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The Rise and Fall of Boris Johnson

Feb 25, 2022
Politics
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24
minutes

From a young age, he believed he was destined for greatness, and he became the UK's prime minister at the age of 55.

Discover how Boris Johnson's rise to power was unusual and full of contradictions, and how his fall was entirely predictable.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Rise And Fall of Boris Johnson.

[00:00:30] He is, as of the time this episode was recorded, the British Prime Minister. 

[00:00:36] But, depending on when you listen to this episode, the correct verb tense to use will probably be “was the British Prime Minister”. 

[00:00:45] His rise to power was long, indirect, and perhaps, unlikely. And his fall, even if he might not have completely fallen yet, was entirely predictable.

[00:00:58] So, in this episode we’ll start by talking about Boris Johnson the man, his early life, how this shaped his personality, and how he rose to be the most powerful politician in the country with the fifth largest economy in the world.

[00:01:15] On our journey, in his story, we will deal with affairs, privilege, comedy, ambition and broken promises. 

[00:01:24] OK then, The Rise And Fall of Boris Johnson.

[00:01:32] Boris Johnson is often likened to Donald Trump. 

[00:01:36] Both men came to political power on a nationalistic and anti-establishment message. They were both populists. They were both men with privileged upbringings, they had wealthy parents.

[00:01:51] They both seemed to get in trouble for saying things they shouldn’t, and no matter how many inappropriate things they said, or did, no matter how much trouble they got into, they remained popular.

[00:02:06] There are plenty more comparisons - they have both been married multiple times, they both have similar blonde hair, although Boris appears to pay significantly less attention to his than Trump does.

[00:02:21] But really, to say that Boris Johnson is a British Donald Trump is a gross simplification of the truth.

[00:02:30] Although those comparisons are fair, Boris Johnson is a uniquely British, really actually a uniquely English phenomenon, and his life probably has more differences than similarities to that of Donald Trump.

[00:02:48] From an early age, he always sensed he was destined for greatness, and told his mother he wanted to be a “world king”. 

[00:02:58] He was a talented schoolboy, and won a scholarship to the most prestigious private school in the country, Eton, a school that has produced twenty prime ministers.

[00:03:12] But he was, by all reports, a lazy student. 

[00:03:17] He knew that he was clever, he knew he could make his classmates and teachers laugh and he knew he didn’t have to work very hard. A report from his teacher at school read that Johnson thought he should be viewed as different, and not have the same obligations as other boys at the school. 

[00:03:40] This is an important early sign, and is a characteristic that we’ll see throughout his life and career - that of believing that different rules apply to him.

[00:03:53] He won a place at Oxford University, but his laissez-faire attitude to work, his laziness, continued. Now, this is by no means to suggest that every 19-year-old at university should be spending 12 hours a day at the library and having no fun, but Johnson was known more for his partying and damaging fancy restaurants than for attending lectures.

[00:04:24] After his graduation, he was briefly hired as a management consultant, a business consultant essentially, but he found the world of business, the corporate world incredibly dull.

[00:04:40] He later said "Try as I might, I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth-profit matrix and stay conscious".

[00:04:50] He only lasted one week in the job before quitting, and being hired as a journalist. He was only 23 so, understandably, he was given relatively uninteresting stories to work on.

[00:05:07] Desperate to try to do something more interesting, he completely invented a quote for one of his stories, to try to make it more interesting to the reader, and when his lie was discovered he was promptly sacked from the job, he lost his job.

[00:05:27] It doesn’t seem to have hurt his prospects though, and he spent the next 7 years as a journalist for the right-wing newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, mainly writing negative stories about the European Union. 

[00:05:42] Now, those of you who might be thinking ahead and remembering that Boris Johnson later campaigned for Brexit might be thinking that this shows some deep integrity, because he had been anti-EU as a young man. 

[00:06:00] This, unfortunately, simply isn’t true. 

[00:06:04] The stories he wrote at this time were mainly gossip, myths about the European Union that he wrote because he knew they would appeal to the mostly elderly, conservative middle class readers of The Daily Telegraph.

[00:06:21] His journalistic career continued until 2001, when he first became a member of parliament for the very safe Conservative seat of Henley, an area just to the west of London.

[00:06:35] Although he was now an MP, he was now a member of parliament, he never really stopped being a journalist. He was still the editor of a right-wing magazine called The Spectator, a position he had been given in 1999 on the explicit condition that he didn’t become a politician, a promise which he broke in 2001 when he did exactly that.

[00:07:02] He was also still a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, writing a weekly column and being paid £250,000 a year, so that's over €300,000, to do so.

[00:07:16] The theme of being paid enough, of making enough money, will be a recurrent one throughout Johnson’s career because, despite coming from a wealthy family and earning what to most people would be significant amounts of money, for Johnson it was never enough. And this was mainly because he had a lot of expenses

[00:07:42] By the mid 2000s Johnson was onto his second marriage, and had a growing number of children to support.

[00:07:51] He is now, by the way, onto his third marriage and has never actually publicly said how many children he has - there are now at least 7 and it’s believed that there are several more.

[00:08:04] So, supporting his family, providing them all with the kind of education that he got, which costs over €50,000 per year for every child, obviously was getting expensive. 

[00:08:18] So Johnson needed to top up his MPs salary with other work, journalism, presenting TV programmes and writing books.

[00:08:29] He became particularly well-known as a frequent commentator on a satirical news programme called Have I Got News For You, which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in British political life.

[00:08:43] But Boris Johnson wasn’t doing all of this just for the money. 

[00:08:49] Like Donald Trump, he knew that if he wanted to stand a chance of rising to power, people needed to know him, and people needed to feel like they liked him.

