The real threat to Boris from yesterday’s car-crash interview

8:40 am - March 25th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    

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James Forsyth at the Spectator says it will take more than Eddie Mair to stop Boris.

Writing as someone who’s never really fancied Boris Johnson’s chances at the top, I’m pleased the Tory right will continue flying the flag for him.

There are however two ways in which I think yesterday’s interview was significant.

Firstly, it could open the floodgates. Interviewers have usually treated Boris with kid gloves on the basis it makes for more fun viewing. But the Eddie Mair interview yesterday set a precedent, and may make journalists realise it makes for better viewing to make Boris squirm and fall apart.

The questions about his past were just the start – there is plenty more they can ask about his u-turn over policies for London, and the lies he told during the re-election campaign.

The second and more important point is yesterday illustrated how hopeless Boris is under scrutiny. He already fumbles and fudges through explaining himself every week:

At Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall, the best of them repeatedly leave Boris Johnson looking just as bad as Eddie Mair did this morning. Yet those evasions and calamities normally get almost no attention. What’s made Eddie Mair questions really have impact is that they were carried out on national TV.

As Adam Bienkov points out – the Boris strategy has been to avoid the glare of the media and restrict himself to quid-pro-quo puff-pieces with the Evening Standard.

I said the same in a piece for the Guardian last year:

Johnson has been given a free pass for so long, he’s used to it. He has the media eating out of his hands; he makes false claims about knife crimes without challenge; he promised more access as mayor but drastically cut the number of open press conferences. He even wastes money at city hall and gets away with it.

The Tory right can carry on pretending that Boris is their saviour for all I care – but yesterday showed why the Left has less to fear.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

I watched the interview and thought BJ came across refreshingly like… a human being. Flawed, like us all, but definitely human.

Of course whether a human being would be any good as a PM is a different question.

Absolutely this. Boris does OK in London, where he’s friends with local media, where he has executive authority, and hence where the factions he works with have nothing much to gain from monstering him.

If he were instead dealing with the herd of cats that is the national party, with the ability to throw him out through a majority vote at any time, absolute hatred and loathing for each other, the spectre of UKIP, and every national political correspondent being briefed against him every day of the week, he’d melt in the sunlight.

3. Shinsei1967

Sunny’s second point is by far the more important I think.

I don’t think Boris has not faced scrutiny, rather that the scrutiny he has faced has primarily been over his private life rather than his political decisions and successes/failures.

The affairs, the 20 year old misquoting of something to do with Piers Gaveston (yes, the C14th Piers Gaveston) and the non event of the Darius Guppy (illegally taped) phone call are well known. As is the “piccannie” article in the Daily Telegraph and the £300k pa “chicken feed” salary comment. No one seems to care. Or rather, no one who isn’t anti-Boris to begin with, seems to care.

However, his actual political and managerial record is pretty abysmal. That’s what will be his comeuppance. He’s a witty journalist (if his politics and overuse of Latinisms are to your taste) but I can’t imagine many who have ever worked with him think him capable of a Cabinet job let alone being PM.

Boris would be a terrible prime minister and I doubt he’s get seriously considered for the job as Conservative leader. He doesn’t have the kind of seriousness and gravitas for the top job IMO.
His success was also a reaction to what he was up against. Red Ken Livingstone – who was well past his sell by date, what with his employing people like Lee Jasper to be his advisor on policing and race issues.
Boris was a breath of fresh air against that old guff. But that’s as far as it goes. He’s probably not even a good mayor of London.

As for ”putting him under scrutiny” …. that can be used against anyone. It was used spectacularly against Bill Clinton. Who supported the hounding of him for his sexual peccadilloes to that extent?
‘But he lied’ you might say. So he did, but that didn’t mean you were happy with the right wing for having so much fun with it.
If you don’t like these tactics used against ”your side” then don’t revel in them when they are used against your opponents.

Boris has always been a second rate vaudeville act. But he has got away with it because he is protected by Gilligan and the tory pess. And I think in the past because most people have seen him as a harmless comedy act.

His toff accent and his quite deliberate disheveled act has seemed to imply he is a loveable buffoon. Of course that is nonsensical. Why are the frothing right wing so supportive of him? Because they know he is , and believes in the extreme policies they so love. Peel away the facade and Boris is a nasty piece of work.

6. margin4error

Boris is basically useless at thinking on his feet. He is terrible with detail, facts and figures, and he gets flustered and grumpy too easilly.

So his team has done very well at controlling his exposure. To get an interview with him a show has to basically agree not to do politics. And of course they have plenty of friends who can agree that with them.

The team’s problem now is that he said he wants to be PM. After that they can’t protect him. And with one or two such interviews done, it will be hard for other shows now to play softly softly without looking like patsies.

I do find him hugely entertaining and thought Mair’s interview boorish and unnecessarily personal. But…

He was crap at being a junior minister never mind being PM. He ran in London as a charming centrist and had the good fortune to be up against a Labour candidate who had long outstayed his welcome, neverthless nationally he courts the wilder shores of the tory right. This leads to nonsense such as his statments on Europe where he contradicts himself on an almost daily basis. That he is even considered as a possible leader, let alone as King over the water, simply demonstrates how desperate the tories now are.

What car crash interview? I keep hearing this phrase and it seems more like wishful thinking than anything else.

Boris was infinitely preferable to his Labour opponent, the gruesome Livingstone. Not once but twice. Some people seem never to have got over that.

Biscuit: if the interview goes so badly that you end up getting your dad to make a public statement about how the nasty interview man was horrid, it’s fair to call it a car crash.

It appears that a great deal of what Boris has done are simply extensions of what his predecessor had already implemented, for example, cross rail and the Olympics success. It takes more than a few bicycles to make a city first class and world class. Where are his ambitions to get the homeless off the streets and into accomodation? He is shy of increasing the congestion charge in Central London as traffic levels grow and bus timetables suffer running problems as a result. Mr. Johnson does not have the breadth of understanding or outlook to run a populace country of over sixty million souls that needs to find its place in a world of countries that forming new partnerships. The USA and EU countries are forging new links which could also include Canada and Mexico at some future date. He stated that the UK leaving the EU would not be the end of the world, but the UK would be cast adrift would it not. Then again perhaps we could join the Russian Federation instead and the CIS which is a modern day replacement for the USSR? It would be better than being out on a limb.

11. Keith Reeder

M4E, you could’ve stopped after “Boris is basically useless”…

@8. Biscuit

It is natural for the left to attack Boris and try and discredit him. Whether they want to accept it or not, he is by far the biggest threat to them re-entering power.

Sunny can keep telling himself that the left have less to fear, but the reality as he well knows it is that Boris represents the biggest threat to the Labour party. After all he won an election twice in a city that was always Labour territory when these events were already known about to the public.

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