Boris Johnson came to high political office via journalism – and probably sooner rather than later he will head back there.
These days, it’s not a huge phenomenon on this island, but if you spool back a little you’ll find it’s a more common combination than you would think, although the results of this strange journalist-to-politico blend are “mixed” at best.
You may not be surprised that Irish history is stuffed with prominent names who were heavily engaged in both journalism and elected politics.
Many of the leaders of Young Ireland and the Fenians of the 19th century were also journalists in Ireland and the US.
Parnell’s Irish Party had people such as William O’Brien and Timothy Harrington, who wrote and edited prolifically. Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith set up and edited the United Irishman from 1899, while Pádraig Pearse edited An Claidheamh Soluis, the weekly bilingual paper of the Gaelic League, and another 1916 leader, James Connolly, was a prolific writer for a plethora of labour publications.
It’s long forgotten that Ernest Blythe, still remembered for cutting a shilling off the pension in 1924, edited the stylish Southern Star, which is happily still with us.
Three future Irish presidents – Éamon de Valera, Erskine Childers and Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh – helped establish the Irish Press Group. A fourth president, Seán T O’Kelly, established The Nation and wrote for a wide variety of Irish and US publications.
More recently, two senior government figures were also prominent journalists. Former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald wrote for a long list of overseas publications, including papers in Hong Kong and India as well as The Economist magazine.
For many Irish people, Conor Cruise O’Brien is mainly remembered as a journalist writing a weekly column in the Irish Independent.
A man of many talents, he was by turns a diplomat, politician and journalist, serving as a Labour TD from 1969 to 1977 and a government minister from 1973 to 1977.
“The Cruiser” had headed the government-backed Irish News Agency, which ran from 1949 to 1957, aiming to counteract UK-dominated news agency stories overseas and campaigning against partition. After quitting politics, he served as editor-in-chief of the weekly Observer from 1978 until 1981.
More recently, forays into politics by journalists have been less high-profile. An exception here was the RTÉ journalist George Lee, who was inveigled to successfully stand for Fine Gael in a by-election in June 2009. A gifted economic commentator, his message in a time of financial crash helped him top the poll with more than half the vote.
Then he quickly found politics was definitely not for him and opted to return to RTÉ before his year’s leave of absence expired. The entire adventure lasted 10 months.
These days, journalists-turned-politicos are scarcer around Leinster House. Meath West Fianna Fáil former TD and now senator Shane Cassells was an accomplished sports journalist. Others, such as the evergreen Willie O’Dea and Michael McDowell, can turn out a fiery commentary regularly. But they are exceptions.
Finally, here’s one simple fact you can all have for nothing: I am not now – nor have I ever been – tempted to take to politics. I have seen enough politics to know the scribbling is a much better bet in the long run.