[00:09:02] And he was, in the mid 2000s at least, a very popular individual.

[00:09:08] He was viewed as a bit of a clown, as someone not to take seriously, someone who would say ridiculous things and not really mean them. But because he was only an MP he didn’t really have all that much power, there was limited harm that he could do.

[00:09:29] He was popular with his chosen political party, the Conservative party, because he seemed approachable, and voters liked him.

[00:09:39] And so when the position of candidate for the mayor of London opened up in 2007, he jumped at the opportunity, and was duly voted in. 

[00:09:52] He was suddenly in charge of one of the most important cities on the planet, but that responsibility didn’t really seem to bother Boris Johnson. He didn’t change at all, he was still the same Boris Johnson who never brushed his hair and didn’t do his homework.

[00:10:12] Accounts from his time as mayor of London describe him as someone who loved big, symbolic plans and projects, but had no patience with any of the detail or execution.

[00:10:27] He was, at the heart of it, someone who loved doing speeches and making people laugh, but when it came down to the business of actually running the city day-to-day he was slightly bored of it. 

[00:10:43] Now, there were some successes that happened under his leadership of London when he was mayor. The London Olympics was a resounding success, he implemented a cycle share scheme, the so-called “Boris Bikes”, so it was by no means a disaster. 

[00:11:03] And it catapulted him to a new kind of fame, he became even more well known.

[00:11:11] He was mayor for two terms, serving from 2008 to 2016, but during the last year of being mayor he also got another job, again as a Member of Parliament.

[00:11:26] And this brings us to the next act of Johnson’s career: Brexit. 

[00:11:33] Harking back to his training as a journalist, one evening Johnson wrote two newspaper columns.

[00:11:41] One supported the UK’s continued membership of the EU. The other supported leaving the EU.

[00:11:51] Johnson wrestled with which one he should publish, with which position he should take. Should he be pro-Brexit or should he be anti-Brexit? 

[00:12:03] In the end decided to publish the pro-Brexit column, he became the public face of Brexit, and the rest is, as they say, history.

[00:12:15] Now, what does this tell us about Boris Johnson?

[00:12:19] It certainly suggests that he could have gone either way, and if he had become the face of the Remain campaign perhaps things would have been different, who knows?

[00:12:31] It tells us that he is a gambler, a chancer. He wanted political power, and he thought that he had the best chance of it if he backed the “rebel” campaign, the campaign that promised to change the status quo

[00:12:50] If this “anti-establishment” campaign won and the country voted for Brexit, great, he would acquire significant political capital.

[00:13:02] If it didn’t, well, Johnson’s career both as a journalist and as a politician had taught him that people quickly forget these sorts of things, and there would be other opportunities in the future.

[00:13:16] His best chance would be if he backed Brexit, and that was exactly what happened.

[00:13:24] When the country did vote for Brexit, in June of 2016, he was reportedly surprised, having not expected to win.

[00:13:34] And what did the leader of the Brexit campaign do the day after the Brexit result was announced?

[00:13:40] Did he gather his advisors and start figuring out a plan for what to do, or perhaps even what his next political move would be? 

[00:13:50] No. Apparently, he actually spent the weekend at the ancestral home of Lady Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, playing cricket.

[00:14:02] And Johnson’s failure to plan his next move was actually his downfall, or at least delayed his rise to power. He was betrayed by his friend, the Conservative Minister Michael Gove, who said he wouldn’t support Johnson’s candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative party. 

[00:14:24] Johnson was relegated to the position of Foreign Secretary, and he had to wait until 2019 to become Prime Minister, taking over from Theresa May.

[00:14:37] Finally, at the age of 55, he had it. 

[00:14:41] Boris Johnson was the Prime Minister of the UK, he had achieved the pinnacle of political success.

[00:14:49] But a Brexit deal was still to be done, and he had still not won a general election, and so in December of 2019 he decided to call a general election, in order to win a mandate to do what he wanted.

[00:15:07] He won with an overwhelming majority, the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1979. He had managed to do what no Conservative candidate had done before, and to win Conservative seats in the traditional Labour areas in the north of the country.

[00:15:28] Now, we aren’t going to discuss British politics in detail here, but let me just underline why this is important when it comes to understanding Boris Johnson’s rise and fall.

[00:15:42] People had seen Boris Johnson all over the TV and the newspapers for the past 15 years. He was a clown, he seemed to get in trouble, he had affairs, he had illegitimate children, his hair was messy, he was overweight, but he seemed, strangely, genuine, he seemed real. 

[00:16:04] Unlike other politicians, he didn’t seem to be trying to be anything that he wasn’t, and this was hugely appealing to people who were tired of what they believed to be “fake” politicians.

[00:16:19] He was also a master of clear, simple messages that he knew would appeal to people.

[00:16:26] And his promise was to “Get Brexit Done”. Simple.

[00:16:31] He did get a Brexit deal, at long last. He was popular with the people who had voted for him, and he seemed to be delivering on his promises.

[00:16:42] Then COVID happened, and this takes us to the last chapter of the saga of Boris Johnson. 

[00:16:50] As we have heard, Boris Johnson is not a serious man, he isn’t someone who wants to be taken seriously. He likes to make people laugh, he wants people to have a good time, he wants people to like him.

[00:17:06] He is also a man who was easily bored by details, a man who doesn't seem to like hard work, and preferred talking about what he wanted to do rather than actually doing it.

[00:17:20] So, not that any politician is ready and prepared to deal with a pandemic, but Boris Johnson was particularly not so. 

[00:17:30] Now, it seems too early to make great judgments on how different countries responded to the pandemic. 

[00:17:38] But the response of the British government, led by Johnson, was utterly shambolic to begin with, and the UK had one of the highest numbers of deaths in Europe.

