Why hasn’t Boris Johnson challenged Matthew Parris to a Duel?
I suppose it’s the eighteenth-centuryist in me. And, in essence, the eighteenth-centuryist is me.
But I did read Matthew Parris’ quite extraordinary attack on Boris Johnson when it came out, and so far nothing seems to have happened. Now in my day (i.e., the eighteenth-century), people didn’t just take this kind of thing lying down. In my day, such a serious and personal set of accusations required a response of some kind. Silence implied guilt.
And here’s the article – yet again –
OK, I don’t actually expect these to fight a duel (though I lived in hope that the challenge issued by that Polish Count to Nigel Farage last year might have amounted to something). I can’t get the idea of a duel out of my head though – the spectacle of BoJo versus Parris has a kind of Viola versus Sir Andrew Aguecheek level of appeal to it and I would much sooner watch BoJo V. Parris than rewatch Batman Versus Superman.
Back in something like the real world, why hasn’t Boris Johnson sued? The contents of the article were, devastating in terms of perceptions of BoJo’s political character. Why hasn’t he made the slightest attempt to defend himself? If even half the things said in this article are true, Boris Johnson should never again hold any kind of high office until he has completed several decades of prayer and repentance.
So why hasn’t he sued?
You see, what troubles me, ultimately, is not even the truth or falsehood of these charges so much as the fact that BoJo is clearly banking on people not caring about whether or not these charges are accurate.
His silence smacks of “Am I bovvered?”, as Catherine Tate would say. BoJo seems to be taking the view, not so much that these allegations will not be believed, but rather that people just don’t care. He seems to feel that his buffoonish eccentricities atone, in the public imagination, for any graver defects of character. He may be right.
Some people have objected to the very personal tone of Parris’ article. Now it’s perfectly reasonable to put the case that very personal attacks should form no part of political debate. Politics should be about issues and achievements – Boris Johnson should be judged on the basis of his public record, not his private character.
Except that Boris has never wanted to be judged on his public record. He has built his career on being a loveable personality, has brought himself within reach of being Prime Minister of a major world economy, on the strength of personality politics alone. Whenever challenged on matters of policy inconsistency or broken mayoral election pledges, he has always seemed annoyed and responded instead with glib one liners designed to showcase his alleged charm.
Here, by the way is a list of broken mayoral election pledges that Boris Johnson hasn’t even bothered to defend…
In other words – BoJo has always wanted to play personality politics rather than policy politics. In the words of Hiram Roth from Godfather II – it’s the business he’s chosen. He can’t run for office based on his personality and then complain when his personality is scrutinized.
Except that he’s not complaining at all. And he should be, shouldn’t he? Every so often, people take exception to me and throw all sorts of accusations at me. It’s what happens when you blog too much (and I do blog too much). I try to stay polite and refute specific charges as and when I can. BoJo doesn’t. He cares about being thought charming, but not about being trustworthy, he cares about being thought funny, but doesn’t care about being thought responsible.
Well it’s true that a number of people have rallied round Boris to offer him (qualified) support – but this report has not come in the form of denials or refutations. Instead, the likes of Petronella Wyatt and Dominic Lawson have essentially declared that while Boris has done a bunch of bad stuff (in particular to Petronella Wyatt and Dominic Lawson), you just can’t help loving him. (I’ve been reminded at times of the Monty Python Kray Twins sketch where the man [Eric Idle] confronted with filmed evidence of Dinsdale Piranha nailing his head to the floor still insists that Dinsdale is a lovely fella.)
In other words, he’s a user and an abuser, but he’s a charming abuser. As someone who is somehow immunised from the magnetic charms of BoJo, I feel it’s incumbent upon me to point out that being a charming abuser is considerably more dangerous than being a charmless abuser.
Some people have said that it’s hypocritical to point out BoJo’s moral failings when “all politicians are hypocrites” and at least BoJo is charming about it. I’m sorry – but if I actually thought that every single politician resembled the Boris Johnson described by Matthew Parris, I’d have to conclude that the human race was doomed, and I’d be too despairing to summon up the energy to get out of bed in the morning, let alone pen letters of support for BoJo.
I don’t know BoJo personally. I can’t make any personal judgement on him. The only thing I can say for certain is that so far, he hasn’t sued Matthew Parris. Or challenged him to a duel. And this refusal tells me that either Parris’ charges are substantially true, or else BoJo is lacking in a critical form of self respect. Despite his overt egotism, on some profound level, he doesn’t really care enough about himself – that is his core self (assuming he has one).
He’s not the only one suffering from a self-respect deficit. BoJo’s supporters seem to me to be trapped in an asymmetrical and abusive relationship and should (as Matthew Parris suggests) end the affair. Perhaps ultimately, the problem is not that BoJo’s fans love BoJo too much – but that they don’t quite love themselves enough.