Boris Johnson is a loner who cannot bear to be by himself, a man of genuine intellect who still prefers to wing it, a figure of
ferocious ambition and great laziness, someone desperate to lead but unwilling to manage and mindless of consequences,
a man determined to be marked in posterity but reluctant to do the work to ensure he is remembered kindly.
has turned his sights on Boris Johnson. But those looking for a character assassination are going to be disappointed.
This is more an emotional than political biography. Bower exposes BoJo's miserable childhood in a broken home with a
neglectful, solipsistic, and adulterous father. Stanley Johnson is the true villain of this story.
BoJo's emotional turmoil may explain his many infidelities, but it will not do in explaining his other deficiencies. Bower has
been swayed by access to relatives, ex-partners, and allies. His wife Veronica Wadley has known Boris for more than 30 years
and served for four years as his senior adviser before he elevated her to the House of Lords.
On Brexit, Bower shows that while it served BoJo's political ends, he also believed it. Ideologically, Boris travels light.
The defining secret
shows what makes Boris Johnson tick. As with Donald Trump, we can point to the damage inflicted by
a callous, demanding father as a partial explanation for the lies, the betrayals, the narcissism.
The man's cracked
Boris Johnson's character weaknesses go back to an unhappy childhood. His father Stanley was the "life and soul" of any party,
but not at home. Stanley's former wife and BoJo's mother Charlotte: "He was always hitting me, and Boris saw it."
When Charlotte had a nervous breakdown and went to hospital, she blamed herself and told Boris: "I'm driving your father mad."
Boris became a loner and embraced the motto: "Nothing matters very much, and most things don't matter at all."
A teacher said in a school report: "I think he honestly believes that 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."
A slippery pig
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson had a damaged childhood.
says BoJo's father Stanley was a feckless and self-obsessed dad and an unfaithful and violent husband.
Stanley was in turn the son of a miserly, wife-beating, alcoholic, serial adulterer.
The young Boris was scarred by the troubled marriage between his father and the artist Charlotte Wahl, who in 1974 suffered
a nervous breakdown and was admitted to hospital. Charlotte: "Stanley .. hit me many times, over many years."
Bower: "Boris agonised over his mother's fate .. Unwilling to confide in others about his father's violence, he became a loner."
BoJo's first wife Allegra Mostyn-Owen and his second wife Marina Wheeler both think his serial infidelity was a trait inherited
from the father. Marina ended their marriage after Carrie Symonds became his mistress.
Bower fails to get a grip on the slippery pig.
Lord of misrule
tells us that Boris Johnson can be warm-hearted, kind, and genuinely polite, that he is not gossipy or malicious,
and that he is generous, believes the best of people and lacks pettiness or envy.
Things that would seem humiliating lapses in others are made to seem predictable and authentic.
On the rare occasions when Johnson does what is required for the job it appears a sign of heroic diligence.
And when Johnson behaves particularly badly, Bower calls it a product of an unhappy childhood.
As Bower tells it, Johnson is a successful politician. He bet on the side of Leave in the Brexit referendum when the polls were against
it, he persevered after his first failed leadership campaign, and he resigned as foreign secretary. Yet he became prime minister and won an
Johnson is not simply an opportunist. In 2019, he faced the same Brexit conundrum that led to a lost majority two years earlier and won
a big majority. He did not simply benefit from the vote for Brexit, but made it happen.
Johnson is the most accomplished liar in public life. He has mastered the use of error, omission, exaggeration, diminution, equivocation,
and flat denial. He has perfected casuistry, circumlocution, false equivalence, and false analogy. He is equally adept at the ironic jest, the fib,
and the grand lie; the weasel word and the half-truth; the hyperbolic lie, the obvious lie, and the bullshit lie that may inadvertently be true.
He can use his reputation to ascend to new levels of playful paradox.
Johnson suffers from the vice of akrasia. He knows what the right thing to do is but acts against his better judgement through lack
of self-control. His lack of so many other virtues is startling. He agrees on what is good, and intends it, but somehow frustrates himself from
Why is this so appealing? Is he a carnival lord of misrule allowing us to rebel against the oppressive expectations of our age?
Johnson often compares himself to Pericles. But he is not a virtuous Greek. Still less is he a stoical Roman.
His way with words, his irrepressibility, his recklessness, his lofty references and brutal politics,
and his tricks echo the moral universe of Norse literature. He is an amoral figure.
Leavers and Remainers
Almost all polls show that most Britons now think Brexit was a mistake.
Leavers have little confidence in the UK government's ability to handle Brexit.
They just hope the UK will benefit from sending less money to Brussels.
Leavers wonder why few young Britons replaced immigrants as fruit pickers.
Their disgust about contemporary Britain often overshadows pride.
Many Remainers now describe themselves as European.
One calls the union jack a Brexiteer symbol and won't fly it.
The pandemic has cut emotional investment in Brexit.