Monday, October 03, 2016

Birmingham Conference Diary - the Boris Enigma

Boris Johnson is an extreme example of a peculiar British tradition - the highly intelligent man who pretends not to be

It was very common among an earlier generation of statesmen to hide their intelligence - his refusal to do this is one of the reasons Winston Churchill was not trusted by some of his contemporaries. I cannot,  however think of anyone who rivals BoJo in the lengths to which he takes a similar principle - a clever man who acts like a clown.

While Mayor of London Boris made a real attempt to develop a more grown-up style and to a significant degree succeeded, although he largely blew this during the Brexit campaign.

I had assumed he would start down that more grown up and responsible track again as the holder of a great office of state.

Hearing his first speech to conference as Foreign Secretary, I realised that this was wrong, and part of me wanted to be angry about this, but in the event I stood up to applaud his speech because he said, in the style of a stand-up comedian, so many things which needed saying.

Boris broke all the rules. He said so many things that you just don't, you really don't, expect a Foreign Secretary to say.

Yet he also delivered one of the most powerful and effective speeches in defence of liberal democracy, free speech, a free press, an independent judiciary and the rule of law (not just free elections) which I have ever heard.

Who else but Boris could get a round of applause out of a Conservative conference for a comment praising the BBC? And another one a few seconds later for a comment praising the Foreign Office?

And then tell the Conservative conference that he supports immigration without anyone raising an eyebrow?

(Of course, in context he was supporting sensible, balanced immigration, not unlimited migration as per Jeremy Corbyn.)

It's not a style that everyone would approve of.

It is not one that most people could bring off.

But neither has it been, so far at least, the disaster that some of Boris's enemies and critics, on hearing that he had been appointed Foreign Secretary, would have predicted.

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