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Boris Johnson

How the PM made himself part of history

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Our prime minister “plays to the rootedness of Middle England”, says Tom McTague in The Atlantic. Yet Boris was named after a Russian his parents met in Mexico, who bought them plane tickets so Johnson’s heavily pregnant mother wouldn’t have to take the bus back to America. Johnson was a “quiet, introspective boy”, partially deaf until he was eight or nine due to having glue ear. At Eton, “he transformed himself into the confident, insouciant extrovert we see today”. Eric Anderson, who was housemaster to both Johnson and Tony Blair while they were at the school, says that Johnson was “without a doubt” his most interesting pupil. A friend of the PM says Johnson subscribes to a pre-Christian morality with “no clear set of rules”. Johnson describes himself as a “very bad Christian”.

“Johnsonism” is driven by John Bew, a historian and the PM’s foreign policy adviser. In his book Realpolitik: A History, Bew argues “politics is the law of the strong”, that “states are strong when they are domestically harmonious”, that “ideas matter because people believe them, not because they are true”, and that “the zeitgeist” is the most important thing in politics. Johnson places a similar trust in political rough and tumble and in big narratives. He has also twigged that voters won’t accept “a laissez-faire attitude towards free trade” or the rise of China any longer. But his famous optimism has limits. “All romantics need the mortar of cynicism to hold themselves up,” he told McTague during the several months he spent shadowing him. It was the only serious point he made. But when I brought up the remark later, Johnson dismissed it: “Did I say that? How pompous of me.”

Read the full article here. A version of this piece ran in last week’s Times Magazine.