Why I'd be just as bad as Boris Johnson running the country

Boris Johnson during the launch of his campaign to become leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party

Boris Johnson during the launch of his campaign to become leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party - Credit: PA

MITCH BENN on why he would almost be as bad as Boris Johnson.

There’s a very useful expression which succinctly encapsulates the difference between the concepts of knowledge and wisdom.

As is sometimes the case with such modern aphorisms, I’ve heard a few different versions of it, and I’m not sure with whom the phrase originated. Googling has served only to throw up a whole range of competing claims and iterations, so I’m afraid I can’t credit the source, but the expression usually goes something like this:

Knowledge: Tomatoes are in fact fruit. Wisdom: Don’t put tomatoes in fruit salad.

It’s perfect, isn’t it? And it sums up the dichotomy between being ‘clever’ and ‘smart’; having the ability to absorb vast quantities of information, as opposed to the ability to use the information one already has.


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One can be blessed with one of these qualities in abundance while being pathetically lacking in the other.

Take me, for example. I’m very much in the ‘clever’ rather than the ‘smart’ column.

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I have a ridiculously high-functioning brain but a hopelessly chaotic mind. I possess a truly ludicrous capacity for storing and retrieving facts and trivia (although the short term memory doesn’t seem to be what it was) but almost no executive or organisational skills whatsoever.

Give me ten minutes and I can write you a funny song full of Tom Lehrer-level tricky rhymes, give me another hour or so and I’ll translate it into a couple of different languages, but try to get me to perform half an hour’s worth of administrative tasks – or even indeed, to figure out which administrative tasks need doing – and you’ll be waiting for about a week.

I’m aware that this might sound like a boast; it isn’t, it’s a lament. I’m not one of these self-consciously affected bohemian types who looks down his nose at mundane, everyday concerns, I’m one of those involuntarily bohemian types who desperately wishes he could handle mundane, everyday concerns because however bohemian you are, mundane everyday stuff still needs doing and most of us can’t afford to employ other people to do it.

In any event, I had a horrid realisation this week as I was mulling over this particular shortcoming of mine... I’d been wondering who Boris Johnson reminds me of, with his transparent veneer of confidence getting thinner by the day and the desperation writing itself ever more clearly on his face as the realisation of just how out of his depth he is finally penetrates that hitherto ironclad sense of entitlement.

And I realised: it’s me. He’s exactly the kind of prime minister I’d be if, for some unimaginable reason, you ever put me into Number 10.

There’s a tendency, among those of us blessed with cleverness but devoid of smarts, to parade the former and to try to pass it off as the latter; to blur the distinction between the two.

The prime minister’s intellect is unquestionable, largely because he’s placed it beyond question.

There’s obviously an excellent brain under that self-consciously disordered hair, but the disorder may not stop at scalp level; his mind is all over the place.

His scattershot thought processes are the subject of bewildered speculation among political commentators but to me they’re entirely discernible, as they’re exactly what mine would be in his situation: just keep bluffing, keep trotting out the big words and the mock self-deprecating gags, just style it out until we can retreat to safety.

There are differences of course; Johnson is, you have to admit, charming in a superficial way, which is something I’ve never mastered. I tend to make a hideous first impression upon everyone I meet.

Which in turn brings me to the possible explanation in my own case: while I’ve never been properly assessed or diagnosed, there’s a pretty decent chance that I am somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

Certainly, my past experiences (and, moreover, other people’s experiences of me) started to make a lot more sense once I considered that possibility.

I doubt that Johnson is similarly neurodivergent, if only because of the aforementioned easy charm.

I appear to have what someone very dear to me who has been diagnosed autistic once described as that really rubbish form of autism where you get all the social ineptitude and none of the superpowers.

Although I do have one superpower: I’m completely immune to passive-aggressive manipulation, mainly because I have no idea when it’s happening.

Watching Johnson flounder through this crisis – and knowing that he will similarly flounder through the many crises about to assail us in the new year (largely of his making), I find myself experiencing an uncomfortable twinge of sympathy.

I think I know how he feels, and I can only hope that it’s not too late for him to develop a degree of self-awareness and realise that the moment has come for him to decide to go and spend more time with his families.

Portrait of British musician, comedian and author Mitch Benn

- Credit: Future via Getty Images

Because of course, the big difference between Johnson and me is that I know I’d make a catastrophically dreadful prime minister. But then of course I never went to Eton.
 

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