Saturday 16 November 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Driven by a frightening focus, Johnson may yet prove to be the real deal'

'Could Boris Johnson in time morph into a prime minister of real distinction?' Photo: PA
'Could Boris Johnson in time morph into a prime minister of real distinction?' Photo: PA

Gerard O'Regan

So after the election - and if Boris Johnson is ensconced as prime minister - what is going to be the story with Carrie Symonds? Will the couple continue their romantic partnership? Will they get married? Might they go their separate ways?

The gossip columns tell us intentions on this front remain one of the most closely guarded secrets in the Number 10 sanctuary. Such things should be of no concern to the great unwashed. But with a free-wheeler like Boris on the cusp of real power, the dividing line between public and private gets blurred.

Looking beyond the Brexit-induced sound and fury, a singular question remains. Could Boris Johnson in time morph into a prime minister of real distinction?

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He is too often, and too glibly, dismissed as a lightweight chancer.

Johnson has, in fact, a high intelligence; he won an intensely competitive Eton scholarship. This was followed by an Oxford University classics degree, while he perfected his oratorical skills on the college debating circuit.

A turbulent childhood fashioned by an absentee father and a mother battling depression remains the pivot in the personality formation of Johnson and his siblings. The subsequent divorce of his parents left lingering emotional scars.

His sister, Rachel, has spoken about a bleakness which engulfed the family. She and Boris, as the two eldest, were packed off to boarding school at an extraordinarily young age.

Johnson took refuge in academic achievement, fortunate his parents could afford a Rolls-Royce English education.

His father was determined to foster a fierce competitive instinct in all his children. They were told they must achieve much in life. And it was especially made clear that in times of adversity they should just get on with things.

The fact that Johnson suffered from a form of deafness until he was aged eight also formed his personality. It made the man now fighting a high-octane British election tough, resourceful and, most of all, self-reliant.

His biographers confirm that despite his cultivated happy-clappy persona, he does not have a single close male friend. Some of his female relationships remain a mystery - but in many ways he is a loner.

The bumptious demeanour disguises a considerable work ethic. He is an exceptionally early riser - often ready to get the day's business under way by 6am. Contrary to popular myth, he deliberately limits his alcohol intake. Since his university days he has displayed an abhorrence of heavy drinking. A biographer says he consistently warns his children of the perils in Britain's booze culture.

There is no doubt he has told many a whopper in his time to get his way. This propensity for lying on a grand scale whenever it is needed to further his own interests has been central to journalistic and political endeavours. He has little capacity for loyalty, casting aside with ease those no longer relevant to a raging ambition.

A sense of entitlement dwarfs any code of morality. One close acquaintance has written: "I think he is the most ruthless, ambitious person I have ever met. Under a well cultivated veneer of disorganisation... is a torrent of almost frightening focus and drive."

He is a snob and a social climber capable of harbouring deep grudges. All his life he has feared financial insecurity. He has a reputation for being tight-fisted. In private he has an explosive temper and will verbally lash out if his wishes are frustrated.

But in public he is dexterous with the English language. A verbal charm, coupled with a veneer of unstoppable optimism, has helped surmount huge odds by sheer force of will.

As with all high achievers, his flaws and contradictions are many. No one still seems to know if he has any deeply felt political beliefs other than the acquisition of power. But despite everything, could he still emerge as a prime minister who will make a mark on history?

One of his enduring lady friends - looking back on their years together - paid him a somewhat askew compliment.

She suggested that he might be a kind of authentic fake. "If Boris is a phoney - he is a real phoney," she said.

Irish Independent

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