Does Boris need a new narrative?

Mike Ramsden

While he was combining his political responsibilities with journalism, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, wasn't the kindest about many of the world’s leaders. He’s had a pop at Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Angela Merkel… the list goes on.

At his first press conference as Foreign Secretary, alongside the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, many of Mr Johnson’s colourful comments on world events were played back to him by members of the press.

Johnson squirmed. Kerry winced.

My feeling is it’s not going to stop. You can be sure press packs around the world will be ready to remind him of his relevant geographical comments, each time he visits a country. What happens when he goes to Germany? Or Turkey? (look up his prize-winning limerick)

His usual plan to deal with negative questioning is the verbose filibuster. We heard a great example at the press conference he held with John Kerry, after he was accused of peddling ’outright lies’ by a member of the press corps…

“I’m afraid there is such a rich thesaurus of things that I have said that have been – one way or another, through what alchemy I do not know – somehow misconstrued, that it would really take me too long to engage in a full global itinerary of apology to all concerned.”

So there was no apology. And I wonder if, from a long-term communications perspective, that’s a mistake.

How long can Boris bluster his way through these kinds of questions? How long will his past comments follow him round the world for? Does it damage Britain’s reputation and Boris’ stature on the world stage?
Perhaps it’s time for a new narrative for Mr Johnson, in addition to the glasses and haircut, if he doesn’t want his past to follow him round the world. And if he wants the international community to remember him for his actions on behalf of Britain on the international stage, rather than his previous newspaper gags.

He could draw a line under things he’s said in the past. Whenever they’re brought up, he could explain that his focus is now on the important job he’s been given. And do it calmly. Seriously. In the simplest language, to take the sting out of the journalist’s confrontation, demonstrating his focus on the role he’s been given, rather than making each media engagement another episode of ‘The Boris Show’. Serious, statesmanlike, succinct.

But Boris Johnson has rarely done what is traditionally expected. It’s just not his style. With every increasing position of responsibility, there’ve been those who’ve thought the lols would lessen, and the hair would calm down. It hasn’t happened so far and doesn’t look to be any sign of it stopping any time soon.

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