Although it’s deeply unfashionable to say so – particularly if you work in the media – I like Boris Johnson tremendously. I’m sure I’m not alone. I like him chiefly because he’s unfailingly funny. Every time I hear him on the radio or see him on the television, he says or does something that brightens up my day. Most recently it was his comments after President Macron’s hissy fit over AUKUS – ‘donnez-moi un break’ – but he’s been doing it for years.
I believe there are two types of people in the world: people who are funny and people who are not. It goes without saying people who are not funny are often deeply mistrustful of those who are. I only trust people who are funny. I don’t think this is a particularly unusual method of appraising people. In fact, I think it’s a fairly standard British outlook on life.
But Boris’s ability to make people laugh is used against him endlessly by his critics. His jokes, they never tire of saying, denote lack of seriousness – they’re evidence that to him it’s all just a game, or that he’s conning us. Only last week, my colleague Nick Cohen was lamenting in these pages how Boris’s supporters ‘don’t mind being fooled by the PM, because he lets them in on the gag.’ He went on to ask: ‘how can the country be so stupid?’
But the opposite is surely closer to the truth. To my mind, Boris’s jokes demonstrate he cares profoundly – that he’s thought sufficiently deeply about what he is saying to be able to offer perspective that is both fresh and funny, and also that he possesses enough respect for his audience to have framed his argument in a way that will bring them with him most effectively. It would be much, much, easier not to be funny.