When I posted on Facebook a picture of me standing next to Boris Johnson, I expected a few likes and probably a few more harsh comments. What I didn’t anticipate were the hundreds of words of ranting vitriol posted by friends, some of whom I had known since school.
My picture was harmless enough: a selfie, quickly snapped when Boris visited my hometown of Sevenoaks on Monday. It wasn't a ringing endorsement, or even an approval of him. And it offered no comment on what he stands for. It was simply a picture of us squinting at the camera with the caption: “kicked off the week with this guy, our next PM to be?”
The first few comments were along the lines of “Well, let’s hope your week improves!” and “Oh no, not you as well?”; people expressing that they didn’t think much of my choice of Monday morning companion, but with a laughing eye-roll attached to show no hard feelings were intended.
But within a few hours, the Boris bashers moved in. These people questioned why an “intelligent person” like me would support someone like Boris. They said how “saddened beyond words” they were to see me “happily posting” pictures like this.
Soon, the floodgates opened. More ‘friends’ – and I use the word cautiously, as some of them have since ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook, and have even cancelled future socials that were in the diary – piled in to tell me just how dreadful Boris is. Nothing they posted about Boris’s shortcomings was news to me, and I didn’t feel that I owed anyone an explanation or an apology. So I kept schtum.
The same can't be said for my mum, who is not a natural Tory voter. She logged on and waded into the argument, laying into my detractors and demanding evidence for their accusations of Boris as a bigot, charlatan and journalist-threatener, and challenging them on why they were attacking me just because I held different views to theirs. The responses were far from convincing.
I’m still the same person that these friends have known for 20, 30, 40 odd years, and yet the current post-referendum climate of intolerance from those that preach liberalism is utterly shocking.
What exactly is it about Boris that incites such hysterical opprobrium? His poshness? His love life perhaps? If it's the latter, why doesn't Jeremy Corbyn, who has been married three times and divorced twice, get the same stick? Is it because Boris has, on occasion, bent the truth? Show me a politician who hasn’t. Does his charisma and ability to get people onside wind people up? In my opinion, this is exactly what the UK needs right now to lead us out of the doldrums.
Yes, I’m a Tory. Yes, I happen to want Boris to become PM. But I would never unfriend someone or refuse to meet or speak with them again because they’d posted a picture of themselves standing alongside a politician I disliked. So why are some people so afraid of having contact with those with different political views?
Since Monday, I’ve had plenty of private messages from friends shocked by the level of preachy hostility that came my way for having the audacity to post my selfie with Boris. But the only pity is they clearly don’t feel able to call out intolerance publicly. Only my septuagenarian mum had the courage for that.