Boris Johnson has yet again donned a hard hat and a high-vis jacket for a photo opportunity. Yet again, he’s paraded around in them like a baby might in their parents’ clothes. Stunningly, yet again, a wobbly-faced posher-than-posh conservative whose middle name is ‘De Pfettel’ has staked his claim as the most grounded politician in Britain.
As a staunch lefty, my interest in Boris isn’t easy to admit. Getting to this point has taken years of inner turmoil. My liberal principles have sparred with the blond behemoth time and time again. But in that moment, as Boris met with members of the East London CLT in Tower Hamlets last week, and typically bumbled his way through yet another photo op in a digger, something inside me tumbled in his favour.
“Have I become a Tory? Do I love Maggie Thatcher now? Has that advertising technique won me over, where you see something three times and then you have to buy it? Is this what Stockholm Syndrome feels like?”
My tribal Labour values came crashing down. The finely-honed PR machine that had very purposefully put Boris in the seat of the digger became irrelevant. Something had charmed me. It wasn’t the boyish blond locks. It wasn’t the jaunty hard hat or slightly undersized fluorescent jacket. It was his honesty.
Boris’s clumsy charm is well referenced-often classed by us lefties an adroit PR move, a sneeringly clever Mr Blobby impression that will one day see him trick his way to the highest office. But as he fumbled with the gear stick of an industrial machine he had no idea how to operate, his puzzled look said something more. It was self-effacing. It was sincere. He was not battling the fact that he looked hilariously incapable. Amidst that rough, politically incorrect, and sometimes-distasteful personality, there was a glint of authenticity. This is what makes Boris the household name that he is.
Honesty in leadership positions is undervalued. Indecision or a pause for thought is equated to weakness. Instead, a leader must be heroic and direct. They must know the answer to questions that haven’t yet been asked, and be certain of where they are headed. It’s this overconfidence in their own views that leads to an absence of empathy among politicians. Inflexibility and a denial of uncertainty breeds mistrust in voters and a lack of connection.
Our increasing distance from politicians is justified because true vulnerability, the very emotion that makes us human, is so lacking in political discourse. It’s no wonder that we are charmed by BoJo’s blundering candour. He’s the only person in political office who has taken the risk of revealing his weird self.
Boris is not the shining example of what a British politician should be. I don’t think I’ll ever bring my self to agree with his politics- at best they are elusive and at worst quite dangerous. But it’s no wonder that David Cameron wants him back in Westminster. His sense of humour and aversion to speaking in sound bites shows a glimpse of oddity, of charisma, when the rest make listening to Desert Island Discs alike to being stranded in the Sahara.
My generation is still reeling from the betrayals of the Iraq War and the financial collapse. The infatuation with Boris has become something of an analogy for what the modern voter values above all else- authenticity, sincerity, openness. A moment of confusion from Boris rightly delights us. It assures us that London isn’t being governed by a cardboard cut out. Even if his personality is wildly accentuated by his troop of political aides, it is the occasional flare of something improvised or true that we blindly latch onto.
A truly earnest character is so lacking in British politics, an understanding of voters’ need to trust is so absent. It’s no wonder I came close to eschewing all of my political views for a funny-looking Tory in a hard hat.
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