Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it


8:50 am - March 29th 2011

by Sunder Katwala    


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Mayor of London Boris Johnson badly overstepped the mark yesterday, ludicrously claiming that Labour leader Ed Miliband will have been “quietly satisfied” by the violence in the capital which risked overshadowing the TUC’s March for the Alternative on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Boris can hardly be surprised to be accused of silliness and hypocrisy for a response in the lower traditions of student politics, though Shelly Asquith misses out what is surely the most hypocritical about the claim….

While Mr Edward Miliband was doubtless a rather diligent student, Boris was certainly not above indulging in a bit of pointless violence to brighten up a night out.

In his youthful days, Boris was more than quietly satisfied when his Bullingdon pals threw a flowerpot through a restaurant window. Indeed he was so proud of the incident that he even invented the tale of being arrested over it, as Jim Pickard of the FT has reported in exquisite detail, even though Friends of Boris have since revealed that he scrambled away through the flowerbeds to avoid being caught.

The story of the arrest was simply a bit of bigging up bravado which grew in the retelling.

What should certainly help Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s rehabilitation revolution is that three of the Bullingdon pals involved in that night of window smashing flowerpot hi-jinks were to take up places on the Conservative benches in the House of Commons, a suitably lofty vantage point from which they can (rightly) condemn those students who emulate their violent antics today.

To be fair, government ministers do not seem to have indulged in the same kind of silly partisan knockabout as Boris, whose comments so badly fail the test of treating democratic protest with respect, on which Stuart White blogged so well here on Saturday night. (Credit to Tory policing minister Nick Herbert whose sensible statement clearly distinguished support for peaceful protes and condemning violence, saying that “The policing of the main rally shows how peaceful protest can be supported when the organisers work with the police”).

Of course, the Bullingdon boys indulged in violent antics for no cause greater than the nihilistic thrill of smashing the glass. I am not convinced that much more can be said of those given the rather lofty title of “anarchists” in reports of Saturday’s violence.

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Reader comments


It’s hardly for those who support Mr Miliband, who from a non-political university life has emerged as the biggest student politician of all, to accuse others of student politics.

Well at least Boris appears to have grown up.

Unlike those who witter on about “understanding” the violence, even though, according to the Guardian poll the day before the march, 57% believe the cuts are about right or are not going far enough.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/mar/25/voters-cuts-coalition-poll

The millionaire Old Etonian and former violent thug Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has got some nerve. Surely claiming that Miliband is “satisfied” with the violence is libellous?

Of course 57 per cent of people agree with the cuts. So far most have not happened and the effect on them has not been felt. More than that, though, the argument for the cuts has never been heard, nor have its opponents been given the chance to show how flawed it is. From the start, the BBC and other media created a narrative in which the cuts were “inevitable”. From the moment of the bank bail-out no alternative strategy was voiced and the reasons for the cuts were given in the form of a risibly misleading comparison to household budgets. Having lodged that false notion in people’s heads, the battle was won.

The hooligan youth of Bullingdon Club members at Oxford is not the only buried narrative in the dark histories of Conservative leaders .

Try this for the admitted daily binge drinking habits during the youth of William Hague in the wild lands of South Yorkshire:

“Conservative leader William Hague has admitted drinking up to 14 pints of beer a day as a teenager.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/871543.stm

But then although William Hague didn’t attend Eton on his way to Oxford, he did go to the next best place, the Wath comprehensive school from which many alumni emerge speaking with similar accents.

Harold Macmillan (PM 1957-63) did go to Eton. Few now recall the unusual dimension of his marriage to Lady Dorothy Macmillan:
http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article6374107.ece

5 – Um, Bob much as I’m sure we all appreciate your dipping into the archives what precisely is the relevance of Lady Macmillan’s affair with Boothby?

@6: “Um, Bob much as I’m sure we all appreciate your dipping into the archives what precisely is the relevance of Lady Macmillan’s affair with Boothby?”

As mentioned, I’m fascinated with the buried narratives in the dark histories of Conservative leaders.

There are some colourful narratives about Anthony Eden too, which are quite extraordiary for a political party which proclaims its perennial commitment to family values. And then there is also the narrative about John Major and Edwina Currie.

7 – it’s hardly a buried narrative. The Boothby affair has been widely known about for decades (Bob Boothby was hardly discreet). And it’s a bit unpleasant to pin blame on it to Macmillan, who was distraught by the affair.

There are some colourful narratives about Anthony Eden too, which are quite extraordiary for a political party which proclaims its perennial commitment to family values. And then there is also the narrative about John Major and Edwina Currie.

Politicians had extra-marital affairs? Say it ain’t so Joe!

If you look hard enough you can create a narrative of personal disfunctionality about virtually all British Prime Ministers, of all parties.

