Saturday 21 September 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Boris strives to 'find a way' to Sellotape over the chaos'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA

Gerard O'Regan

'His desire to be world king was a wish to make himself unhurtable and invincible - and somehow safe from the pains of life. The pain of your mother disappearing for eight months - the pain of your parents splitting up.''

These insights into the psyche of Boris Johnson, and the legacy of his anxious and traumatic childhood, are key to understanding the inner turmoil which drives him on in politics.

Such comments were made by the woman who perhaps knows him best, his mother Charlotte. She was his father's first wife, and has tried to explain her son's oft-quoted childhood ambition to be 'world king'. She suggests that for Boris, emotional consolation and sustenance, was to be found in ambition and achievement. These instincts in his younger years were an antidote to multiple childhood and teenage traumas. They have fashioned him in adulthood.

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His mother became emotionally "brittle" at a pivotal time in the life of her young family and had a nervous breakdown. She subsequently received psychiatric treatment for a period of eight months. Her already turbulent marriage was doomed.

Boris's sister Rachel has spoken of a "bleakness and disconnection" which pervaded the Johnson children at this time. Matters became even more complicated when Charlotte Johnson contracted Parkinson's disease at the age of 40.

Boris's father, Stanley, pursued a wayward career path; the family moved house 30 times in five years. Eventually he was packed off to boarding school at the age of 13. Soon he would be informed his parents troubled marriage had ended; they were going to divorce.

His time at Eton and Oxford showed him hell bent on 'becoming top dog' academically or otherwise. He soon found latent verbal skills, and a way with words made him a champion debater. A tendency for showmanship, and the grand gesture, were personality traits which would stay with him all his life.

University politics, and a later foray into journalism, suggested the half truth, and sometimes a downright lie, could him get what he wanted. This tenuous link with facts might cause all sorts of trouble. But he often charmed his way out of a tight corner - and live to fight another day.

To an extent his route to the highest political office in Britain followed a well-worn psychological pathway. He is a classic eldest son - emotionally wounded in his formative years - who developed a craving for risk, challenge, and achievement as an alternative life force.

In basic terms, he became the prototype ruthless alpha-male who makes it to the top of the greasy pole. But many of those driven by a primal instinct for power also have strong personal convictions. Other than an obvious determination to survive as long as possible as prime minister, its difficult to know what, politically speaking, makes Boris Johnson's heart go all a flutter at night.

Johnson was once asked: "For what principle would you be prepared to resign?" and he replied, "I am a bit of an optimist so it doesn't tend to occur to me to resign. I tend to think of a way of Sellotaping everything together, and quietly finding a way through, if I can."

And so Bojo will continue to seem shambolic to outsiders. When others judge him to be in a crisis, he will joke and seek solace in his verbal skills.

A kind of chaos will continue to dominate his professional and personal life. That's the way the world was when he was a kid. But, as he says, no matter how ropey the situation - you can always try and Sellotape things over.

Irish Independent

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