Now that Boris Johnson is UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs many are quick to remind the world of his perceived faux pas but how much do people really know about “Boris”, other than “BORIS” is a household name in Britain.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York Upper East Side in 1964 to upper middle class liberal intellectuals, he was given his middle name of “Boris” after a Russian émigré his parents had met in Mexico, he was granted both American and British citizenship. By his own admission his DNA is a “one-man melting pot”, he is a bit of a mongrel, part Jewish, part French, part English, part American and part Turkish. Ali Kemal, his Turkish paternal great-grandfather was also a journalist cum politician in the early 1900s and no stranger to political controversy; Kemal had a short-lived ministerial role in Turkey’s government but made a serious political mistake; in a circular he ordered everyone to ignore the extremely popular nationalist Mustafa Kemal, in effect publicly denouncing the man who would later become Turkey’s reforming hero, Ataturk, this eventually led to his the arrest, interrogation and mob killing.
Like many conservatives Johnson was educated Eton and Oxford where he was in the good conservative company of today’s Conservative Party members David Cameron, William Hague, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, and Nick Boles. As a journalist first for The Times and later for The Telegraph in Brussels he showed early signs of euro-scepticism, he was the favourite journalist of then Conservative Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher. Johnson was a key influence on the emergence of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the early 1990s.
In 1993 he was married for the second time to Marina Wheeler, a half Sikh and Queen’s Counsel since 2016, who specialises in Public and administrative law, human rights and employment law and who currently undertakes a significant volume of work for government departments, local authorities and the National Health Service.
Johnson’s younger sister Rachel is a well-known opinionated journalist and successful novelist, she writes a regular column in The Mail on Sunday and is married to Ivo Danway, who describes himself on LinkedIn as a Free Agent: journalism, creative brand consultancy, communications, advocacy and government relations; he is also a Director of the National Trust, UK’s most powerful architectural and landscape conservation charity. Johnson has two brothers, Jo Johnson previously London’s premier financial journalist and now one of the few kept on from David Cameron’s team, just promoted by Theresa May to Minister of State for Universities and Science. The other brother Leo Johnson is a happening author and expert on business and financial sustainability. The siblings are a close knit bunch.
Boris Johnson once wanted to be a war correspondent but instead was promoted to Assistant Editor of The Telegraph and a contributor The Spectator where he became editor in 1999, relinquishing political aspirations for the time being. Under Johnson The Spectator became more amusing, much less partisan and more widely read, even then Johnson was detracted as well as praised for his spontaneous political incorrectness. The comedy news show “Have I Got News for You” was Johnson’s entrée into British living rooms and his quick wit endeared him to the irreverent audience.
While he was enjoying his first stint as an MP, he voted in support of the government’s plans to join the US in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and in April 2003 visited occupied Baghdad; by December 2006 he was publicly regretting his decision, describing the invasion as “a colossal mistake and misadventure”. During the General Election in 2005 Johnson supported Cameron; Johnson’s appeal to young voters was clear when his image was used in ‘Boris needs you’ and ‘I Love Boris’ promotional material for the Conservative Party’s during Freshers’ week in universities.
In 2007 he was chosen by 79% of the vote in a public London-wide primary as the Conservative candidate for the Mayor of London, the ruling Labour Mayor Ken Livingston called him “the most formidable opponent I will face in my political career.”
Johnson won the Mayoral election in 2008 with the largest personal electoral mandate ever in the UK, his first official engagement was appearing at the Vaisakhi celebrations in Trafalgar Square. As Mayor Johnson reformed public transport and introduced a very successful public bicycle scheme, he supported the London Living Wage and the idea of an amnesty for illegal migrants. As Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority he reduced overall crime in London and during his second term in 2012 he delivered a seamless London Olympics without a hint of terrorism (that the public were aware of). Johnson was a commanding Mayor and sources say his support team admired his communication and managerial skills.
After his election to the safe seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip at the 2015 General Election and his return to the House of Commons, many gossiped Johnson wanted to overthrow David Cameron as Prime Minister. Certainly during the EU Referendum campaign this came up repeatedly.
Michael Gove and Johnson proved a persuasive team for leaving the EU as the 52% of British citizens voted to Brexit, a decision that has divided political parties, the EU member states, families and friends.
It is true Johnson has been surrounded by scandals and not infrequently has been called a liar; in spite of his unpopular habit of breaking with the traditional procedure of those in public office not publicly commenting on other nations’ leaders or policy, Johnson has demonstrated superhero powers of reputational recovery, he has retained a cult status of international popularity. Johnson has made controversial provocative, satirical remarks that are oft taken too seriously, mostly they are teasing with an underlying political message; no doubt we notice restraint in these figures of speech while he is Foreign Secretary. Wherever he goes he is mobbed, he is recognised by every corner of society, citizens demand selfies, he obliges.
Now he is UK’s extremely qualified Foreign Secretary many are quick to mock him but it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh. Johnson is a polymath with maverick behaviour, he is a linguist, a cerebral historian, he has written eight books; except for in Germany, France and Belgium, foreign policy experts and diplomats are delighted with his appointment.
Colleen Graffy, former deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy at the US state department for George Bush says “he is an excellent communicator…people are craving individuals that speak in a way that is amusing, intelligent, informed, and different…he will be the rock star of the foreign policy world”. Sir Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador to USA says Johnson will be judged “on what he actually does in the role of Foreign Secretary, it is a bold and imaginative appointment”. Similarly Alexander Stubb former Prime Minister of Finland advises the world to wait and see what Johnson comes up with. Johnson will remain the controversial figure in British politics, he is what is known as the Marmite man and you either love him or hate him.
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