Boris Johnson: The prime minister who broke all the rules - Financespiders

Boris Johnson: The prime minister who broke all the rules - Financespiders

Scandals that would have sunk other politicians appeared to have no effect on him. He was always able to bounce back. His gaffes and blunders became part of his brand.

In an age of boring, machine-like politicians, he was seen as a "character", his unruly mop of blond hair and bumbling persona instantly recognisable even to those with no interest in politics. His fun-loving, relentlessly upbeat image, allied to formidable campaigning skills, helped him reach parts of the electorate more conventional Conservatives could not.

He won two terms as mayor of London, normally a Labour stronghold, and helped convince millions to back Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum.

He became prime minister in July 2019 without an election - but four months later secured an historic landslide victory, winning seats in parts of the country that had never voted Conservative before. As 2020 dawned, his dominance of British politics appeared to be complete. But then came coronavirus.

A global pandemic would have tested any leader and Johnson's government made its share of mistakes, with the UK at one point having the highest death rate in the developed world.

But, in the end, it was not his handling of coronavirus that led to his downfall. It was, rather, questions about his character and fitness for high office.

To some long-time observers of Johnson's career, this did not come as a surprise. In an article for the Observer, his former boss at the Daily Telegraph, Sir Max Hastings predicted that a Johnson premiership would "almost certainly reveal a contempt for rules, precedent, order and stability".

From his earliest days, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson had a tendency to believe rules were for other people.

"Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility," his teacher Martin Hammond wrote of the 17-year-old Boris. "I think he honestly believes it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else."

His unwavering self-belief, however, left an impression.

"Boris's charisma even then was off the charts, so funny, warm, charming, self-deprecating," Simon Veksner, a school friend, told author Simon Kuper in his recent book Chums.

He won a scholarship to Eton, arguably England's most prestigious private school, where he discovered a love of Classics and began developing the persona that would become so familiar in his later life.

Oxford University followed, where he achieved his ambition of becoming president of the union - a debating society dating back to 1823, and the time-honoured training ground for Conservative politicians.

He also joined the infamous Bullingdon Club, known for the rowdy, drunken behaviour of its members, which included future prime minister David Cameron.

He left Oxford and was taken on as a trainee reporter at the Times newspaper, but lost his job after falsifying a quote - an incident he would later describe as his "biggest cock-up". It proved to be a minor setback however, and in 1988 he was given work by then-editor of the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings.

As the Telegraph's Brussels correspondent, Johnson set about ridiculing regulations passed by the European Commission - although many of his fellow reporters in Brussels felt his stories were exaggerated and in some cases simply untrue. It was, he told the BBC's Desert Island Discs in 2005, like "chucking these rocks over the garden wall - and hearing an amazing crash next door in England. Everything I wrote in Brussels was having this explosive effect on the Conservative Party - it really gave me this rather weird sense of power".

Disaster loomed again, however, when a recording surfaced of a telephone call between Johnson and his old Oxford friend, Darius Guppy, who had been demanding the private address of a News of the World journalist.

The tape suggested Johnson had agreed to supply the details, even though Guppy, who was later jailed for fraud, had indicated he had wanted to have the reporter, who had been investigating his affairs, beaten up.

Hastings confronted him about the recording, which had been sent anonymously to the Telegraph, but after an apology, with Johnson deploying, in Hastings' words, "all of his self-parodying skills as a waffler", he was sent back to Brussels with a rebuke.

'Sorry, Liverpool'

In 1999, he became editor of influential right-wing magazine the Spectator, and two years later finally achieved his ambition to enter Parliament.

With the Tories languishing in opposition, then-leader Michael Howard was keen to harness the star power of the new MP for Henley, in Oxfordshire.

But Mr Johnson's career as a frontbencher was short-lived.

In 2004, Mr Howard ordered him to Liverpool to apologise to the entire city over a Spectator article that had attributed some of the blame for the Hillsborough disaster on the behaviour of the city's football fans.

He survived "Operation Scouse Grovel", as he dubbed it, only to be sacked by Howard a month later for lying about claims he had had an affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt.

Within a year he was back on the frontbench, under new Tory leader David Cameron. But he was increasingly seen as comedian and TV personality, rather than a serious candidate for power.

He had to wait until 2007 to get a chance to move up the ladder, when a somewhat trepidatious Cameron selected him as the Conservative candidate for London mayor. Johnson surprised everybody by storming to victory over Labour's Ken Livingstone, who had looked unbeatable, and winning again four years later.As mayor, Mr Johnson scrapped the unpopular "bendy buses", implemented a bike hire scheme (colloquially known to Londoners as "Boris bikes") and oversaw arrangements for the 2012 London Olympics - leading to one of the more infamous images of his political career, as he dangled from a zip wire gamely waving a pair of union flags.

In early 2016, he returned to Parliament as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, with his sights set on the top job, and a major dilemma. David Cameron's decision to hold an EU referendum was a defining moment for the country, but also for the old friends and rivals.

Johnson's decision - after much agonising - to join forces with the pro-Brexit campaign came as a severe blow to Cameron's hopes of keeping the UK in the EU. But it was seen as a game-changing moment by the pro-Brexit campaign, run by tough-talking strategist Dominic Cummings, a man Cameron had once dismissed as a "career psychopath".

Johnson deployed all of his formidable campaigning skills, although he came in for heavy criticism for the claim - printed on the side of a battlebus - that the UK sent the EU £350m a week, which did not take into account the UK's rebate.

Political assassination

When his side emerged victorious, it was inevitable that Mr. Johnson would throw his hat into the ring to replace the outgoing David Cameron as Conservative leader and prime minister.

However, his campaign was dramatically undermined when a colleague and close friend Michael Gove withdrew support and decided to run for the leadership himself, saying he did not think Johnson was up to the job of prime minister. It was a brutal political assassination, met with dismay by Johnson's supporters.

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Not for the first time, he was contemplating the end of his political career. Yet Theresa May, the eventual winner, appointed Johnson as foreign secretary. Source:  BBC

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