What’s wrong with editing your own Wikipedia entry, anyway? I’ve never touched mine, but only because I’m scared people would find out, which would be bad, although for reasons which elude me. I don’t even know why I’ve got a Wikipedia entry, actually. It was built in 2005, at 1.12a.m., by somebody who appears to have been at Birmingham University. Since then, it has been a lurking presence in my online life, like some chick you’ve never met who goes around telling people she’s your girlfriend.
This past week, Grant Shapps, the new co-chairman of the Conservative party, has been ridiculed in numerous papers for editing his. There wasn’t anything ¬≠particularly bad in there beforehand. It didn’t mention, for example, the way he’s a keen karaoke rapper (which is definitely true because I’ve seen him at it in a room above a nightclub in Birmingham) or the way he was born with a scaly green tail (which probably isn’t true because I’ve just made it up, although I might add it and see how long it lasts). Rather, it just said he had four O-levels, when in reality he apparently had five.
Funny sort of scandal, but there you go. A page in the Observer, a page in the Daily Telegraph, a page in the Mirror and two pages in the Daily Mail later, that’s who he is, the Minister Who Edited His Own Wikipedia Page. True, Wikipedia does generally frown upon self-editing (Philip Roth wrote in the New Yorker last week about the site refusing to accept him as an authority on the intention behind one of his own novels) but the rationale behind this has always struck me as being a touch off. I mean, who is more likely to be balanced about me, for example? Actually me? Or the person I’ve never met in Birmingham, who is thinking about me at 1.12a.m.? Close, I’d say.
There are some people who involve themselves in their own Wikipedia pages quite openly, such as a famous journalist I won’t name, because whenever you write about him he writes about that and the whole thing swiftly becomes exhausting. Oh, OK, it’s Peter Hitchens. This sort of practice should be beyond reproach, especially as your online detractors will feel no such compulsion toward transparency.
Somehow, it comes across as looking a bit undignified. The done thing seems to be to maintain an air of simply being far too busy to edit your own Wikipedia page, even if you plainly aren’t. I mean, look at me, for God’s sake. I’ve just written 400 words about it. I’m going on there right now, to call myself the finest mind of my generation and an ex-boyfriend of Cindy Crawford and make out I’ve got an OBE. Don’t tell a soul.
OK, look, I don’t want a fight but if people are serious about this Boris Johnson thing, as they seem to be, then I must insist upon a bit more intellectual rigour. Because right now his supporters seem to have two wholly different reasons for wanting him in charge of the Conservative party, and they are conflating them. One makes sense. One doesn’t.
Reason one is the idea that Boris is so charismatic and so adored that he could win an election where David Cameron could not. The notion grates with some (imagine the bile in the Guardian, if there still is one by then) but I daresay that if he could find a seat and manage to spend the next three years not insulting anybody, having any more love children, or assisting any more fraudsters who want to beat up journalists, this is not, in fact, wholly unlikely.
It is, however, distinct from reason two, which is the idea that Boris should win this election because he would move the party to the right. This is just fanciful. Aside from the Ukip fringe, people to the right of the Conservative party tend to vote Conservative anyway. Or, to put it another way, a move to the right would make the vast bulk of people who don’t vote Conservative less — not more — likely to do so. The Tories going to the right is like Labour going from Blair to Brown: electoral suicide.
This is not a profound point. I’m ceaselessly baffled why so many Conservatives fail to grasp it. As far as I can make out, the Conservative party has only once in modern history ditched an unpopular leader in office and won the next election, and that was with the centrist move from Margaret Thatcher to John Major in 1990. In a sensible world, you change your leader as a concession to democracy, not to challenge it head on.
Even if Boris is the great blond hope, then, he’s also a Trojan horse; smuggling beneath that thatch a whole political stance the electorate wouldn’t countenance from anybody else. Doing to the whole country, really, what Tony Blair did to the Labour party. It might even actually work. But if that’s what furious right-wing Tory people are after then, hey, they should at least be honest with themselves.
Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 15 September 2012