So Mr Johnson had a stupid youth. He did not however seek to justify this in the name of a cause did he?

It seems an odd moral criticism – that someone who did something stupid when younger (been there, done that, albeit not with a bunch of well-dressed public school kids) cannot criticise someone else for tacitly supporting a bunch of thugs doing something stupid.

It’s kind of like saying that someone who drove too fast in their youth can’t now criticise the speed limit. Despite the fact they are a different person now, and may have different ideas.

Now if Mr Johnson was still smashing windows with flowerpots, you might have an argument. But at best what has happened here is that you have equated the violence of protestors on Saturday with the violence of the Bullingdon Club – and whilst I am happy to accept that, are you sure that is what you want to do?

Tim J,

Wierdly, despite his smile Tony Blair always seemed quite functional…

So I’m told:
“”We got drunk, trashed the Ritz & then went down Piccadilly to loot a few items from Fortnums” Boris Johnson Autobiography in reference to the Bullingdon Club 1986″

12. Flowerpower

The Bullingdon Club had a rule – when they trashed a place, they took out their wallets and paid for the damage. Perhaps the TUC would now care to do likewise.

10 – well, I did say ‘virtually all’! Although towards the end of his time in office there was no shortage of pseudo-medical analysis that he had gone mad with power. I believe Dr David Owen wrote a book about it…

These Tories think that it alright to accuse someone ( Ed Miliband ) off having Evil Thoughts to try and deceitfully discredit him !

Boris Johnson and other Tories accused Ken Livingstone and others of corruption and syphonying of money from City Hall Funds without evidence just before the last London Mayoral Election to gain votes and to discredit Ken Livingstone but after that election and once Boris Johnson became Mayor for London the inquiry into those False and Misleading claims found Ken Livingston and others innocent on all counts.

The Tories in this Coalition made many election pledges and promises before the last General Election that turned out to be deceitful lies, for example no intention of raising VAT, protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in society, the list goes on.

Boris Johnson and others in the Tory Ranks used to think that a good night out consisted of drunkeness and smashing up other peoples property but they accuse people that are angry and lash out because of their inability to stop injustices are Thugs, Hooligans and criminals. The fact is Boris Johnson and others are no different but the difference is the Tories done it for fun !

All Tories appear to think that it is alright to deceive and lie to the Nation for gain whether it before an Election or after !

If I remember correctly The Ex Anti Terror Chief Bob Quick said publicly that the Tories/Conservatives were corrupt and look what happened to him !

I personally believe from all the evidence that there is something Dark and Sinister about the Tories/Conservatives and that they are unfit to Govern this country because they are completely deceitful and utter liars and Not to be Trusted ever !

15. Arthur Seaton

“when they trashed a place, they took out their wallets and paid for the damage.”

Shame the bankers didn’t do that after trashing our economy.

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 2 cjcjc

“Well at least Boris appears to have grown up.”

Agreed. I don’t see that his misdemeanours as a young’un are particularly relevant here.

I personally believe from all the evidence that there is something Dark and Sinister about the Tories/Conservatives and that they are unfit to Govern this country because they are completely deceitful and utter liars and Not to be Trusted ever !

What this site really needs is a green ink font.

Arthur Seaton,

Shame the bankers didn’t do that after trashing our economy.

What about the politicians in charge? Or those fueling the consumer boom by borrowing recklessly (says a mortgage holder…)? Should they take out their wallets and pay as well?

The bankers did not deliberately wreck the economy you know – in fact, despite what some right-wing idiots believe, neither did the government of the time. It was a clear case of good (or not – your choice) people cocking things up…

The bankers did not deliberately wreck the economy you know

You sure?

20. Planeshift

“So Mr Johnson had a stupid youth. He did not however seek to justify this in the name of a cause did he?”

I think the point here that needs to be made is that it is one rule for the upper classes, and another for the working classes. A working class kid who got his kicks from smashing places up would have asbos, criminal convictions and a probable jail term once the behaviour was repeated. This would be enough to deny them a career in many proffessions, including in all likelyhood parliament. A similar situation exists for those who experiment with drugs (as most of the front benches seem to have done). Upper class kids get high, knowing that rehab and expensive lawyers will save them from prison if the worst comes to the worst. Working class kids get prison, and no prospect of employability.

There is also a difference between those who admit their behaviour was wrong, and those who don’t. AFAIK Boris still regards bullingdon as merely youthful enjoyment. (and if you’ve ever seen the have I got news for you episode about a decade ago, you’ll know it wasn’t a one off)

Sunny,

Pretty positive on bankers not wrecking the economy deliberately – it would hardly be a sensible business strategy (and perhaps more obviously so than investing in complex derivatives was). Stupidity and short-sightedness is not actually deliberate you know…

Equally sure the government did not set out to wreck the economy, since that would both be stupid and also undermine their legacy.

