It is such a mistake for senior Tory politicians and journalists — Ken Clarke and Max Hastings are the latest — to complain that Boris Johnson ‘isn’t serious’. It is because he isn’t serious that people like him. And since we live in postmodern politics, his lack of seriousness is seen by his fans to qualify him for the highest office. After all, those politicians who consider themselves serious — the great majority — are not saying anything seriously interesting, and Mr Unserious Johnson remains the only Conservative to win an important electoral contest (twice) since 1992. It is unwise of them to draw attention to Boris’s greatest asset. It would be more cunning to say that he isn’t funny.
So it is left to the Mayor to launch the best criticism of himself. At the ConservativeHome rally in his honour on Monday night, Boris told us that he was ‘the biggest harvester of undeserved credit’. It is true. The following morning, the Daily Mail ran the headline ‘Rock Star Reception For Boris As He Says: Bring Back Grammar Schools’. I was there, and I can witness that he said nothing of the sort. Put on the spot by a pro-grammar school Asian, who had moved out of east London in search of better schools, Boris hummed and hawed, and muttered that he was not necessarily against selective education. The Mail clutched at this straw. I heard one enthusiast here tell the BBC that Boris has ‘je ne sais quoi: he’s honest; he’s bombastic.’ Personally, I would not attribute either of those qualities to the great man; but just now he is all things to all men, and that, as the originator of the phrase in the New Testament points out, is a good thing to be.
So much attention focuses on Boris that less is paid to the sponsors of his rally.