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EU Referendum: the Johnson disease

2016-03-29 06:00:06

The one thing you can guarantee about the establishment is that they look after their own. Arguably, that is one of the reasons why they are the establishment – they have that insiders' willingness to defend themselves against all comers.

Even allowing for that, though, the affection being shown for a son of the establishment, millionaire Boris Johnson seems to transcend even the loyalty of the clan. For a man whose full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, this affection approaches a level of morbid pathology that is close to disease, defying any imaginable logic.

The latest example of this comes in yesterday's Mail from Dominic Lawson, writing of his days when he was editor of The Sunday Telegraph. Well known for his tyrannical style, with his screaming rants bringing grown men to the point of tears and making the newsroom a living Hell - when the man deigned to turn up - Lawson recalls when he too was "betrayed" by Johnson yet, "like everyone else, I can't help forgiving him".

Recounted in Sonia Purnell's book, in January 2001 Johnson published in the Spectator a claim by the "renegade spy" Richard Tomlinson that Lawson was an MI6 agent, rejoicing in the code-name "Smallbrow".

In fact, the allegation was by no means new, having been "revealed" in the House of Commons under parliamentary privilege in late 1998. It was reported widely in the media at the time, including in the Independent.

Nevertheless, according to Purnell, Lawson was "not impressed at this gross disloyalty" to a friend who had given him his first political column, and doubly so because Johnson had failed to warn him. Writes Purnell, citing Lawson:
He knew me, we were friendly – it was intensely annoying. And apart from anything else, if you're running a newspaper with foreign correspondents in strange parts of the world, as I was then, it's potentially a physical threat to them if it's believed they're working for British intelligence. You can imagine how angry I was. I rang him up, but there was just this sense of "Never mind, Dommers, I just did it for a laugh". And the thing is that because in some strange way he is adorable, one forgives him… After a week of being furious, I didn't give it another moment's thought.
Aside from the fact that he was probably vastly over-stating the threat to Telegraph staff – as he had been outed years previously – if journalists had really been at risk, then this says a great deal for Lawson that he was prepared to be so easily forgiving about Johnson's "betrayal".

But then Lawson, who never needed an excuse to be singularly unpleasant to those around him, is just another example of the seemingly helpless establishment patsies who have fallen under the spell of this man. Besotted with him, they seem prepared to forgive any amount of abuse and professional misconduct.

Even this weekend we saw an article in the Mail on Sunday from one of Johnson's former mistresses, Petronella Wyatt, supposedly spilling the beans on him. And if there ever was someone who could savage this travesty of a man who treated her so abysmally, it is this woman.

Yet, all we got from Wyatt was an affectionate romp through the past, as she tells us that Johnson was greatly governed by his desire to be loved by others. "Like many loners, he has a compensating need to be liked. I sometimes think his ambition is a consequence of this. There is an element of Boris that wants to be prime minister because the love of his family and Tory voters is not enough. He wants to be loved by the entire world", she trills.

According to Wyatt, a man whom we and many others have dubbed a "serial liar" has merely "an elastic relationship with the truth". But, she says: "it is usually harmless". Interestingly, though, the Times diary notes that Johnson and Wyatt "must be cut from the same cloth".

When "Petsy" was starting out in journalism, as a diarist on The Daily Telegraph, she was notoriously unreliable. Her mother once phoned to say that she couldn't make it in to the office as it was "too windy". On another occasion Ma Wyatt called to say that Petronella was unwell. "But she's here", came the reply. "Oh, that’s right", mother replied. "It's Wednesday that she'll be unwell".

To those in the self-regarding bubble who believe themselves to be Britain's élite, I'm sure such jolly japes are thought to be terribly spiffing. Even the Mail thinks nothing of peddling its own brand of lies to protect its chosen one. But the rest of us in the real world have to expend time and energy cleaning up the messes left behind by the slime. Meanwhile, we face having our referendum hijacked by the serial liar that is Johnson, a disreputable man who sees our campaign as nothing more than a springboard to further his career.

But these people are not an élite. They are a disease on the body politic, a cancer gradually destroying our society from within, personified by this loathsome creature with the tousled hair and the "boyish smile" that the establishment so loves to love.

I find it frankly astonishing that otherwise sensible, hard-bitten and even cynical "eurosceptics" fall for this man, and even speak out in his defence. And there are those who tell me that, since he is so popular, we should get behind him and welcome his intervention in the campaign.

Those who trot out the latter argument forget that, at the height of his powers, Adolf Hitler was wildly popular. Women, in particular, swooned over him. Hard men melted when exposed to his charm – and yes, I did say "charm", which was said to have had a hypnotic quality.

While I would not begin to suggest that Hitler and Johnson were of the same demeanour, there is in both that hypnotic charm and a complete amorality which permits a detachment from the normal rules of society which govern the rest of us.

For all that, I am utterly indifferent to Mr Johnson. In common with a very few, I am immune to his "charms" and see him for what he is – a charlatan who should be shunned by society. But I was prepared to ignore him until he stepped on my turf, the "leave" campaign for which we have all been working so hard.

If morality and common decency mean anything, we must reject this man. I don't really care if he eventually ends up being even more popular than Hitler. Such is the weakness of humanity that this is eminently possible. But he is not going to take over as leader of the "leave" campaign without me lodging the strongest of protests, and my registering continued rejection of any attempts of this man to represent my views.

If we allow this disgusting man to take over, we will lose this referendum. And we have the lessons of history behind us, as to what happens when a nation suspends its judgement of a "leader". So if Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson - "man of the people" - then goes on to become prime minister, we will deserve everything we get.