[00:17:50] And it was the pandemic, or rather Johnson’s behaviour during the pandemic, that exposed to many people a side of him that they had not seen before, or perhaps had simply known about but ignored.

[00:18:07] Starting in early December of last year, of 2021, reports started to come out of parties that had been held at 10 Downing Street, at the Prime Minister’s house, while the rest of the country had been in lockdown.

[00:18:24] Johnson initially tried to deny that he had known about them, but when more evidence started to come to light and even photos of him at these parties started to appear, he admitted that he did know about them.

[00:18:42] To make matters worse, one of the parties happened the evening before Prince Phillip’s funeral, where the queen was pictured sitting alone, in her mask, mourning her dead husband.

[00:18:56] Johnson tried to claim that they had been work parties, and therefore had technically not broken the COVID guidance because they were at work, but the public weren’t falling for it

[00:19:10] Johnson’s popularity ratings started to slide, they started to go down significantly.

[00:19:17] He had literally made the rules, but he was trying to get around them.

[00:19:23] If you remember the words of his teacher, who said that when Johnson was a teenager he thought that the rules didn’t apply to him, it was clear that Boris Johnson, despite now being a grown man and Prime Minister of a country still thought that he didn’t need to obey the same rules as everyone else.

[00:19:45] This controversy is, as of the time of recording this episode, still ongoing.

[00:19:52] Senior Conservative politicians have called on Johnson to resign, there has been a full report into the parties at Downing Street, and Boris Johnson has even gone to apologise to the queen in person, like a naughty schoolboy.

[00:20:09] He may well think that this scandal will blow over, that it will be yet another episode in his life that he is able to escape from, but it certainly seems that significant damage has been done, and it will be hard for him to ever be able to fully recover from this controversy.

[00:20:30] The Conservative Party, his political party, is notoriously ruthless. It elected him as leader because he was excellent at winning votes, he was popular.

[00:20:42] And he did just that - the Conservative Party won over a new bunch of voters, and this was in a large part due to the mass appeal of Boris Johnson as a slightly naughty, cheeky man.

[00:20:58] But now things have changed.

[00:21:00] At the last survey, 73% of the population think that he is doing a “bad” job, vs only 22% that say he is doing a “good” job.

[00:21:13] So it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, it might not even be this year, but it is only a matter of time before the next chapter in the story of Boris Johnson, his fall as British Prime Minister. 

[00:21:28] So that is a quick stroll through the life of Boris Johnson. Let’s just pause to assess what we have seen.

[00:21:36] Firstly, it is a life and career full of making stuff up to entertain people and win friends. From making up quotes as a journalist through to breaking promises about becoming an MP and then breaking the rules about COVID restrictions, Boris Johnson has a very loose relationship with the truth. 

[00:21:59] This might not have mattered when he was in relatively unimportant positions, and people tended to forgive him for it, but it’s something that is unforgivable when you are Prime Minister in the middle of a pandemic.

[00:22:14] Secondly, it is that he seems to feel that he holds no responsibility for his actions. His father, Stanley Johnson, famously taught Boris that “nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.” 

[00:22:31] Boris seems to agree, whether it was deciding to be for or against Brexit, his numerous affairs or even when he caused thousands of pounds of damage at a restaurant in Oxford as a student, his attitude is certainly that most things don’t matter at all, or at least they can be resolved with a joke and a smile.

[00:22:53] It seems though, with the revelations about the parties he held as the rest of the country was barely allowed out of their houses, that Johnson might have finally discovered that there are some things that do matter very much indeed.

[00:23:12] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Rise And Fall of Boris Johnson.

[00:23:18] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that this has helped shed a little light on the man with the blond hair who you might have wondered how did he ever manage to get to power.

[00:23:30] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:34] What do people think about Boris Johnson in your country? 

[00:23:38] How has this changed over time?

[00:23:40] Do you think he might be able to survive this recent controversy?

[00:23:44] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:23:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:57] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:03] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

Continue learning

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Rise And Fall of Boris Johnson.

[00:00:30] He is, as of the time this episode was recorded, the British Prime Minister. 

[00:00:36] But, depending on when you listen to this episode, the correct verb tense to use will probably be “was the British Prime Minister”. 

[00:00:45] His rise to power was long, indirect, and perhaps, unlikely. And his fall, even if he might not have completely fallen yet, was entirely predictable.

[00:00:58] So, in this episode we’ll start by talking about Boris Johnson the man, his early life, how this shaped his personality, and how he rose to be the most powerful politician in the country with the fifth largest economy in the world.

[00:01:15] On our journey, in his story, we will deal with affairs, privilege, comedy, ambition and broken promises. 

[00:01:24] OK then, The Rise And Fall of Boris Johnson.

[00:01:32] Boris Johnson is often likened to Donald Trump. 

[00:01:36] Both men came to political power on a nationalistic and anti-establishment message. They were both populists. They were both men with privileged upbringings, they had wealthy parents.

[00:01:51] They both seemed to get in trouble for saying things they shouldn’t, and no matter how many inappropriate things they said, or did, no matter how much trouble they got into, they remained popular.

[00:02:06] There are plenty more comparisons - they have both been married multiple times, they both have similar blonde hair, although Boris appears to pay significantly less attention to his than Trump does.

[00:02:21] But really, to say that Boris Johnson is a British Donald Trump is a gross simplification of the truth.

[00:02:30] Although those comparisons are fair, Boris Johnson is a uniquely British, really actually a uniquely English phenomenon, and his life probably has more differences than similarities to that of Donald Trump.

[00:02:48] From an early age, he always sensed he was destined for greatness, and told his mother he wanted to be a “world king”. 

