Most of us have met Boris Johnson, in some form or another. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johson embodies a lot of typical traits we are familiar with from upper class and rather bumbling characters such as P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, or perhaps more accurately a mélange of The Fast Show favourites Rowley Birkin Q.C. and The Historian. Educated to, one might hope a very high standard, at Eton and Oxford, he attained an upper second class degree in Literae Humaniores – Classics to the rest of us. Johnson has written more than ten books, with The Dream of Rome also produced as a BBC History documentary. He has worked as a journalist with The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and as both a journalist and editor with The Spectator. He is by no means a dunce, however, former Conservative Prime Minister John Major was dead right this weekend to call him a court jester.
Now to add some much needed context to Major’s turn of phrase here is more of a direct quote:
…a very engaging and charming court jester…All his instincts have been as a One Nation Tory, he seems to be drifting away from that and I’d like to see him get back to it…
John Major on Boris Johnson, The Andrew Marr Show, BBC One, June 2016
A far cry, as we can see, from a full-on assault on Johnson’s integrity or intellect, as seemed to be implied by the reaction of several UK media outlets well known to be more inclined towards the sensational:
Aside from how hilarious the mental image we are all now entertaining of John Major attempting to both maul and/or savage Boris Johnson, the charming, amiable, jester comparison does hold up.
We can take for granted that on top of delving deep into the Argonautica of Gaius Valerius Flaccus, or (heaven forfend!) the Annals of Varro Philioverres, that peerless education Johnson so readily scatters across his populist vox-pops would have also included plenty of the “immortal bard,” – that’s William Shakespeare to the rest of us.
It is always the jester who is more clued in than he appears, better informed, and better able to predict the next turn of events. In some cases in fact it is the court jester through seemingly incoherent blustering speech who prophesies real and typically tragic outcomes. Scrupulously avoided here however is the idea of “Clown as Truth-teller,” for fear it might imply that every time Johnson acts silly that he is telling the truth, something he was sacked from both his post as shadow culture secretary and position as vice chairman of the Conservative Party in 2004 for not doing.
You see, the most conspicuous things about Johnson are not the most important. While we have been confused, distracted or even entertained by his hair, his bicycle and his frankly often bizarre use of a vocabulary, so broad as to risk redundancy, he has been at work. Over the last few years, and both The Dream of Rome and The Churchill Factor have played a huge role in this, Johnson has positioned himself as a euro-sceptic figurehead, the most prominent and influential voice on the EU in Britain.
Naturally, given his experience he is more media savvy than Nigel Farage, who no doubt must envy Johnson’s central position in the current Brexit debate. We must pity poor Nigel really; for him a UK exit from the EU is an actual, personally held belief and political policy, for Johnson however the real war is the war for supremacy at the steering wheel of Britain. The battle over the UK’s membership of the EU is for this fan of both Emperors of Rome and Lords of the Admiralty is just an ideal arena of hostilities, merely a convenient theatre.
Indeed whether it be Hamlet’s gravediggers, Macbeth’s porter or Othello’s clown, jesters have an uncanny ability to survive against the odds. At the end of the night, when the stage is littered with bloodied corpses you can be pretty sure the jester got away without a scratch, not unlike Johnson himself who has weathered storms of controversy over everything from homophobia to extra-marital affairs. So next time Boris Johnson gets stuck on a zip wire holding two British flags, or passionately addresses most of his conference speech to a brick, remember you were warned, the jester knows, the jester is no fool.
The Butterfly Rebellion