Tom Goodenough Tom Goodenough

There’s more to Boris’s ‘mugwump’ insult than meets the eye

Boris Johnson has entered the election campaign with a bang. The Foreign Secretary was being squirrelled away, some were saying, after a number of ministers apparently suggested to Theresa May that she should sideline Boris to avoid alienating voters. It’s clear that’s not going to be happening. Today, Boris is front and centre calling the leader of the opposition a ‘mugwump’. In the Sun, Boris said that some may think Corbyn is harmless – a ‘mutton-headed old mugwump’ – but they’d be wrong to hold that view. The po-faced will say this is proof that Johnson is up to his old tricks and we shouldn’t fall for it; shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has done just that, calling the comments ‘crass’. She’s right; it’s childish. And yes, its also nonsense: a mugwump is someone who remains aloof or independent. Of all the charges to level at Corbyn, this seems far from the most obvious. But like it or not, it’s a simple truth that people are more likely to be talking this morning about mugwumps than the housing policies Labour was unveiling today in a flailing bid to win over voters.

As ever with Boris, there’s also much more to his silly words than meets the eye. The mugwump insult is a cover for Boris to repeat the Tories’ main line of attack during this election: that Britain would not be safe if Corbyn gets the keys to Number 10. In his article in the Sun, tucked away beneath his comments that Corbyn is not a ‘benign Islingtonian herbivore’, are the same Crosby buzzwords Theresa May parroted ten times during PMQs yesterday and a dozen times during a speech the day before: ‘strong’ and ‘stable’. To avoid boring voters, the Tories need to find ways of repeating this message repeatedly  in different ways over the coming weeks.

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