[00:02:58] He was a talented schoolboy, and won a scholarship to the most prestigious private school in the country, Eton, a school that has produced twenty prime ministers.

[00:03:12] But he was, by all reports, a lazy student. 

[00:03:17] He knew that he was clever, he knew he could make his classmates and teachers laugh and he knew he didn’t have to work very hard. A report from his teacher at school read that Johnson thought he should be viewed as different, and not have the same obligations as other boys at the school. 

[00:03:40] This is an important early sign, and is a characteristic that we’ll see throughout his life and career - that of believing that different rules apply to him.

[00:03:53] He won a place at Oxford University, but his laissez-faire attitude to work, his laziness, continued. Now, this is by no means to suggest that every 19-year-old at university should be spending 12 hours a day at the library and having no fun, but Johnson was known more for his partying and damaging fancy restaurants than for attending lectures.

[00:04:24] After his graduation, he was briefly hired as a management consultant, a business consultant essentially, but he found the world of business, the corporate world incredibly dull.

[00:04:40] He later said "Try as I might, I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth-profit matrix and stay conscious".

[00:04:50] He only lasted one week in the job before quitting, and being hired as a journalist. He was only 23 so, understandably, he was given relatively uninteresting stories to work on.

[00:05:07] Desperate to try to do something more interesting, he completely invented a quote for one of his stories, to try to make it more interesting to the reader, and when his lie was discovered he was promptly sacked from the job, he lost his job.

[00:05:27] It doesn’t seem to have hurt his prospects though, and he spent the next 7 years as a journalist for the right-wing newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, mainly writing negative stories about the European Union. 

[00:05:42] Now, those of you who might be thinking ahead and remembering that Boris Johnson later campaigned for Brexit might be thinking that this shows some deep integrity, because he had been anti-EU as a young man. 

[00:06:00] This, unfortunately, simply isn’t true. 

[00:06:04] The stories he wrote at this time were mainly gossip, myths about the European Union that he wrote because he knew they would appeal to the mostly elderly, conservative middle class readers of The Daily Telegraph.

[00:06:21] His journalistic career continued until 2001, when he first became a member of parliament for the very safe Conservative seat of Henley, an area just to the west of London.

[00:06:35] Although he was now an MP, he was now a member of parliament, he never really stopped being a journalist. He was still the editor of a right-wing magazine called The Spectator, a position he had been given in 1999 on the explicit condition that he didn’t become a politician, a promise which he broke in 2001 when he did exactly that.

[00:07:02] He was also still a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, writing a weekly column and being paid £250,000 a year, so that's over €300,000, to do so.

[00:07:16] The theme of being paid enough, of making enough money, will be a recurrent one throughout Johnson’s career because, despite coming from a wealthy family and earning what to most people would be significant amounts of money, for Johnson it was never enough. And this was mainly because he had a lot of expenses

[00:07:42] By the mid 2000s Johnson was onto his second marriage, and had a growing number of children to support.

[00:07:51] He is now, by the way, onto his third marriage and has never actually publicly said how many children he has - there are now at least 7 and it’s believed that there are several more.

[00:08:04] So, supporting his family, providing them all with the kind of education that he got, which costs over €50,000 per year for every child, obviously was getting expensive. 

[00:08:18] So Johnson needed to top up his MPs salary with other work, journalism, presenting TV programmes and writing books.

[00:08:29] He became particularly well-known as a frequent commentator on a satirical news programme called Have I Got News For You, which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in British political life.

[00:08:43] But Boris Johnson wasn’t doing all of this just for the money. 

[00:08:49] Like Donald Trump, he knew that if he wanted to stand a chance of rising to power, people needed to know him, and people needed to feel like they liked him.

[00:09:02] And he was, in the mid 2000s at least, a very popular individual.

[00:09:08] He was viewed as a bit of a clown, as someone not to take seriously, someone who would say ridiculous things and not really mean them. But because he was only an MP he didn’t really have all that much power, there was limited harm that he could do.

[00:09:29] He was popular with his chosen political party, the Conservative party, because he seemed approachable, and voters liked him.

[00:09:39] And so when the position of candidate for the mayor of London opened up in 2007, he jumped at the opportunity, and was duly voted in. 

[00:09:52] He was suddenly in charge of one of the most important cities on the planet, but that responsibility didn’t really seem to bother Boris Johnson. He didn’t change at all, he was still the same Boris Johnson who never brushed his hair and didn’t do his homework.

[00:10:12] Accounts from his time as mayor of London describe him as someone who loved big, symbolic plans and projects, but had no patience with any of the detail or execution.

[00:10:27] He was, at the heart of it, someone who loved doing speeches and making people laugh, but when it came down to the business of actually running the city day-to-day he was slightly bored of it. 

[00:10:43] Now, there were some successes that happened under his leadership of London when he was mayor. The London Olympics was a resounding success, he implemented a cycle share scheme, the so-called “Boris Bikes”, so it was by no means a disaster. 

[00:11:03] And it catapulted him to a new kind of fame, he became even more well known.

[00:11:11] He was mayor for two terms, serving from 2008 to 2016, but during the last year of being mayor he also got another job, again as a Member of Parliament.

[00:11:26] And this brings us to the next act of Johnson’s career: Brexit. 

[00:11:33] Harking back to his training as a journalist, one evening Johnson wrote two newspaper columns.

[00:11:41] One supported the UK’s continued membership of the EU. The other supported leaving the EU.

[00:11:51] Johnson wrestled with which one he should publish, with which position he should take. Should he be pro-Brexit or should he be anti-Brexit? 

[00:12:03] In the end decided to publish the pro-Brexit column, he became the public face of Brexit, and the rest is, as they say, history.