And I’m pretty certain about the consumers as well – albeit they are the most likely group to do something like this deliberately, as they don’t have to answer to others for their actions. But in general, I doubt those that overextended their borrowing (and thus provided the debts that seem to have been traded and insured) were setting out to destroy the economy either, rather than buy that nice house or those must-have shoes (do people really say ‘must-have’?).

Planeshift,

The point in the original post was that there was different rules for different classes? It was well hidden then…

Re-reading the original post, I probably misread Sunder’s tone with my original comment though – I think we may actually be pretty much in agreement about the fact Saturday’s violence was much the same thing as the stupidity in which Mr Johnson engaged.

23. Planeshift

Thats because it was my point, not that of the OP ;-)

21. Watchman

Pretty positive on bankers not wrecking the economy deliberately…

Stupidity and short-sightedness is not actually deliberate you know…

…but Greed is.

BenM,

But if you are greedy and smart, you keep the economy going. Greedy and stupid is still not deliberate – it is stupidity that makes the greed damage the economy, not greed per se (albeit greed is more likely to induce stupidity).

This applies to bankers, government and consumers also. But you do have to prove greed applied, because stupidity is obvious (we can see the results) but greed is a value judgement on what inspired the actions.

@8: “If you look hard enough you can create a narrative of personal disfunctionality about virtually all British Prime Ministers, of all parties.”

You could say all British political leaders but then they didn’t all proclaim their enduring commitment to family values. Anyway, from the archives, it seems Lady Dorothy’s affair went on for decades to the extent where Macmillan was effectively engaged in wife-sharing although little of that was known at the time by the public at large. With a premiership that lasted from 1957 through to 1963, a chunk of the press painted him as Super Mac.

‘when they trashed a place, they took out their wallets and paid for the damage’

Oh, That’s alright then…did they tidy up the mess? Or was that left to some wage slave?

No it was the wage slaves.

The same ones who were clearing up the West End on Sunday.

@16 Well given that the misdemeanours of young’uns are being used to gloss over and ignore a march by many hundreds of thousands of people, it turns out that apparently said misdemeanours are in fact very important indeed.

30. Chaise Guevara

@ 29 Cylux

…which I also disapprove of.

The point is that it’s not that helpful to try to dismiss an opponent by pointing out that they haven’t lived a perfect life. Especially if the actions you’re trying to smear them with happened back when they were a callow youth.

@30 I didn’t think he was being dismissed so much as having his hypocrisy pointed out.

You could say all British political leaders but then they didn’t all proclaim their enduring commitment to family values.

I doubt there are all that many Prime Ministers that don’t claim to be in favour of family values. I suspect even Ted Heath did.

Anyway, from the archives, it seems Lady Dorothy’s affair went on for decades to the extent where Macmillan was effectively engaged in wife-sharing although little of that was known at the time by the public at large. With a premiership that lasted from 1957 through to 1963, a chunk of the press painted him as Super Mac.

Yes, Dorothy Macmillan had a long affair with Bob Boothby. Equally, the press then were far less willing to publish stories about politicians’ private lives, although the affair was common knowledge at the time. Beyond that, I’m not sure what point you’re making. That having an unfaithful wife makes him a hypocrite? That an unhappy home life means that he should be regarded as a poor Prime Minister, despite objectively being among the most successful post-war Prime Ministers? Or is it just a prurient bit of finger-pointing?

33. Chaise Guevara

@ 31 Cylux

Fine, but I don’t think it’s hypocritical either. You can’t assume someone maintains the same values throughout their entire lives. Johnson grew up a bit. Good for him. If he was calling for the troublemakers to face lengthy sentences while still excusing his own crimes as youthful high spirits, I’d feel differently.

None of this detracts from the fact that he’s written an exceptionally stupid article, of course.

@32: “Yes, Dorothy Macmillan had a long affair with Bob Boothby. Equally, the press then were far less willing to publish stories about politicians’ private lives, although the affair was common knowledge at the time. Beyond that, I’m not sure what point you’re making. That having an unfaithful wife makes him a hypocrite?”

The affair may have been common knowledge among political pundits in the media at the time but it wasn’t among the population at large or even among the political literati. But then as the TPA pointed out a short while ago, Britain’s electorate of 44 millions are managed by a political oligarchy amounting to only about 29,000.

Macmillan’s marital tolerance looks commendable, especially with the paternity doubts regarding one of the children of his marriage. What sticks in the throat is the incessant harping by the Cons on family values – particularly with the narratives for Eden and then for John Major. Remember all that pitching a few years back about family values, unmarried mothers and single parents from the subsequently divorced John Redwood? Was that first cleared with the Conservative whip?

