Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

It’s time to pick a side in Boris Johnson’s war on the media

Boris Johnson is the first party leader of the media age. Winston Churchill and Michael Foot wrote extensively. But Johnson is a journalist. Before he went into politics, producing Tory commentary and editing this magazine were the achievements that defined him.

And yet no modern prime minister has shown a greater determination to limit media scrutiny. Whether it is banning ministers from appearing on the Today programme and Good Morning Britain, or banning them and their special advisers from talking to journalists, Johnson is revealing himself to be a brooding suspicious politician, wholly at odds with his cheeky chappie persona. Even when a terrorist attacked civilians on a London street, ministers were “not available” to speak to the public.

I suspect there is a strong element of projection at play. It is because Johnson was a partisan columnist that he is an enemy of press freedom. He assumes all journalists are like him, and that they will twist, distort and censor accordingly.

You can see the same projection in the policing of his colleagues. Just as a general who has seized power in a military coup keeps a close eye on his army to make sure no one else is thinking of using the same tactics against him, so Johnson is determined his ministers can never dream of repeating his tricks.

Johnson won power by exploiting his mastery of the media, which was so assured journalists referred to him as “Boris” – the readers’ and viewers’ friend. He is making sure that potential rivals in Cabinet do not build an independent base by threatening to fire ministers who talk to journalists.

Johnson appealed over the heads of David Cameron and Theresa May to party members. Naturally, he is making sure Conservative ministers cannot do unto him as he did unto Cameron and May.

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