[00:12:15] Now, what does this tell us about Boris Johnson?

[00:12:19] It certainly suggests that he could have gone either way, and if he had become the face of the Remain campaign perhaps things would have been different, who knows?

[00:12:31] It tells us that he is a gambler, a chancer. He wanted political power, and he thought that he had the best chance of it if he backed the “rebel” campaign, the campaign that promised to change the status quo

[00:12:50] If this “anti-establishment” campaign won and the country voted for Brexit, great, he would acquire significant political capital.

[00:13:02] If it didn’t, well, Johnson’s career both as a journalist and as a politician had taught him that people quickly forget these sorts of things, and there would be other opportunities in the future.

[00:13:16] His best chance would be if he backed Brexit, and that was exactly what happened.

[00:13:24] When the country did vote for Brexit, in June of 2016, he was reportedly surprised, having not expected to win.

[00:13:34] And what did the leader of the Brexit campaign do the day after the Brexit result was announced?

[00:13:40] Did he gather his advisors and start figuring out a plan for what to do, or perhaps even what his next political move would be? 

[00:13:50] No. Apparently, he actually spent the weekend at the ancestral home of Lady Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, playing cricket.

[00:14:02] And Johnson’s failure to plan his next move was actually his downfall, or at least delayed his rise to power. He was betrayed by his friend, the Conservative Minister Michael Gove, who said he wouldn’t support Johnson’s candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative party. 

[00:14:24] Johnson was relegated to the position of Foreign Secretary, and he had to wait until 2019 to become Prime Minister, taking over from Theresa May.

[00:14:37] Finally, at the age of 55, he had it. 

[00:14:41] Boris Johnson was the Prime Minister of the UK, he had achieved the pinnacle of political success.

[00:14:49] But a Brexit deal was still to be done, and he had still not won a general election, and so in December of 2019 he decided to call a general election, in order to win a mandate to do what he wanted.

[00:15:07] He won with an overwhelming majority, the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1979. He had managed to do what no Conservative candidate had done before, and to win Conservative seats in the traditional Labour areas in the north of the country.

[00:15:28] Now, we aren’t going to discuss British politics in detail here, but let me just underline why this is important when it comes to understanding Boris Johnson’s rise and fall.

[00:15:42] People had seen Boris Johnson all over the TV and the newspapers for the past 15 years. He was a clown, he seemed to get in trouble, he had affairs, he had illegitimate children, his hair was messy, he was overweight, but he seemed, strangely, genuine, he seemed real. 

[00:16:04] Unlike other politicians, he didn’t seem to be trying to be anything that he wasn’t, and this was hugely appealing to people who were tired of what they believed to be “fake” politicians.

[00:16:19] He was also a master of clear, simple messages that he knew would appeal to people.

[00:16:26] And his promise was to “Get Brexit Done”. Simple.

[00:16:31] He did get a Brexit deal, at long last. He was popular with the people who had voted for him, and he seemed to be delivering on his promises.

[00:16:42] Then COVID happened, and this takes us to the last chapter of the saga of Boris Johnson. 

[00:16:50] As we have heard, Boris Johnson is not a serious man, he isn’t someone who wants to be taken seriously. He likes to make people laugh, he wants people to have a good time, he wants people to like him.

[00:17:06] He is also a man who was easily bored by details, a man who doesn't seem to like hard work, and preferred talking about what he wanted to do rather than actually doing it.

[00:17:20] So, not that any politician is ready and prepared to deal with a pandemic, but Boris Johnson was particularly not so. 

[00:17:30] Now, it seems too early to make great judgments on how different countries responded to the pandemic. 

[00:17:38] But the response of the British government, led by Johnson, was utterly shambolic to begin with, and the UK had one of the highest numbers of deaths in Europe.

[00:17:50] And it was the pandemic, or rather Johnson’s behaviour during the pandemic, that exposed to many people a side of him that they had not seen before, or perhaps had simply known about but ignored.

[00:18:07] Starting in early December of last year, of 2021, reports started to come out of parties that had been held at 10 Downing Street, at the Prime Minister’s house, while the rest of the country had been in lockdown.

[00:18:24] Johnson initially tried to deny that he had known about them, but when more evidence started to come to light and even photos of him at these parties started to appear, he admitted that he did know about them.

[00:18:42] To make matters worse, one of the parties happened the evening before Prince Phillip’s funeral, where the queen was pictured sitting alone, in her mask, mourning her dead husband.

[00:18:56] Johnson tried to claim that they had been work parties, and therefore had technically not broken the COVID guidance because they were at work, but the public weren’t falling for it

[00:19:10] Johnson’s popularity ratings started to slide, they started to go down significantly.

[00:19:17] He had literally made the rules, but he was trying to get around them.

[00:19:23] If you remember the words of his teacher, who said that when Johnson was a teenager he thought that the rules didn’t apply to him, it was clear that Boris Johnson, despite now being a grown man and Prime Minister of a country still thought that he didn’t need to obey the same rules as everyone else.

[00:19:45] This controversy is, as of the time of recording this episode, still ongoing.

[00:19:52] Senior Conservative politicians have called on Johnson to resign, there has been a full report into the parties at Downing Street, and Boris Johnson has even gone to apologise to the queen in person, like a naughty schoolboy.

[00:20:09] He may well think that this scandal will blow over, that it will be yet another episode in his life that he is able to escape from, but it certainly seems that significant damage has been done, and it will be hard for him to ever be able to fully recover from this controversy.

[00:20:30] The Conservative Party, his political party, is notoriously ruthless. It elected him as leader because he was excellent at winning votes, he was popular.

