#Borexit: Till he shouted ‘pip pip’, Boris Johnson was a ‘Gentleman Hack’


Boris JohnsonTill he shouted toodledoo like a character in a Wodehouse novel and rushed out off stage (as well as the UK Conservative Party’s leadership election) Boris Johnson might’ve been described as one of Britain’s more disliked celebrities.

Now, he’s simply hated.

But even before June 30’s shock pull-out from the Conservative leadership election, some of Boris’s own tribe – journalists like former Times London man Martin Fletcher and Vanity Fair, Tatler and New Yorker editor Tina Brown – were dredging the memory swamp for the slimiest bits to throw at his effigy. Being journalists, they could be relied on to have a fairly good idea of what will stick. They certainly needed no coaching on where best to say what and when and how.

Mr Fletcher, it may be remembered, claimed in The New York Times that Boris was deeply untruthful while reporting from Brussels for The Daily Telegraph. Mr Fletcher knew this, he said, because he covered the same beat. I can’t remember where I read it but there was a story doing the rounds about Boris turning up late at an EU press conference in Brussels and asking fellow scribes: Tell me what I’ve missed and how it’s bad for Britain? Apocryphal or not, it served to suggest that Boris has always been post-truth. Politics and prime ministerial ambitions were not going to turn Boris into the Boy George (Washington) of legend, who famously could not tell a lie.

Anyway, after Mr Fletcher, Tina Brown stuck her stiletto deep into Boris Johnson’s neck and tried to make it look like she it was out of a sense of patriotic duty. Writing in The Daily Beast, she offered some delicious morsels of information about the faux-shambolic formerly prime ministerial hopeful who led us to Brexit.

First, he’s a liar. Second, like Donald Trump, he makes do without the facts because they’re too inconvenient. (In other words, I second Martin Fletcher’s story. There you go. Two sources and it’s all kosher.)

Ms Brown described meeting Boris in Oxford in June 1986 when he was about to be elected president of the Oxford Union. She was reporting on the drug overdose death of Guinness heiress Olivia Channon and had recruited what we journos call a “fixer”, someone paid to help identify and interview relevant people. The fixer in question was a student named Allegra Mostyn-Owen, who convened a group of the dead girl’s friends at a restaurant. Ms Mostyn-Owen herself did not attend, but her boyfriend (and later, briefly, her husband), Boris Johnson showed up at the gathering.

A few days after that lunch, recounted Ms Brown, she was astounded to read in The Sunday Telegraph “a viciously fallacious account of what I had supposedly said. The byline was Allegra Mostyn-Owen.” She went on to say that she learnt Boris had written the piece (and made up the quotes) under Allegra’s name — a piece of “baffling treachery” towards his girlfriend that meant she could never write for The Sunday Telegraph.

She ground the stiletto in much further when she said that Boris seems to belong “to a peculiarly dangerous British type — a type that, in my days as the editor of Tatler in the 1980s, I christened the Gentleman Hack, hostile to facts and even more hostile to investigation — a football column that purports to know nothing about football. A restaurant column that returns again and again to the ‘agreeable little Trattoria’ where the house red is as good as anything I’ve tasted in Provence…’”

Dear me. Except that it’s all been quite unnecessary because Boris has done the usual sort of thing toffs do: pulled the Gentleman Politician act or the amateur who doesn’t care enough to go professional.