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Boris Johnson and what brands can learn from him

Although Churchill will always be known for his peerless rhetoric on all manner of subjects it is his political motto that his distorted descendants mimic. K.B.O. Keep Buggering On. Once upon a time that meant perseverance in the face of menace, or rout, or despair, but today Boris Johnson refuses to be curtailed or slowed by scandal. Less, he refuses to even be embarrassed, and has nullified the most effective weapon that the press and the public once held over errant political careers – shame.

But apart from our aspiring leaders learning from the rise of Trump that shamelessness is a superpower, what does the imminent premiership of Johnson tell us about ourselves? Only a society obsessed with fame and personality above all other things could see Johnson as an attractive Prime Minister. He clearly has those qualities in spades, with his career defined by a carefully cultivated scruffy look, backed by a steady drumbeat of racist, sexist commentary and revealed incompetency and disinterest in power. Now he runs a submarine strategy, rigidly disciplined by Crosby’s ruthless pursuit of victory – concentrating on saying nothing in public and whatever it takes in private.

From the first day of this leadership election the leading political journalists of the day have been saying the same two things. Firstly, Rory Stewart is the grown-up in the room and it’s therefore impossible that he will be elected. Secondly, that Boris Johnson is totally unfit for office but is the only person who is capable of stopping his own campaign. We live in an inverted universe when personal unelectablity results in political electability. Our politics, on both sides of the Atlantic, have been captured by powerful cabals of rightwing power-mongers, who have chosen that their flawed leaders are vassals that they cannot afford to lose, and that they won’t compromise on. Will Johnson lose the leadership election isn’t the real question – the question is can he? He is in such a commanding position because he has so many commanding people fully invested in his fortunes. But how can this be?

Consider the undercurrents. Of post-expenses and pre-Brexit public distrust in Westminster never being higher and nobody has taken advantage of this justified rage more than Nigel Farage. The single issue, sleazy demagogue, leaving nicotine stains on shaken hands and the smell of beer on the foreheads of babies. The grotesque dressed up in the clothes of a statesman. And the quaking establishment, the supposed (and self-appointed) stalwart for decency has stepped up in our moment of peril by rallying behind Johnson. Faced with this rise in extremism, does anyone believe that Boris, the self-centred, less a stalwart and more a windsock, will help regain and heal the schism. Its time someone represented trust in the democratic process.  I for one am not persuaded by the shambolic, blonde and much-loved “buffoon” with a relentlessly cheerful brand of racism and homophobia. Is he really the best ambassador for ‘Brand Britain’? Only a celebrity crazed media culture, hooked to outrage and craving the circular story lines of reality TV would allow this exhibitionist Trumpesque buffoon to get away with it. For the sake of shame, we are here.

An incomplete list of Mr. Johnson’s gaffes:

2002: Wrote that the Queen enjoys visiting Africa ‘partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies’ and that when Tony Blair went there ‘the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles.’

2002: Arguing for a re-colonization of Africa (‘a blot’); “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more… the best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”

2004: Writes The Spectator that Liverpudlian fans were drunk and therefore partially responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. He accuses them of ‘wallowing in their victim-status.’

2004: Sacked from shadow cabinet for having an affair and denying it.

2005: Declares that ‘voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts.’

2006: Compared infighting within UK parties to “Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.” Johnson then makes an openly sarcastic apology; saying he didn’t mean to blame their ‘blameless bourgeois domesticity’.

2007: Calls Hillary Clinton ‘a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital’.

2008: As editor he publishes a piece that says ‘Orientals…have larger brains and higher IQ scores,” the piece read. “Blacks are at the other pole.’

2013: Says that Malaysian women are only going to university because ‘they need to find women to marry.’

March 2016: Published his own poem into a Spectator competition, describing President Erdogan as a ‘wankerer’, He awarded himself first place – a £1,000 prize.

April 2016: Describes President Obama as “part Kenyan” and accused him of harbouring an “ancestral dislike” of the United Kingdom.

May 2016: “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” Johnson said. “The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.”

September 2017: Johnson was accused of “incredible insensitivity” during a visit as Foreign Secretary when he recited an Empire era poem at the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar.

November 2017: Johnson mistakenly said that British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Tehran “simply teaching people journalism.” The Iranian regime used this mistake to make the case that she was spying. She began hunger strike again this weekend.

January 2018: Compares President Hollande of France to a WW2 prison guard.

February 2018: Likened the challenges posed by the Irish border post-Brexit to the boundaries between different London boroughs.

May 2018: Russian pranksters managed to hold an 18-minute long phone call with Johnson where he said that the UK would continue to squeeze the Russian regime by targeting London-based oligarchs.

August 2018: Compares Muslim women to ‘letterboxes’.

May 2016: “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” Johnson said. “The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.”

September 2017: Johnson was accused of “incredible insensitivity” during a visit as Foreign Secretary when he recited an Empire era poem at the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar.

November 2017: Johnson mistakenly said that British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Tehran “simply teaching people journalism.” The Iranian regime used this mistake to make the case that she was spying. She began hunger strike again this weekend.

January 2018: Compares President Hollande of France to a WW2 prison guard.

February 2018: Likened the challenges posed by the Irish border post-Brexit to the boundaries between different London boroughs.

May 2018: Russian pranksters managed to hold an 18-minute long phone call with Johnson where he said that the UK would continue to squeeze the Russian regime by targeting London-based oligarchs.

August 2018: Compares Muslim women to ‘letterboxes’.

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