Boris Johnson often appears to know nothing about anything, bumbling through exchanges like an 18th century aristocrat in a fish-out-of-water time travel comedy.
His political career could and probably should have ended on a hundred separate occasions. Instead, he became foreign secretary. Even in this prestigious role, he remains impervious to gaffe-induced media frenzies.
Reactions to Boris couldn’t be more different to those of Diane Abbott. Abbott recently fluffed her lines on Sky News and then again on LBC. Her grasp of figures was weak. She was relentlessly and viciously mocked by the media. It prompted her to withdraw from campaigning and later apologise.
Boris Johnson wishes he only had a weak grasp of figures. In his recent interview with Radio 4, he didn’t even appear to know what a prime minister does. He certainly couldn’t explain how the criminal justice system might become less discriminatory, or how white working class youths might be provided with better access to university – both issues on the Tories’ shrinking policy platform (the pretend candidate Lord Buckethead now has more manifesto ideas than the minority government).
Boris’ gaffes are global in scale.
Boris didn’t even resort to his usual archaic retorts, instead he meekly asked whether the interviewer might “hold on”. The panicked shuffling of notes ensued. It was a disaster unfolding just when the Conservatives were desperate to prove their credibility to irritated supporters. Abbott’s recent gaffes are nothing in comparison.
Her other gaffes are of little note. She waffled in a Commons speech that was interrupted by an impatient speaker, and she clumsily attempted to explain away three-decade-old comments about the IRA – a transgression now totally overshadowed by the Conservative-DUP partnership.
As for the gaffes of foreign secretary Boris Johnson… He once kicked a child over during a televised football game – that this is one of his least significant gaffes says everything about the staggering idiocy of his career. As part of his knack for dragging political discourse through the mud, he compared the EU to Nazi Germany. In the same Brexit campaign, he lied repeatedly about NHS funding. Boris later insisted that the funding pledge was in the 2017 Conservative manifesto (it wasn’t).
Abbott made mistakes but the media reaction was totally disproportionate.
Boris’ gaffes are global in scale. He will struggle to find a population that he hasn’t offended. He candidly accused the people of Papua New Guinea of cannibalism, called Barrack Obama a “half-Kenyan” predisposed to disliking Churchill, and described modern Africa as a kind of perpetual hellhole – while conversely claiming that British imperialism helped civilise it.
But Boris is always forgiven as a kind of lovable buffoon, harbouring lovable racist ideas and taking lovable responsibility for Britain’s place on the world stage. He is excused because he attended Oxford University and therefore must be secretly intelligent, albeit in a way that no pundit or politician is privy to.
Abbott attended Cambridge University, but this does nothing to stop people from labelling her stupid. It is rarely even mentioned. She is never given the same benefit of the doubt that Boris has received countless times over.
Of course Abbott made mistakes, but the media reaction was totally disproportionate and extremely vitriolic. It preceded a chorus of ‘I-told-you-so’s from those who quietly believe that a black woman like her is a little above her station.
Meanwhile, Boris is allowed to blunder on towards his next great embarrassment. Serious people will continue to seek his opinion (even if they only understand a third of what he says) and commentators will continue to unironically list him as a good candidate for party leadership.
These contrasting reactions reveal something very ugly about the attitudes of British media.
Comment pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of Forge Press.
Image credit: (Left to right) Policy Exchange, Stephen Lock.