"What is he really like?" It is the question anyone who has met Boris Johnson will repeatedly face. An overgrown schoolboy or a thrusting egomaniac – which is it? Boris once said that "beneath the carefully constructed veneer of a blithering buffoon, there lies a blithering buffoon." This response is typical of him – witty and self-deprecatory, but evasive and potentially misleading. It takes more than just blither to persuade 42 per cent of London's electorate to put you in charge of their city.
Boris was the first person to give me a job, in 2002. It was at The Spectator, which Ken Livingstone liked to point out was the only thing Boris has ever run. Boris left The Daily Telegraph to take over its small yet influential magazine. It was a tremendous success: circulation increased and the magazine started making a profit.
Boris's managerial style may seem imperfect – he puts off making decisions and avoids confrontation. He can be vague when direct answers are needed. But he has an unusual ability to relate with ordinary people that earns him respect and loyalty from those around him. He is a shrewd judge of character – when he joined The Spec he poached a secretary, Ann Sindall, from the Telegraph staff bank. She became his organiser and gatekeeper. For his mayoral campaign he assembled a fiercely efficient crack team, and will do likewise now at City Hall. He is the master delegator, attracting loyal and competent backroom boys.
In return, Boris is loyal and protective to those beneath him. The leader in The Spectator attacking the people of Liverpool for "wallowing in self-pity" was not written by him but by Simon Heffer, but Boris did not hesitate in taking the flak alone. He considered going to Liverpool to apologise before being ordered to by Michael Howard, but decided against it on the grounds it would be seen as a publicity stunt.
Boris has never immersed himself in the gossipy world of Westminster. That is because he has not lost touch with normal people. When he could take limousines he opts to ride a bicycle. He has little interest in material wealth – his car is a 10-year-old rubbish-strewn Toyota Previa. He has a keen sense of the absurd, and is the first to point to the ridiculous, even if that is himself. Not for him is the self-important, incestuous, blog-obsessed side of politics. Rather, because he craves to be the centre of attention, Boris has played to the media.
Over the coming weeks Boris will roll out his plans for London. What sort of policies can we expect? In his journalism he has maintained a libertarian stance. He abhors over-regulation and the swelling of the state. In his columns he has defended the right to smoke and hunt despite not taking an interest in either activity himself, because he believes in the freedom of the individual to take responsibility for himself. He has an interest in the past and looks to history as a guide. He reads Herodotus in bed.
His proposal to reintroduce Routemaster buses is an appeal to common sense. He will cut back on spin and press officers. He has promised to protect playing fields from development, another sensible policy in the face of the spread of obesity.
Boris is essentially an intelligent, decent and serious man with an admirable sense of the absurd. Londoners now take him seriously and have given him a chance. He must now make London his first priority.Reuse content