Matthew Norman: Boris Johnson embodies the amorality of the passing age

Whether Cameron falls in a month or a decade, the next Tory leader will be free from taint. Boris, who could narrate the Murdoch movie, is hardly that

Wednesday 20 July 2011 00:00 BST

On Saturday night the talk turned, as it often does when Jews mingle with goyim, to Yiddish; and specifically to that glorious bastard tongue's most seemly words for the stars of the present melodrama. It was agreed that Andy Hayman is a schtick fleisch mit oigen (imbecile; literally, a lump of meat with eyes), James Murdoch a nebbish (sad loser), his father a schvuntz (there you must rely on innate feel for onomatopoeia), and Ms Brooks a rosher (dead naughty). But what precisely, someone a touch tangentially asked, is chutzpah? Well, replied one of the chosen yanking out a time-honoured classic, you've heard about the man newly convicted of murdering his parents who begs the court for the clemency due an orphan?

I wish to amend the definition for the post-Murdoch generation: chutzpah is whatever Boris Johnson is saying or doing at the time. If the Mayor of London seems cast against type as a bit-part player in this tale, it's true that his name would appear way below the title, and not far above best boy and key grip, in the movie credits. For all that, he occupies a uniquely symbolic place in the story, alone interweaving all the strands into one albino Bayeux tapestry.

Watching him affect statesmanlike gravitas two days ago while knifing his Eton compadre David Cameron, the ambition was unavoidably plain. Boris had already confirmed, by way of strong denial, that he finessed or bullied Stephenson and Yates into resigning, and the reason seemed clear even before he declined an invitation to lend an ailing Prime Minister his support. Not for nothing is Boris the rival Downing Street is said to fear most. However justified by their incompetence and accusations of loose ethics, garrotting the two coppers removed a couple of crucial breakwaters between the foaming tide and the shores of No 10.

Indeed I can't help wondering whether the vicious passage in Stephenson's statement in which the outgoing Commish tacitly distinguished his hiring of Neil Wallis, officially unconnected with hacking at the time, from Mr Cameron employing a heavily implicated Andy Coulson, might simultaneously have occurred to Boris.

So slick was Boris in that well-practised faux-shambolic style that, for a moment it was easy to forget how uncannily he straddles the disparate worlds that have seismically coalesced like the shifting tectonic plates of cliché. This is an unlikely observation about a Bullingdon toff, but in this story Boris Johnson truly is everyman.

He was once, for example, a dodgy News International journo himself, being fired by The Times for manufacturing a quote (from a godfather who apparently neglected his work as spiritual guide). Later, poacher turned would-be gamekeeper when he was taped agreeing to help his jailbird chum Darius Guppy, another OE, locate the prying reporter – needless to say from the News of the World – whom the latter wished to beat up. Imagine what a have-a-go hero he'd be today had he kept that promise to Mr Guppy. But vow-honouring was never a defining trait.

He is also a hackee himself, of course, his ribald private life capturing the attention of erstwhile Wapping confrères during his tenure as MP for Henley, a little to the south of Chipping Norton. In declining to act against News International over that, he not only became an emblem of the Murdochophobia of our unimpeachably craven political class. He laid the ground for ridicule when he now absolves himself of blame for claiming to have believed Mr Yates' assurances that there was nothing more to see here, folks, show's over, everyone be on your way.

As mayor, he greedily embraced power over the Met, wasting no time in rightly sacking the appalling Ian Blair. While he observed Lord Blair's successor and Mr Yates assuming the ostrich position, though well aware from personal experience that hacking had been rife, his patent duty was to yank their heads from the sand on pain of being fired. Instead, he scorned the allegations as politically motivated "balderdash", as deceitfully as he once dismissed gossip about himself as "an inverted pyramid of piffle", and genuflected to the empire beside them. He humoured the News of the World and its proprietor through fear, as he once did the dangerous Mr Guppy. That yellow streak runs deeper than his hair.

And now, behold, here he is recreating himself as Fearless Bozza, Hammer of the Yard, in pursuance of his dream to replace the younger schoolmate he apparently believes breached some Etonian rule of political primogeniture by beating him to Downing Street. Snort and cry "Strike me pink!" at that surreal prospect though you may, do not ignore Norman's new first iron rule of national life (in succession to lamented "Murdoch always wins"): you simply cannot overstate the politician's genius for self-delusion. Nor can you wish him anything but well with this latest masterclass in political legerdemain. In its scope, opportunistic blatancy and Olympian chutzpah, it is nothing less than bedazzling.

But then Boris, still an enviably brilliant columnist, is a genius of sorts himself when it comes to hiding both a first-rate intellect and his gleaming unsuitability for elected office beneath that carefully woven "adds to the gaiety" cloak of Wodehousian twittishness. Whether he will ever parlay a sublime talent for self-disguise into the highest office of all, who can know? With the previously unimaginable happening on the hour every hour, nothing makes much sense at the minute.

Yet if he was the ideally amoral politician for a startlingly amoral age, morality is suddenly back in vogue, and will remain so for a while. Glancing at his post-Eton CV – Bullingdon sense of entitlement, dodgepot News International hack, pliant NI hackee, enabler of Met fecklessness in the guise of ostrich supervisor – he looks much less like the future than a semi-fossilised piece of living nostalgia. Whether Mr Cameron falls in a month or a decade, the next Tory leader will be free from taint. Boris, who could narrate the Murdoch movie with the wry detachment of the peripheral character with a finger in every rancid pie, is hardly that. He is a lobbes, to use the Yiddish for a rascal, and that is not the thing to be when now is the time for all good menches to come to the aid of the party.

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