Fintan O'Toole: Boris Johnson is the fool who would play the king

Johnson gets away with unabashed lying because he shifts between joker and politician

Boris Johnson has received 114 out of 313 votes in the first poll to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader, comfortably topping the poll ahead of his nearest challenger Jeremy Hunt on 43. Video: Reuters

If lies were flies, the swarm around him would be so thick that Boris Johnson would be invisible. His gruff, mock-jovial Etonian tones would be drowned out by their incessant, deafening hum. There is ordinary political lying – evasions, circumlocutions, omissions, half-truths. And then there is Johnsonian lying – bare-faced, full-throated, unabashed. I wonder is this the real mark of how far British political life has fallen: people are so sick of the first kind of dishonesty that they actually find Johnson’s upfront mendacity refreshing. Is this the only kind of authenticity some of them can now imagine: the honest liar whose fabrications are unadulterated by any vestigial belief that truth even exists? 

When Johnson was Brussels correspondent of the Telegraph, his colleagues from the rest of the British media made up a version of Hilaire Belloc’s Matilda in his honour: “Boris told such dreadful lies/ It made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes./ His desk, which from its earliest youth/ Had kept a strict regard for truth,/ Attempted to believe each scoop / Until they landed in the soup.” He got away with it, of course, because mostly what he lied about, in public at least, was the European Union. Even for once-respectable Tory papers such as the Telegraph, the EU has always been a free-fire zone. The rules of engagement are different – minimal respect for facts is not required.

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