The silly comparisons between these two figures really must stopby Sonia Purnell / November 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Boris Johnson has consistently invited us to compare him with that historical titan, Winston Churchill. In October, newspaper photographers were called to the foreign secretary’s grace and favour country residence, Chevening, to capture him messing around on boats with a bemused group of foreign ministers from Eastern Europe. They were just nameless extras. It was really just about Boris.
Or rather it was about Churchill and Boris. Churchill was famous for conducting diplomacy at his own country retreat, Chartwell, a mere six miles away. Churchill spent years creating lakes at Chartwell and loved to show them off to his visitors. Now Johnson does the same. Geddit?
At party conference, Johnson had an answer to the glum mood. It did not involve offering ideas to solve the national crisis, but a tub-thumping rendition of old Churchill oratorical favourites. The party should be “bold” and “let the British lion roar,” he told his audience, exultant at this latest invocation of the great wartime leader. “Oh,” exclaimed one excited delegate, noticing the way he jutted his head over a well-padded middle, “Boris even stands like Churchill.”
Every campaign needs a manifesto and three years ago Johnson obliged with his book The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History. By the end of the short introduction—in which Johnson refers to himself more than 30 times—it was clear whom the author believes is the “One Man” who can make history now. In politics these days, repeat a simple emotive message—however spurious—often enough and people start to believe it. (The infamous £350m for the NHS lie on a bus being one such example.)
In his book, Johnson argues that Churchill became a national saviour despite (or perhaps because of) being considered an adventurer, reckless, disloyal, in possession of “death-defying self-belief” and indeed not at all “what people thought of as a man of principle; he was a glory-cashing goal-mouth -hanging opportunist.” Yes, the picture soon becomes very clear what we should therefore think of Johnson himself.