[00:20:42] And he did just that - the Conservative Party won over a new bunch of voters, and this was in a large part due to the mass appeal of Boris Johnson as a slightly naughty, cheeky man.

[00:20:58] But now things have changed.

[00:21:00] At the last survey, 73% of the population think that he is doing a “bad” job, vs only 22% that say he is doing a “good” job.

[00:21:13] So it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, it might not even be this year, but it is only a matter of time before the next chapter in the story of Boris Johnson, his fall as British Prime Minister. 

[00:21:28] So that is a quick stroll through the life of Boris Johnson. Let’s just pause to assess what we have seen.

[00:21:36] Firstly, it is a life and career full of making stuff up to entertain people and win friends. From making up quotes as a journalist through to breaking promises about becoming an MP and then breaking the rules about COVID restrictions, Boris Johnson has a very loose relationship with the truth. 

[00:21:59] This might not have mattered when he was in relatively unimportant positions, and people tended to forgive him for it, but it’s something that is unforgivable when you are Prime Minister in the middle of a pandemic.

[00:22:14] Secondly, it is that he seems to feel that he holds no responsibility for his actions. His father, Stanley Johnson, famously taught Boris that “nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.” 

[00:22:31] Boris seems to agree, whether it was deciding to be for or against Brexit, his numerous affairs or even when he caused thousands of pounds of damage at a restaurant in Oxford as a student, his attitude is certainly that most things don’t matter at all, or at least they can be resolved with a joke and a smile.

[00:22:53] It seems though, with the revelations about the parties he held as the rest of the country was barely allowed out of their houses, that Johnson might have finally discovered that there are some things that do matter very much indeed.

[00:23:12] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Rise And Fall of Boris Johnson.

[00:23:18] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that this has helped shed a little light on the man with the blond hair who you might have wondered how did he ever manage to get to power.

[00:23:30] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:34] What do people think about Boris Johnson in your country? 

[00:23:38] How has this changed over time?

[00:23:40] Do you think he might be able to survive this recent controversy?

[00:23:44] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:23:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:57] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:03] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Rise And Fall of Boris Johnson.

[00:00:30] He is, as of the time this episode was recorded, the British Prime Minister. 

[00:00:36] But, depending on when you listen to this episode, the correct verb tense to use will probably be “was the British Prime Minister”. 

[00:00:45] His rise to power was long, indirect, and perhaps, unlikely. And his fall, even if he might not have completely fallen yet, was entirely predictable.

[00:00:58] So, in this episode we’ll start by talking about Boris Johnson the man, his early life, how this shaped his personality, and how he rose to be the most powerful politician in the country with the fifth largest economy in the world.

[00:01:15] On our journey, in his story, we will deal with affairs, privilege, comedy, ambition and broken promises. 

[00:01:24] OK then, The Rise And Fall of Boris Johnson.

[00:01:32] Boris Johnson is often likened to Donald Trump. 

[00:01:36] Both men came to political power on a nationalistic and anti-establishment message. They were both populists. They were both men with privileged upbringings, they had wealthy parents.

[00:01:51] They both seemed to get in trouble for saying things they shouldn’t, and no matter how many inappropriate things they said, or did, no matter how much trouble they got into, they remained popular.

[00:02:06] There are plenty more comparisons - they have both been married multiple times, they both have similar blonde hair, although Boris appears to pay significantly less attention to his than Trump does.

[00:02:21] But really, to say that Boris Johnson is a British Donald Trump is a gross simplification of the truth.

[00:02:30] Although those comparisons are fair, Boris Johnson is a uniquely British, really actually a uniquely English phenomenon, and his life probably has more differences than similarities to that of Donald Trump.

[00:02:48] From an early age, he always sensed he was destined for greatness, and told his mother he wanted to be a “world king”. 

[00:02:58] He was a talented schoolboy, and won a scholarship to the most prestigious private school in the country, Eton, a school that has produced twenty prime ministers.

[00:03:12] But he was, by all reports, a lazy student. 

[00:03:17] He knew that he was clever, he knew he could make his classmates and teachers laugh and he knew he didn’t have to work very hard. A report from his teacher at school read that Johnson thought he should be viewed as different, and not have the same obligations as other boys at the school. 

[00:03:40] This is an important early sign, and is a characteristic that we’ll see throughout his life and career - that of believing that different rules apply to him.

[00:03:53] He won a place at Oxford University, but his laissez-faire attitude to work, his laziness, continued. Now, this is by no means to suggest that every 19-year-old at university should be spending 12 hours a day at the library and having no fun, but Johnson was known more for his partying and damaging fancy restaurants than for attending lectures.

[00:04:24] After his graduation, he was briefly hired as a management consultant, a business consultant essentially, but he found the world of business, the corporate world incredibly dull.

[00:04:40] He later said "Try as I might, I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth-profit matrix and stay conscious".

[00:04:50] He only lasted one week in the job before quitting, and being hired as a journalist. He was only 23 so, understandably, he was given relatively uninteresting stories to work on.

[00:05:07] Desperate to try to do something more interesting, he completely invented a quote for one of his stories, to try to make it more interesting to the reader, and when his lie was discovered he was promptly sacked from the job, he lost his job.

[00:05:27] It doesn’t seem to have hurt his prospects though, and he spent the next 7 years as a journalist for the right-wing newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, mainly writing negative stories about the European Union. 

[00:05:42] Now, those of you who might be thinking ahead and remembering that Boris Johnson later campaigned for Brexit might be thinking that this shows some deep integrity, because he had been anti-EU as a young man. 

[00:06:00] This, unfortunately, simply isn’t true. 

[00:06:04] The stories he wrote at this time were mainly gossip, myths about the European Union that he wrote because he knew they would appeal to the mostly elderly, conservative middle class readers of The Daily Telegraph.