@21

Pretty positive on bankers not wrecking the economy deliberately – it would hardly be a sensible business strategy…

You are joking, right? Building a bubble until it reaches the brink of collapse, short-selling while the shares hold a high value, using your existing capital to shield you from the effects of the collapse and buying the remnants at knock-down prices to start it all again has been the modus operandi of the investment class since time immemorial!

What are “family values” anyway?
Is it a special set of values that childless couples/singletons lack or something?
Or is it a dogwhistle term designed to evoke images of homeliness and apple pie?

37. Chaise Guevara

@ 36

I know it USED to be an excuse to repress homosexuals. Maybe the world’s moved on.

(P.S. dogwhistle gets my vote.)

@36: “What are ‘family values’ anyway?”

That’s a good question. As with the Big Soc notion, the expectation was that most of the electorate would feel a warm glow about the Conservative commitment to family values and cold anger towards all those nasty lefties promoting the causes of unmarried mothers and single parents.

I fully agree that the environment provided by stable families with two parents is the best way of bringing up children but it does not help the prospects of children in one-parent families if they are made the target of Orwellian hate campaigns for the sake of gaining political advantage.

The stark fact is that verging on half of all children are born to unmarried parents.

39. cicero 101

After reading and hearing some very predictable fall out from the right of the political spectrum, it is a bit disconcerting about their short memories. From Domnic Lawson to Boris Johnson, I seem to recall a hearty cheer when it came to the Countryside Freedom March which was attended by various ‘cuddly country groups’ and decended into chaos and violence outside parliament square. A policeman lost his eye, police vehicles were trashed etc but that was okay because it was against Tony Blair.
What this lot don’t get is to dismiss 400k people marching is not a smart political move even if you try to pigeon hole them as the ‘usual suspects’. Even if we have a bout of the usual navel gazing over who is the ‘purest’ when it comes to challenging dogma ultimately ordinary people will decide how this series of policies mutates.
And at least Ed Milliband turned up and acknowledged 400,000 people had a grievance. Cameron’s reaction was to up sticks and toddle off to Chequers.
As the Sunday Mirror said in a headline that had resonance – ‘This is your Big Society in action, Dave’. Will he have the balls to recognise it. I’m not holding my breath.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  2. Clint David Samuel

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  3. Political Scrapbook

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  4. Sam Broughton

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  5. Susan

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  6. Ferret Dave

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  7. Andrew Griffiths

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  8. Roger O Thornhill

    Wanker. RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  9. Gemma Handford

    RT @unslugged: Wanker. RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  10. paurina

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  11. mitya

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  12. Jane Phillips

    “@libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://t.co/D0aEDEt”

  13. Nick

    RT @libcon Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  14. Hano

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  15. Steve Trow

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  16. Pam Smith

    RT @libcon (via @psbook) Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  17. James Iain McKay

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  18. Disrespect Sells: The Media and Protest « Left Outside

    [...] Disrespect Sells: The Media and Protest Paul is once again regularly huffing on blogospheric crackpipe. I for one welcome his relapse. Stuart White recently commented on the aftermath and media coverage of the May 26th protests in London, the TUC’s March for the Alternative. The media have, perhaps understandably, focussed on the violence of a minority of protesters – urged on by the witterings of ex-thugs. [...]

  19. Andy Bean

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  20. uriel emil

    RT @libcon: Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it http://bit.ly/hdBXeq

  21. wmd-gnome

    #ukuncut Boris Johnson at uni http://bit.ly/hdBXeq Typical Tory student ? #UK #outoftouch

  22. Pants on fire | Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service

    [...] been met with delight, if only because it evidences that inane hypocrisy in which the man revels. Sunder Katwala, at Liberal Conspiracy, says it as well as any: Mayor of London Boris Johnson badly overstepped the mark [...]

  23. Rachel Hubbard

    Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/7ZqEK

  24. Daniel Pitt

    Boris Johnson previously supported student violence http://t.co/jcAVEHk #ConDemNation

  25. NoBigGovDuh

    RT @myinfamy: Boris Johnson previously supported student violence http://t.co/jcAVEHk #ConDemNation

  26. Miss Lucy

    Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/jM56ZzT via @libcon

  27. Mike Child

    Boris Johnson was for student violence before he was against it | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/oI4C2bY via @libcon

  28. David Cameroon

    Boris was quite right to point out that the school a lad goes to can turn him into a violent yob: http://t.co/eMkgoWZ4

  29. Rod Bell

    RT @davecameroon: Boris was quite right to point out that the school a lad goes to can turn him into a violent yob: http://t.co/m0GuPH8D

  30. Darren McGaughay

    Boris was quite right to point out that the school a lad goes to can turn him into a violent yob: http://t.co/eMkgoWZ4





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