The moral of the story? Don't make an approval-junkie lying journo the PM

Prime minister Boris Johnson

Prime minister Boris Johnson - Credit: PA

Matt Kelly on how media saw Boris Johnson as one of their own... and gave the shyster a free ride.

Only once have I encountered Boris Johnson in the flesh. It was an illuminating experience, shedding as much sunlight on my industry as it did on this man who, as Ted Hastings would simmer, we’ve promoted to the highest office in the land.

The occasion was a celebration of regional media at Downing Street in September 2019, the guests around 100 or so journalists from around the UK. Arriving late, Johnson strode to the podium and barrelled straight into his routine.

“Good at this, isn’t he?” I said to my colleague as Johnson played this gathering of trained professional journalists like the accomplished fiddler he is. The remark was drowned out by all the chortling and bonhomie. 

It was a little disgusting, listening to professional journalists lapping up the show as though the bleached ghost of Les Dawson was doing a turn.

Here was one of the gags at the journalists’ reception, delivered at the same pitch as Churchill’s ‘fight them on the beaches’: “I have one mission in my remaining time in Number 10, however long that may be, and it might be longer than some of you think, which is to keep you supplied with stories.”

Well, that’s at least one time he’s been true to his word. 

Witnessing many of the Fourth Estate pose up with him for selfies afterwards was too much to take. I made my excuses and left.
In mitigation, if you believe a journalist’s job is to reflect the readers they represent, then laughing it up was entirely appropriate: Is that not what the vast majority of us have been doing, to one degree or another, ever since he became mayor of London?

At that meeting of hacks in Downing Street, it wasn’t just the PM they were gushing over, it was one of their own. 
Johnson’s stint as a politician is more of a sideline to his true vocation: Celebrity journalism. 

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Not journalism about celebrity. The journalist as celebrity.

A former aide and close acquaintance of his once told me, Johnson had long been desperate to be elected prime minister, and was now desperate to be a former prime minister. 

It was just the bit in the middle he was dreading. 

He knew there was a limit to how far his schtick could carry him. That limit now appears to be at hand.

Beware the celebrity journalist. Unless supranaturally talented and sociopathically indifferent to readers, editors, publishers and social media, then the greater attention they get, the more of a caricature of their true selves they become.

It’s the only sure way to sustain the great Ponzi scheme that is their place in the public eye. They are approval junkies, shooting up on retweets and clicks. Soon, all too soon, the line between journalism and showbiz becomes as blurry as a Dominic Cummings eye test.

This was always true of Johnson. Even as a journalist he was a known liar. A known cheat. What has happened to us (and here I mean us journalists) that we allowed a man like within a thousand yards of Downing Street, never mind got to choose its bloody wallpaper?

Ask yourself: What other prime minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland could a national newspaper (albeit a small one, I add, with entirely due modesty) splash across its front page the headline “LIAR, CHEAT, CHARLATAN, NATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT, UNFIT FOR PUBLIC OFFICE” and not trouble the libel lawyers? 

That was The New European’s front cover in October 2017 (below). 

The New European's 2017 front about Boris Johnson

The New European's 2017 front about Boris Johnson - Credit: The New European

I’ll save you the maths; that’s three and a half years ago. In the meantime, the UK’s mainstream popular press has, by and large, facilitated the free ride this shyster has enjoyed, despite the continuous trail of lies and scandal he leaves behind him like so many breadcrumbs. Why such latitude towards one so clearly unfit for office, unless it’s because he is in the company of friends?

Celebrity hacks like Boris Johnson are dangerous enough confined to Question Time or Twitter. But stick one in the highest office in the land, and be unlucky enough to have not one, but two, cataclysmic events for him to deal with, and it’s only a matter of time for the bodies to pile high.

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