[00:06:21] His journalistic career continued until 2001, when he first became a member of parliament for the very safe Conservative seat of Henley, an area just to the west of London.

[00:06:35] Although he was now an MP, he was now a member of parliament, he never really stopped being a journalist. He was still the editor of a right-wing magazine called The Spectator, a position he had been given in 1999 on the explicit condition that he didn’t become a politician, a promise which he broke in 2001 when he did exactly that.

[00:07:02] He was also still a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, writing a weekly column and being paid £250,000 a year, so that's over €300,000, to do so.

[00:07:16] The theme of being paid enough, of making enough money, will be a recurrent one throughout Johnson’s career because, despite coming from a wealthy family and earning what to most people would be significant amounts of money, for Johnson it was never enough. And this was mainly because he had a lot of expenses

[00:07:42] By the mid 2000s Johnson was onto his second marriage, and had a growing number of children to support.

[00:07:51] He is now, by the way, onto his third marriage and has never actually publicly said how many children he has - there are now at least 7 and it’s believed that there are several more.

[00:08:04] So, supporting his family, providing them all with the kind of education that he got, which costs over €50,000 per year for every child, obviously was getting expensive. 

[00:08:18] So Johnson needed to top up his MPs salary with other work, journalism, presenting TV programmes and writing books.

[00:08:29] He became particularly well-known as a frequent commentator on a satirical news programme called Have I Got News For You, which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in British political life.

[00:08:43] But Boris Johnson wasn’t doing all of this just for the money. 

[00:08:49] Like Donald Trump, he knew that if he wanted to stand a chance of rising to power, people needed to know him, and people needed to feel like they liked him.

[00:09:02] And he was, in the mid 2000s at least, a very popular individual.

[00:09:08] He was viewed as a bit of a clown, as someone not to take seriously, someone who would say ridiculous things and not really mean them. But because he was only an MP he didn’t really have all that much power, there was limited harm that he could do.

[00:09:29] He was popular with his chosen political party, the Conservative party, because he seemed approachable, and voters liked him.

[00:09:39] And so when the position of candidate for the mayor of London opened up in 2007, he jumped at the opportunity, and was duly voted in. 

[00:09:52] He was suddenly in charge of one of the most important cities on the planet, but that responsibility didn’t really seem to bother Boris Johnson. He didn’t change at all, he was still the same Boris Johnson who never brushed his hair and didn’t do his homework.

[00:10:12] Accounts from his time as mayor of London describe him as someone who loved big, symbolic plans and projects, but had no patience with any of the detail or execution.

[00:10:27] He was, at the heart of it, someone who loved doing speeches and making people laugh, but when it came down to the business of actually running the city day-to-day he was slightly bored of it. 

[00:10:43] Now, there were some successes that happened under his leadership of London when he was mayor. The London Olympics was a resounding success, he implemented a cycle share scheme, the so-called “Boris Bikes”, so it was by no means a disaster. 

[00:11:03] And it catapulted him to a new kind of fame, he became even more well known.

[00:11:11] He was mayor for two terms, serving from 2008 to 2016, but during the last year of being mayor he also got another job, again as a Member of Parliament.

[00:11:26] And this brings us to the next act of Johnson’s career: Brexit. 

[00:11:33] Harking back to his training as a journalist, one evening Johnson wrote two newspaper columns.

[00:11:41] One supported the UK’s continued membership of the EU. The other supported leaving the EU.

[00:11:51] Johnson wrestled with which one he should publish, with which position he should take. Should he be pro-Brexit or should he be anti-Brexit? 

[00:12:03] In the end decided to publish the pro-Brexit column, he became the public face of Brexit, and the rest is, as they say, history.

[00:12:15] Now, what does this tell us about Boris Johnson?

[00:12:19] It certainly suggests that he could have gone either way, and if he had become the face of the Remain campaign perhaps things would have been different, who knows?

[00:12:31] It tells us that he is a gambler, a chancer. He wanted political power, and he thought that he had the best chance of it if he backed the “rebel” campaign, the campaign that promised to change the status quo

[00:12:50] If this “anti-establishment” campaign won and the country voted for Brexit, great, he would acquire significant political capital.

[00:13:02] If it didn’t, well, Johnson’s career both as a journalist and as a politician had taught him that people quickly forget these sorts of things, and there would be other opportunities in the future.

[00:13:16] His best chance would be if he backed Brexit, and that was exactly what happened.

[00:13:24] When the country did vote for Brexit, in June of 2016, he was reportedly surprised, having not expected to win.

[00:13:34] And what did the leader of the Brexit campaign do the day after the Brexit result was announced?

[00:13:40] Did he gather his advisors and start figuring out a plan for what to do, or perhaps even what his next political move would be? 

[00:13:50] No. Apparently, he actually spent the weekend at the ancestral home of Lady Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, playing cricket.

[00:14:02] And Johnson’s failure to plan his next move was actually his downfall, or at least delayed his rise to power. He was betrayed by his friend, the Conservative Minister Michael Gove, who said he wouldn’t support Johnson’s candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative party. 

[00:14:24] Johnson was relegated to the position of Foreign Secretary, and he had to wait until 2019 to become Prime Minister, taking over from Theresa May.

[00:14:37] Finally, at the age of 55, he had it. 

[00:14:41] Boris Johnson was the Prime Minister of the UK, he had achieved the pinnacle of political success.

[00:14:49] But a Brexit deal was still to be done, and he had still not won a general election, and so in December of 2019 he decided to call a general election, in order to win a mandate to do what he wanted.

