By shrewdly fanning the gossip flames, Johnson moved effortlessly from Fleet Street to No.10 via City Hall. But now the rumours have come back to biteby Alexis Self / November 12, 2020 / Leave a comment
In a world teeming with gloom, it’s essential to appreciate good irony when it comes along. This summer, Pope Francis sashayed onto a balcony at the Vatican to tell those assembled (plus all the haters) that “gossip is a plague worse than Covid.” He ended his sermon with a plea: “Let’s make a big effort: no gossiping!” The result? At least one-sixth of the world’s population, maybe more, began feverishly speculating as to whom His Holiness was alluding.
A few weeks later, in an instance of synchronicity not seen between London and Rome since the dissolution of the monasteries, our own paunchy legate moved to shut down the snitches. In response to a question about people dobbing in neighbours who disregard lockdown rules, Boris Johnson declared: “I have never much been in favour of sneak culture.”
While the Pope might have a very literal balcony to stand on in the war against gossip, the Prime Minister’s role as defender of the faithful is a little more tenuous. Johnson first made his name as a young journalist willing to circumvent accuracy in the pursuit of a good story. As Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, he sowed exaggeratory seeds of EU corruption that would later bear fruit during the successful Brexit campaign. At the same time, he was sowing enough wild oats to cultivate an image of virile bonhomie.
Using his shrewdly concocted persona, Johnson moved effortlessly from Fleet Street to No.10 via City Hall. A willingness to make fantastic claims meant he could outmanoeuvre more sanctimonious rivals. A colourful private life was presented as evidence of his abundant charm. Before election as Conservative leader, allies claimed he would bring positivity back to a country riven by political strife: a Merry Monarch for the Brexit age; a cavalier able to resist cries of impeachment.
In power, though, Johnson’s Teflon status has begun to wear thin. Whereas once he could twist any rumour into a bon mot, or indeed an “inverted pyramid of piffle,” today the gossip mill threatens to breach his keeling leadership. In September, an Italian newspaper reported the Prime Minister went on a secret holiday to Perugia at the height of a national crisis. The story quickly unravelled, not least thanks to help…