Saturday, March 26, 2016

Boris Johnson: for and against

London Mayor Boris Johnson has twice come under "sustained friendly fire" in the past few days.

On 23rd March he appeared before the Treasury Select Committee giving evidence in favour of a "Leave" vote. Even plenty of his fellow leave supporters would admit that, in response to questions from Andrew Tyrie MP, chairman of the committee, Boris had a difficult time. Here is an eight minute clip which gives a flavour of the exchange ...

Andrew Tyrie exemplifies certain old-fashioned virtues which are not as common as they should be. Andrew not merely holds, but actually practices, the view that one of the duties of MPs is to hold the executive to account.

His conscientious discharge of that duty has probably caused more anxiety to government ministers from the PM down in this parliament than Jeremy Corbyn and the whole of the Labour front bench put together.

He is a forensic seeker after truth: those who are less careful to be precise might call Andrew Tyrie a bit pedantic but if there is any truth in this charge, it is only by the Ambrose Bierce definition of a pedant as an irritating person who prefers his facts to be correct.

I don't think an intelligent person who was able to watch this interview with any degree of impartiality could draw any conclusion other than that Andrew Tyrie wiped the floor with Boris and made it only too obvious that the Mayor of London had not tried hard enough to ensure that his public statements give a fair and accurate representation of the facts.

Boris didn't get a particularly easy ride from the rest of the committee either.

A complete clip of the three hour interview with the committee, which is not for the squeamish or those who enjoy an equal contest, but is a true classic if you enjoy watching someone's arguments forensically taken apart by questioners whose command of the subject is in a completely different class, can be found on the Hansard site at

But worse was to come for Boris Johnson. Journalist and former MP Matthew Paris has penned a brilliantly-written character assassination of the London Mayor in today's Times under the title

"Tories have got to end their affair with Boris." (Behind a paywall).

It's devastating, but is it fair?

Some of the attack on Boris relates to his personal life and I have no intention of repeating any of this, but plenty of it relates to his conduct as a campaigner and in office. Matthew accuses Boris of using humour to distract attention from an approach to life and politics which is consistent only in its' inconsistency and reliable only in a pattern of "casual dishonesty" and "betrayal." Let me quote enough to give the flavour of the article:

"Look, this is a joke but this is not a joke. Someone has to call a halt to the gathering pretence that if only you're sufficiently comical in politics you can laugh everything off."

"Incompetence is not funny. Policy vacuum is not funny. Administrative sloth is not funny. Breaking promises is not funny. A careless disregard for the truth is not funny."

Incidentally I doubt very much that those supporters of Brexit who have suggested that Matthew Parris wrote this article at the behest of Number ten are correct. Matthew is very much his own man and attacks the targets he selects, not necessarily the ones which suit the interests of the Conservative party. His article is exactly the sort of "Blue on Blue" attack which David Cameron and those Conservatives who are looking past 23rd June have been keen to discourage.

A completely different view by Iain Martin, Editor of CapX, on that site: in response to Matthew Parris's attack he writes today, "In defence of Boris Johnson."

Iain wearily observes that he thought Britain had got past

"the bogus idea that the state of someone’s private life is always a guide to their suitability for office. Do we really want to go back to all that? To 1995? Some of the cleanest-living leaders made terrible Prime Ministers and Presidents."

He points to Boris' achievements as a two-term Mayor. I agree with Iain and apparently the London electorate rather than Matthew Parris that there certainly are some.

The main thing on which I doubt Iain is right was his inference in phrases like "Cameroons are losing the plot" that Matthew's attack was inspired by the Prime Minister or someone close to him. For the reasons stated above I do not believe that.

Trying to pull the pieces together and produce a fair overall assessment, it seems to me that Andrew Tyrie's demolition of Boris Johnson's specific arguments on Brexit was overwhelmingly justified, but although Matthew Parris does land several fair blows, some of his attack on Boris Johnson the man was uncalled for.

Postscript: The Screaming Eagles, a regular poster on Political Betting, gives his or her verdict on the performance of Boris Johnson in the referendum campaign to date here.

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