Do the rumors about Boris Johnson’s alleged twelfth child matter?
I have just returned from London, a city where history seems to seep through every brick. For the past five centuries, it is the city that has defined the destiny of the world. Plaques on the houses remind us of who lived when and where. On this trip I saw plaques on houses where painter John Constable and writer George Orwell once called home. As I was going to dinner with friends I also saw Hugh Gaitskell’s grave, but more on this Labor Party leader later.
The most striking gossip I’ve collected is that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has impregnated his nanny and is expecting what could be his twelfth child. It is rumored to be as fictional as Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. After all, rumors have been circulating in London and various world capitals for ages about the salacious private lives of the great men of the kingdom.
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Still, I couldn’t help but feel that the Johnson rumors are bringing this green, pleasant land back to the future. The current Prime Minister is extremely powerful. All the great conservatives were defenestrated. The likes of William Hague and Kenneth Clarke may still make speeches, but they no longer matter. Unlike Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher who surrounded themselves with big beasts in the cabinet, Johnson is now the only big beast among the pygmies. As unlikely as it may seem, such a concentration of power is reminiscent of a bygone era.
Falstaffian Churchill-Worshiping Henry VIII
Johnson may play the jester, but he’s a classic with a strong sense of history. He is one of the great characters of Eton, a great school which produced the likes of the Duke of Wellington and Orwell. As a child, young Johnson wanted to be king of the world. Later he downgraded his ambitions and was shot to become prime minister. Not only did Johnson arrive at 10 Downing Street, he arrived there in style and etched his name in the history books. This Falstaffian figure with a passion for wine, women and song delivered Brexit and won a landslide re-election.
In many ways, Big Boris is the modern-day Henry VIII who broke with Europe. This could turn out to be a good thing in the future, as aging, debt-ridden Europe fails to cope with its mounting debts, stubborn unemployment and current rise in inflation. In the long run, Brexit might still turn out to be a good thing after all. Johnson could end up as the historical figure of Henry VIII who set England on the path to glory and empire.
Johnson, who is obsessed with Winston Churchill, is doing quite well in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Like his hero, the Prime Minister is living his finest hours. He boldly took on the villainous Vladimir Putin and turned the screws on the Russian oligarchs who until not so long ago bought up houses, yachts and football clubs. A few weeks ago, BoJo (a popular nickname for Johnson in the UK) rushed to Kyiv for a walkabout with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
However, all has not been well for Big Boris since he moved to 10 Downing Street. Brexit was a long-term affair. The Partygate scandal continues to rumble on. Big Tories and the notoriously savage British press continue to hammer Johnson. The Economist said “slowness, hard-heartedness, incompetence and dishonesty” were typical of BoJo’s government. The venerable 1843 publication repeatedly said that the Johnson government “is a fundamentally unserious government run by fundamentally unserious people.”
More recently, BoJo lost what Al Ghaff and I called “the most important local elections in decades.” Still, he stays well in the saddle as this “cunning fox in a teddy bear costume” has crunched the little bunny sticking out of the Tory hat named Rishi Sunak.
cummings and goes
The recent rumors about Johnson’s latest romance might be much ado about nothing. After all, nothing has stopped BoJo in the past. He is the great survivor of British politics. Almost 18 years ago, Michael Howard fired BoJo for lying about an affair. BoJo has come back strong and is still riding high.
Still, there’s always a sneaky suspicion that one day BoJo might not be able to handle another James Bond-style close shave. As the saying goes, even the most cunning cats only have nine lives. It’s not without reason that Dominic Cummings, once an unlikely Johnson ally, called him “a shopping cart that breaks from side to side of the aisle.” Some of BoJo’s critics point to his private life as evidence of Cummings’ sightings, and Spitting Image has repeatedly taken the mickey out of BoJo for never taking precautions.
Two years ago, while BoJo’s wife and girlfriend were expecting their baby, Private Eye poked fun at Big Boris for fathering what was rumored to be his tenth child. Carrie Johnson has now given birth to another child, bringing that number to 11. BoJo has produced enough offspring to form a football (soccer for Americans) team. Now rumors are circulating that the man advised to “close [his] willy” might not have succeeded in doing it again. This time, his nanny is the lady in question.
Already, BoJo’s nanny has been making headlines. Apparently, conservative donors raised money to pay for his lifestyle. This would include the nanny’s salary. At the beginning of this month, The temperature — the real one in London, not The New York Times it’s a target of my learned colleague Peter Isackson – asked: ‘Can Boris Johnson afford to be Prime Minister?’
Given BoJo’s posh lifestyle and, presumably, “official, on the QT and very low-key” payouts for his many children, The temperature’ question is the most relevant. Another Boris, blonde tennis superstar Boris Becker, once known for his booming serve and party lifestyle, is in jail for bankruptcy. BoJo is unlikely to end up like Becker, but he is clearly a prime minister under pressure. If the rumors of another child with the nanny aren’t just smoke without fire, then caddy BoJo could spiral completely out of control.
When is privacy a public issue?
The rumors about BoJo’s child number 12 for number 10 man raise a key question about the privacy of public figures. In Puritan America, politicians were and, with the exception of Donald Trump, still are condemned for what many Europeans might call moments of weakness or mere antics. Gary Hart’s presidential campaign imploded when a slender model was found in his lap. David Petraeus had to resign as director of the CIA for an extramarital affair and the mess that followed. Such errant behavior is seen as a reflection of bad character that disqualifies people from public office.
In France, presidents have long had mistresses. It almost seems like a prerequisite for the position and perhaps demonstrates the nimble management skills required of any resident of the Élysée Palace. BoJo has long maintained that his private life is his private life and that’s it. In 2013, a British judge disagreed. He denied BoJo a gagging order regarding an illegitimate child, believing the public had a right to know of BoJo’s “reckless” conduct.
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As my dear Dutch friend Jarst de Jong so aptly put it, BoJo’s privacy is a matter of public importance. It provides insight into the character and judgment of the British Prime Minister. A Jarst concisely stated, anyone can cheat once because no one is a saint. A second time can also be understandable. But when someone repeatedly cheats and lies about it, it reveals their unreliability. BoJo seems to repeatedly betray those who love and trust him. This may not be the most desirable trait for a leader.
BoJo’s repeated scandals also reveal a certain lack of awareness and understanding of risk. Taking risks is part of leadership, but taking risks without understanding the consequences is a dangerous habit. BoJo has long had a reputation for being reckless but has gotten away with the risks he’s taken so far. Maybe the twelfth child could inspire a piece like the twelfth night.
Perhaps the UK could heed the words of Max Hastings, a man who first hired Johnson and sent him to Brussels. Hastings also gave BoJo the advice to “lock down,” which has so far gone unheeded. In 2018, Hastings wrote, “Johnson’s scintillating intelligence [was] does not correspond to self-knowledge. Calling BoJo, “Blackadder in a blonde wig” with “remarkable gifts”, Hastings called Big Boris “imperfect by an absence of conscience, principle or scruples”. The contrast with Gaitskell whose headstone says fortuitous and integrity couldn’t be more striking.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.