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“Boris Johnson is a genius” – and I’m a banana

September 9, 2017

Currency debasement – silver-plated coin of Trajan Decius (249-251 CE)

I know very little about Lord Harris of Peckham except that he used to make carpets, and when he made his pile, he got interested in education and politics. No doubt it was for services to carpet-making – red ones presumably – that he was knighted, and subsequently invited to join the House of Lords. Nothing to do with his habit of regularly shelling out money to the Conservative Party, of course.

It seems as though he’s disappointed in the current crop of senior Conservatives. In an interview with the London Times, he said that Theresa May is weak, Michael Gove is boring, and that Boris Johnson is “a genius” but lazy.

All of which suggests that rather than helping to set up a chain of academy schools, His Lordship ought to have given a helping hand to Oxford University, the institution that helped to educate May, Gove, Johnson and a goodly number of their predecessors, including David Cameron, author of the Brexit fiasco. Something is clearly amiss with their liberal arts programmes if Oxford continues to produce weaklings and dullards, though they might respond that they are also responsible for the genius that is Boris Johnson.

While I broadly agree with Harris in his assessment of the government’s capabilities, I do wonder about the criteria by which he declares Boris to be a genius. Could it be that he’s impressed by the Foreign Secretary’s wit, so frequently deployed with maladroit quips about prosecco, President Ergogan’s relations with a goat, the “part-Kenyan” Barack Obama and African warriors with “watermelon smiles”?

Perhaps he’s impressed by Johnson’s classical education, which enables the great man to trawl erudite analogies from ancient history and quote Latin and Greek bon mots at the drop of a hat? If so, you would think that he’s also an admirer of the stately hedge fund operator turned MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who regularly tweets in Latin, and who is being touted as the Next Big Thing in the Conservative Party.

If a classical education gives you an intellect above others, then I must revise my opinion of myself. More likely though, I will only be truly appreciated when I’m gone, rather like the Roman emperor Vespasian, whose last words were reported to be “I think I’m turning into a god”.

Boris does deserve credit for being way ahead of his time as a purveyor of fake news. While working for the Daily Telegraph in Brussels, he came up with a stream of reports on the activities of the European Commission that fellow journalists regarded as untrue. Hardly surprising, then, that he was happy to be associated with the claim that leaving the European Union would free up £350 million a week for the National Health Service.

He also deserves credit for being fast on his feet as a speaker. He needed to be after the EU referendum, when twenty minutes before announcing his candidacy for leadership of the Conservatives, he learned that his erstwhile supporter, Michael Gove, had pulled the rug under his candidacy by announcing that he, Gove, would be running. Gove’s bid came to nothing, leaving us with the strong and stable Theresa May as our Prime Minister.

During the third century CE, faced with a serious shortage of revenue, successive Roman Emperors – partly because of all the money they spent on luxury imports from the East, and partly because there were no more territories that they could easily conquer and denude of their wealth – debased the currency, adding bronze to their silver coins. In some cases they were reduced to silver plating (as in the example above). I have a few in my coin collection. It gives me a thrill to hold in my hand direct evidence of the decline of the Roman empire.

If Lord Harris’s view of Boris Johnson’s brilliance is widely held by others, then the debasement of the idea of genius is evidence of a similar decline in the Conservative Party.

Or, to put it another way – borrowing from the wit and wisdom of Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye – if Johnson is a genius, then I’m a banana.

From → Politics, UK

  1. You shan’t have to wait for appreciation after you’re gone. I appreciate you right now… Bloomin’ great ritin…

  2. It really is so good Steve. I can’t remember the last time I read a piece of work over again straight after I’d just finished reading it (Kafka? When I was 14 years of age?) – on a kind of loop of pure enjoyment – you know exactly what I mean. But I’ve just done it now, with this from you. Absolutely crashingly great writing man. Thank you so much 🙂 🙂

  3. Many thanks Ronnie, and good to hear from you again! S

    • No worries mate. Keep knocking it out. It’s bloody brilliant, and an absolute joy and wonder to read 🙂 🙂

  4. I’ll try!

  5. Thanks!

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