Leaders should be judged on their policies and performance but not on tittle tattle or matters outside the public domain unless serious and actionable under law.
Is Boris Johnson a domestic bully, a philanderer, a racist, an Islamophobe, a homophobe, a hopeless mayor, a failed foreign secretary, a (£350 million) liar and a bumbling idiot who will make his country a laughing stock if he becomes Prime Minister? We don’t know with regard to his private life and shouldn’t want to know unless the case is clear and actionable in law. Boris went to a posh public school (Eton) so is therefore a toff, which to those determined to denigrate him means he can’t possibly understand ordinary people. Michel Barnier went to one of France’s most elite grandes écoles where the aristocrats of administration are trained to rule (École supérieure de commerce de Paris) and behaves with the greatest hauteur towards Britain. Those determined to ‘play the man and not the ball’ seem happy to accept Michel’s influence over our lives without highlighting his background, unlike the man they hate for his important influence on the Referendum result.
Whatever else they believe most Remainers hold that the world is a better place when countries cooperate and that their view puts them on a higher virtue-plane than the isolationists of the Leave camp. By attacking the man rather than his arguments the ‘anyone but Boris’ brigade demonstrate that they are less virtuous than they think. There is an answer to all the accusations thrown at Boris’s public behaviour and achievements that can be fairly weighed in debate. Most Leavers don’t disagree about international cooperation, however it must not be imposed or restricted to just a part of the world while substantial restrictions are placed on the rest, and it must be voluntary and democratic (i.e. reversible on popular demand). Has the EU shown competence in achieving internal or international cooperation? If so, why are its leaders always banging on about the lack of unity and solidarity?
Back to Boris: here is an example of second-hand maliciousness from a letter-writer in Mrs May’s local newspaper: “Johnson has been described by serious Conservatives who know him well as “a liar, ‘mendacious’, ‘not a team player’, and I could go on.” Others who worked with him (like Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London in Johnson’s administration) are keen supporters and he won a big majority of votes from fellow Tory MPs in all stages of their election process. The writer goes on to condemn Boris’s Brexit plan as “an aspiration” (which sounds to us like a good start) but says that Jeremy Hunt’s plan is better, though he provides no argument in either case. This is typical of the incoherent frustration of many of Boris’s opponents; it does them no credit. And the Maidenhead Advertiser’s correspondent wrote tittle-tattle scarcely worthy of a top diplomatic post. Yes, we are making a point; Sir Kim (our erstwhile ambassador to the USA) has also had his due privacy shattered despite the fact that he must have provided better intelligence than we’ve seen from his (selectively) leaked emails, or he surely wouldn’t have been in post so long. It wasn’t Boris’s fault or responsibility that the Foreign Office leaked, he isn’t in charge now, but our next leader must have an ambassador with access to the US President if he hopes to secure a “fantastic trade deal”, which both contenders need.
We won’t defend Boris in detail, there are other politicians who, examined closely, are imperfect. Here are some brief responses to the personal criticisms:
Domestic bully: unproven and none of our business unless criminally proven.
Philanderer: possibly, but hardly unique amongst Prime Ministers (Lloyd George, John Major and others).
Racist: he has supported immigration.
Islamophobe: based on comparing women in burkas to letterboxes whilst clearly supporting their right to dress as they please regardless of what he or we think they look like, unlike France and Denmark where burkas are banned in public.
Homophobe: What is the evidence? Or is this just a politically-correct, knee-jerk accusation? He supported the Gay Pride march as London mayor and supported civil partnerships but has, inevitably, made a couple of risqué jokes.
Mayor: He won the post of London Mayor twice and left with a positive approval rating from a Labour-dominated city: crime and murder rates fell, he introduced ‘Boris bikes’ and re-introduced popular Routemaster buses; he may have wasted some money on a failed Garden Bridge and perhaps undercharged West Ham for the Olympic Stadium but the organisation of the Games was a great success. No one has a perfect record but he certainly delegated responsibility effectively, which augurs well for a leadership role.
Foreign Secretary: Something of a high-wire appointment in 2016 given his previous jokes about foreign leaders (like Turkey’s President Erdogan) and his clear differences with the Prime Minister which led him to resigning two years later. His effectiveness was diminished by hiving off Brexit and Trade to other departments. He made a mistake which may have contributed to longer (unfair) imprisonment of a British subject. He was a key supporter of girl’s education and pulled together co-ordinated international action against Russia for the Skripal poisonings.
Liar: He’s a politician, with a need to get re-elected. Name a euro-star politician who isn’t a liar—Juncker even acknowledges a need to lie, when the going gets tough. We don’t have to like that but we vote for them anyway. Meanwhile the £350 million claim on the Leave bus isn’t far from the truth, as we have reported (see The £350 Million Question).
Idiot: Untrue; he is among the more widely-read and intelligent of cabinet-level politicians and well-educated, both privately and publicly, however he chooses to behave in public.
The Daily Telegraph (22nd June 2019) summed things up well: “Charming, charismatic, media savvy, witty and self deprecating to his fans – narcissistic, manipulative, crass and inappropriate to his knockers”.
The stones cast at Boris are not aimed as fiercely at provably corrupt EU leaders like Junker and his nominated successor Ursula von der Leyen, or Christine Lagarde (nominated as the next ECB President), or Josep Borrell, or Charles Michel. These people have been found guilty of incompetence or irregularities that should bar them from further public office, at the least.
Here are some brief summaries of the quality of those nominated to lead the EU from autumn 2019 (subject to EU Parliament’s approval):
Ursula von der Leyen, Commission President: Germany’s defence minister since 2013, a Bundestag report this year shows that most of the Bundeswehr’s planes and helicopters can’t fly and most of its soldiers have no guns. A recent poll (by ARD public broadcast organisation) shows that the majority of Germans don’t think she’ll make a good Commission president.
Christine Lagarde, ECB President: found guilty of negligence for agreeing public compensation paid to a jailed fraudster (Bernard Tapie), thought to be a ‘thank you’ for supporting Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. She was wrong in her forecasts of doom for the British economy on voting Leave and admitted mistakes in the ‘troika bailout’ of Greece as IMF chief, her current post.
Josep Borrell, foreign policy chief: a socialist politician, fined 30,000 euros for insider trading.
Charles Michel, President of the Council: maybe innocent but failed badly to convince Belgian electors in the May 2019 elections (EU and national), but who needs voter approval?
“Some have greatness thrust upon them” 
A frequent criticism made by the BBC and others is that a mere 160,000 people (Conservative Party members) are getting to choose the next Prime Minister, with the implication that this is not true democracy. They may be right but we have never elected presidents like they do in America, France and elsewhere. The general public did not elect Gordon Brown but they got rid of him and his party at the next opportunity. The same happened to James Callaghan and Alec Douglas-Home, while Theresa May lost her party’s majority but John Major managed a win before destroying his party’s reputation for economic competence so casting them from office for the longest period since World War 2.
If a party changes its leader when out of government that leader becomes an ‘elected’ prime minister if it then wins a general election—like David Cameron (just), Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. If the party is in office then a new leader becomes an ‘unelected’ prime minister and is usually kicked out at the first opportunity. We don’t know whether Boris Johnson will be a successful Prime Minister or even have a fair chance of proving himself, his term could be very short-lived. Like the present incumbent he will face a daunting task, made far harder by the multiple mistakes she has made. His opportunity to lead the country, however well or long he does it, if he wins his party’s vote, will happen in much the same way as for five out of 10 of our last Prime Ministers.
 from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night