Boris: 'I hadn't grasped it: those out to get you are the ones on your own side'

Back on the front bench, the ex-'Spectator' editor has a new role - as a purveyor of, um, some third way

The exits and entrances of Boris Johnson's life have the seasonal flavour of pantomime. Last week's "amicable departure" after six years editing The Spectator dovetailed conveniently with his resurrection on the shadow front bench, just a year after being sacked from it.

Like someone receiving nice but slightly dull socks for Christmas, Boris maintains this was just the job he wanted. "Shadow higher education minister is an immensely good job. I became obsessed when I was doing the arts job with university finance and I do think it's grossly underfunded."

Yet, for a tense few days, there hovered a question over whether David Cameron would forgo the claims of old friendship - Eton and Oxford - plus months ofSpectator support, because of the Boris risk.

"Risk, what risk?" queries Boris, slightly disgruntled. Well, his reputation for strict accuracy has come under question a couple of times in his Fleet Street career. Take the association with fraudster Darius Guppy, whose desire to have a journalist beaten up Boris seems to have done little to discourage. Or the infamous Liverpool saga and the activity surrounding the "Sextator". Some might say he lacked judgement. "Judgement?" he expostulates. "What sort of judgement? Literary judgement? Aesthetic judgement?"

The kind of judgement that made Andrew Neil, The Spectator's chief executive, send unambiguous signals that Boris must go by year's end. "Yes. Well, I think I wanted to, um, make a move and it was a very good time to do it and, um, whatever signals you may have received, I didn't get any signals myself and the figures speak for themselves [a record 70,000 circulation high]. It's a good time to go. I've done it. You start to coast, you shouldn't hang around."

In any event, for all his apparent dishevelment, the shiny new Conservative front bench seems keen to have him. And yet, disorganised is not the word for someone who has been up since 5am writing 3,000 words about the Roman Empire.

"It's a book about how the Romans ran Europe, a meditation on the themes of identity and loyalty. Obvious modern parallels. It goes with this TV programme coming out in the new year for BBC2. But it's just proving immensely intellectually draining, having to soak up so much and squeeze it out ... Then there's my Telegraph column ... exhausting."

Between writing jobs he will have the small task of unravelling the hitherto ambivalent Conservative policy on tuition fees. "Oh God, I don't want to go into any detail. But you look at Oxbridge and the Russell Group, and look what Yale and Harvard have ... We've got to have globally competitive universities ... You certainly cannot expect the entire funding shebang to come out of general taxation." So what would he favour? "Erm, some third way perhaps ..."

Boris's use of language is the key to his political skills. In conversation he takes caesura to a new level. On paper, his prose flows beautifully, and he has an articulacy unmatched in public life. Yet he can deploy it to deflect difficult questions.

Sometimes, but not always. Did he regret the shenanigans that brought The Spectator such notoriety and a shudder to the puritan souls of the Barclay twins? "Bugger the shenanigans! I don't give a monkey's about the shenanigans! It's absolute balls. I could not give a flying fig. It boosted sales, what's the harm? I really, really don't have any cause for ... you know ... whatever ... "

What about embarrassing his wife, putting his four children on the front pages? And the allegation that he lied about an office affair rather than going for the "it's a private matter" option? "Oh Jesus Christ! I did not lie to Howard! I did not! I don't want to go over it again - it pisses me off and fills me with an unutterable sense of tedium."

The sacking as shadow arts minister followed Johnson's pilgrimage to Liverpool - an event about which he is unexpectedly savage, seeing it as a Tory set-up to make him look foolish. "It was a mistake to go to Liverpool because Howard told me to. I didn't see it coming. I didn't understand what they were trying to do. Basically the guys who want to get you are the guys on your own side. It's always been the way in politics and I hadn't kind of grasped it."

Boris arrived in journalism from management consultancy. "I wanted to make money but the trouble was it was so spine-crackingly boring and everybody there was so unbelievably dull, I kept falling asleep," he explains. "Then I remember reading a political commentary in The Times. I used to stare at this as an undergraduate totally hung over in Balliol JCR and think, 'What crap this is! I could have written this myself! People get money for this!'"

Thus inspired he joined The Times, where he underwent his first sacking for fabricating a quote, before joining the Telegraph. "I learned to love and respect journalism. It's a fantastic job, intoxicating. But in the end you start to think there's got to be more. All I'm really doing is kicking over someone's sandcastles, and if I'm so smart why don't I do it?"

Boris's next book is on class. "It's about Britain and the class problems we've got. It's very noticeable that social mobility has declined in the last 10 years, not increased. The Tories set people free, they shook the whole thing up, but I think it's all closing down again." So an Etonian who would like to send his sons to Eton is writing a book on social mobility? "I was a scholarship boy. And it's a fantastic school. Besides, people don't give a monkeys about Etonians any more."

True or not, hold on for another entertaining instalment of What Boris Did Next.

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Resourcer / Junior Recruiter

£15-20k (DOE) + Benefits / Bonus: Guru Careers: Joining as a Resourcer / Juni...

Head of Design & UX / UX Architect

£55 - 70k: Guru Careers: Head of Design & UX / UX Architect is needed to join ...

Media and Entertainment Lawyer - City

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - A specialist opportunity with ...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories