly column that took him an hour and a half to write. He also started writing books, and combined with his newspaper salary earned £540,000 in 2007 (Roughly $1.2 million Canadian today).
In 2008 he was elected Mayor of London. He continued to write for the Telegraph as he said he could not live on the paltry £140,000 the mayor was paid. Immediately he was involved in scandals—accused of having an affair and fathering a child—and cronyism in the appointment of a friend to a prestigious job. When he ran for a second term he published the book Johnson’s Life of London which at the time was denounced by critics as a re-election gimmick, but which despite some sniffy reviews is a delightful and entertaining showcase for Johnson’s very considerable writing skills. In His second term as mayor, Johnson was accused of an affair with a model who later received £25,000 in contracts from Johnson’s office.
In 2014 Johnson once again successfully ran for Parliament and served as foreign secretary. The appointment was seen as a way to neutralize Johnson politically. Shortly after his appointment, Johnson undertook a diplomatic trip to Turkey, a trip made tense by the fact that Johnson had recently won a £1,000 prize, in an offensive poetry competition in which he had penned a limerick that portrayed Turkish President Erdogan as having sex with a goat. During this term, the Brexit vote was held, strongly supported by Johnson. Teresa May took over as Prime Minister. A Brexit opponent originally, she nonetheless started negotiating separation with the EU. Johnson was critical of her efforts saying she was lukewarm to the task and his resignation from her government and that of another key minister eroded her credibility and she was eventually forced to resign after failing three times to pass a Brexit bill. Johnson was now the clear front runner to take over the party and in. July of 2019 he won the leadership by a large margin.
As Prime Minister he fired most of May’s ministers. Later that year he called a general election and won by a landslide. Shortly afterwards the COVID pandemic hit Britain. Soon Johnson was embroiled in controversy over his refusal to sack an advisor who travelled while experiencing COVID symptoms. Then in late 2021 the so-called partygate scandal erupted alleging boozy parties were held at 10 Downing street, during the height of the pandemic at which guests were not masked and at a time when the Country was being told not to meet with more than one person from outside their household. Johnson was found to have misled Parliament when he initially denied being aware of the parties—it eventually was revealed, not only was he aware, he hosted at least one and poured drinks for guests. Heading into the current year, the wheels were beginning to come off the Johnson regime. He barely survived a vote of non-confidence in June. The final blow came when Johnson was found to have lied about not knowing that one of his ministers had been under investigation for sexual misconduct, at the time of his appointment. On July 5th and 6th, the mass resignation of 31 of his ministers and parliamentary secretaries marked the end of the Boris Johnson Prime Ministership.
A look back at Johnson’s shambolic career reveals a man in and out of scrapes and peccadillos for most of his adult life. Immensely talented and with a charming personality, he maybe had it a little too easy, and didn’t think the conventional rules applied to him—very much like Toad of Toad Hall. It will be interesting to see what the next chapter in the Boris Johnson saga looks like. One thinks immediately of the wild and crazy British media.