[00:15:07] He won with an overwhelming majority, the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1979. He had managed to do what no Conservative candidate had done before, and to win Conservative seats in the traditional Labour areas in the north of the country.

[00:15:28] Now, we aren’t going to discuss British politics in detail here, but let me just underline why this is important when it comes to understanding Boris Johnson’s rise and fall.

[00:15:42] People had seen Boris Johnson all over the TV and the newspapers for the past 15 years. He was a clown, he seemed to get in trouble, he had affairs, he had illegitimate children, his hair was messy, he was overweight, but he seemed, strangely, genuine, he seemed real. 

[00:16:04] Unlike other politicians, he didn’t seem to be trying to be anything that he wasn’t, and this was hugely appealing to people who were tired of what they believed to be “fake” politicians.

[00:16:19] He was also a master of clear, simple messages that he knew would appeal to people.

[00:16:26] And his promise was to “Get Brexit Done”. Simple.

[00:16:31] He did get a Brexit deal, at long last. He was popular with the people who had voted for him, and he seemed to be delivering on his promises.

[00:16:42] Then COVID happened, and this takes us to the last chapter of the saga of Boris Johnson. 

[00:16:50] As we have heard, Boris Johnson is not a serious man, he isn’t someone who wants to be taken seriously. He likes to make people laugh, he wants people to have a good time, he wants people to like him.

[00:17:06] He is also a man who was easily bored by details, a man who doesn't seem to like hard work, and preferred talking about what he wanted to do rather than actually doing it.

[00:17:20] So, not that any politician is ready and prepared to deal with a pandemic, but Boris Johnson was particularly not so. 

[00:17:30] Now, it seems too early to make great judgments on how different countries responded to the pandemic. 

[00:17:38] But the response of the British government, led by Johnson, was utterly shambolic to begin with, and the UK had one of the highest numbers of deaths in Europe.

[00:17:50] And it was the pandemic, or rather Johnson’s behaviour during the pandemic, that exposed to many people a side of him that they had not seen before, or perhaps had simply known about but ignored.

[00:18:07] Starting in early December of last year, of 2021, reports started to come out of parties that had been held at 10 Downing Street, at the Prime Minister’s house, while the rest of the country had been in lockdown.

[00:18:24] Johnson initially tried to deny that he had known about them, but when more evidence started to come to light and even photos of him at these parties started to appear, he admitted that he did know about them.

[00:18:42] To make matters worse, one of the parties happened the evening before Prince Phillip’s funeral, where the queen was pictured sitting alone, in her mask, mourning her dead husband.

[00:18:56] Johnson tried to claim that they had been work parties, and therefore had technically not broken the COVID guidance because they were at work, but the public weren’t falling for it

[00:19:10] Johnson’s popularity ratings started to slide, they started to go down significantly.

[00:19:17] He had literally made the rules, but he was trying to get around them.

[00:19:23] If you remember the words of his teacher, who said that when Johnson was a teenager he thought that the rules didn’t apply to him, it was clear that Boris Johnson, despite now being a grown man and Prime Minister of a country still thought that he didn’t need to obey the same rules as everyone else.

[00:19:45] This controversy is, as of the time of recording this episode, still ongoing.

[00:19:52] Senior Conservative politicians have called on Johnson to resign, there has been a full report into the parties at Downing Street, and Boris Johnson has even gone to apologise to the queen in person, like a naughty schoolboy.

[00:20:09] He may well think that this scandal will blow over, that it will be yet another episode in his life that he is able to escape from, but it certainly seems that significant damage has been done, and it will be hard for him to ever be able to fully recover from this controversy.

[00:20:30] The Conservative Party, his political party, is notoriously ruthless. It elected him as leader because he was excellent at winning votes, he was popular.

[00:20:42] And he did just that - the Conservative Party won over a new bunch of voters, and this was in a large part due to the mass appeal of Boris Johnson as a slightly naughty, cheeky man.

[00:20:58] But now things have changed.

[00:21:00] At the last survey, 73% of the population think that he is doing a “bad” job, vs only 22% that say he is doing a “good” job.

[00:21:13] So it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, it might not even be this year, but it is only a matter of time before the next chapter in the story of Boris Johnson, his fall as British Prime Minister. 

[00:21:28] So that is a quick stroll through the life of Boris Johnson. Let’s just pause to assess what we have seen.

[00:21:36] Firstly, it is a life and career full of making stuff up to entertain people and win friends. From making up quotes as a journalist through to breaking promises about becoming an MP and then breaking the rules about COVID restrictions, Boris Johnson has a very loose relationship with the truth. 

[00:21:59] This might not have mattered when he was in relatively unimportant positions, and people tended to forgive him for it, but it’s something that is unforgivable when you are Prime Minister in the middle of a pandemic.

[00:22:14] Secondly, it is that he seems to feel that he holds no responsibility for his actions. His father, Stanley Johnson, famously taught Boris that “nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.” 

[00:22:31] Boris seems to agree, whether it was deciding to be for or against Brexit, his numerous affairs or even when he caused thousands of pounds of damage at a restaurant in Oxford as a student, his attitude is certainly that most things don’t matter at all, or at least they can be resolved with a joke and a smile.

[00:22:53] It seems though, with the revelations about the parties he held as the rest of the country was barely allowed out of their houses, that Johnson might have finally discovered that there are some things that do matter very much indeed.

[00:23:12] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Rise And Fall of Boris Johnson.

[00:23:18] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that this has helped shed a little light on the man with the blond hair who you might have wondered how did he ever manage to get to power.

[00:23:30] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:34] What do people think about Boris Johnson in your country? 

[00:23:38] How has this changed over time?

[00:23:40] Do you think he might be able to survive this recent controversy?

[00:23:44] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:23:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:57] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:03] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.