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The wit and wisdom of Boris Johnson

By Andrew Gimson
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There are not yet nearly as many books about Boris Johnson as about Napoleon Bonaparte or Winston Churchill, and it is likely there never will be. But measured against politicians who are still alive and kicking, Boris is doing quite well. Tomorrow sees the publication of a slim volume called The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson, edited and introduced by Harry Mount.

Is there another politician of the present day to whom such a compliment has  been, or indeed could be, paid? As I laughed my way through Mount’s 149 pages, I was delighted to come upon a number of old friends, but also many unfamiliar examples of Johnsonian humour. Here are three, chosen almost at random: 

“Hypocrisy is at the heart of our national character – without the oil of hypocrisy, the machinery of convention would simply explode.”

“It’s a very good way for a conservative to nuke his opponents. People are just sort of flummoxed when you turn out to be a militant cyclist.”

“I stood behind Posh in a ski queue and saw the tattoos on her bum. I like her.”

Those of us who have toiled for a number of years in the field of Johnson Studies are always happy to shout “Ave!” to a new arrival. Like small birds hopping about on the back of a lumbering monster in the African bush, we have developed what might be described as a parasitic relationship with our subject.  For myself, I have long since ceased to conceal my ambition, in the fulness of time, to acquire a tenured post in some newly opened Department of Johnson Studies in the mid-west of the United States, or possibly in China.

Today, as part of the long march towards academic respectability, I have enjoyed the honour of engaging in public debate with Sonia Purnell, my fellow Johnson biographer, in the Independent on Sunday. We discuss whether Boris is fit to be Prime Minister.

Thank heavens for Purnell. She takes a stern, unbending view of Boris’s record, and dismisses him as too disreputable to be an acceptable occupant of 10 Downing Street. This is a widespread view, and deserves the high-level representation she brings to it. If and when there is a professorship going, Purnell's scholarship will surely vanquish all those of us who are inclined to regard Boris as a good laugh.   



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