Yes – Annabel Steele – 57% (99 Votes)
When Johnson first started to build a reputation for himself, during his time at The Daily Telegraph, he relied on fabrication and eccentricity as a means of provoking his readers. He balanced these characteristics strategically, often accentuating the latter to disguise the former, and it worked—he got people talking about him. In a recent New York Times article, European correspondent Ellen Barry called him a “political escape artist”, citing several examples from his infinite list of performances, and bringing up the well-precedented theory that it’s actually part of his appeal. He is inexplicably skilled at dodging the media’s bullets, despite giving them enough ammunition to annihilate an entire party.
This is all well and good: it would be naïve to overlook the role of theatrics in the political sphere. The best politicians are often those who acknowledge that, in a democratic society, the ultimate deciders are the people; and let’s be honest, the people would rather read your diary than your manifesto. But in a world where privacy is being pushed out of the door, merging politics with personality naturally leads to the public scrutiny of one’s personal life.
And who’s to say this isn’t a bad thing? In analysing the life and career of Boris Johnson, an array of problematic implications arise. His acquaintances from Oxford University have described how he feigned allegiance with whichever political societies suited his agenda, at one point aligning himself with the Social Democratic Party in order to win the Student Union presidency; his provocative and often entirely inaccurate work at The Daily Telegraph clearly illustrated his devotion to fame over fact; and his lies surrounding an extramarital affair got him temporarily fired from the Conservative Party.
With all this in mind, let us consider the latest scandal. Johnson’s neighbours overheard a heated argument between Johnson and his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, in which plates are heard being smashed and Symonds is heard screaming, “Get off me!” and “Get out of my house!”. After several unanswered knocks at the door, the neighbours called police to the house, but apparently there were no signs of concerning behaviour. I’m not here to defend the neighbour for making the recording, or for sending it into The Guardian: I’m here to explain why this tape should now be released to the general public.
Assault allegations have dominated headlines in recent months, often of a sexual nature but almost always involving violence, and most commonly involving a male perpetrator and a female victim. The Kavanaugh case was one of the first to infiltrate the political system, and since then various accusations have been thrown around, most recently against President Trump. In these highly sensitive cases where the truth is almost impossible to reach, hard evidence is so rarely obtainable. If it was revealed that a recording existed of the interaction between Donald Trump and E. Jean Carroll, there wouldn’t be a moment’s hesitation before this evidence was circulated: even when an easily defended photograph of the two meeting in the 1980s was unearthed, it was all over the internet in a matter of minutes.
But here we have a case in which our future Prime Minister—once again, a man on the brink of being handed a significant amount of power—is involved in a potentially abusive argument with his girlfriend, and the public are being denied access to a voice recording of the incident. In what dystopian world is it acceptable to bury evidence of whether Boris Johnson has made the ever-growing list of abusers in positions of power? Yes, police were called to the house and found no reason to make arrests, but don’t tell me Johnson didn’t lay a finger on Symonds if The Guardian’s description of the argument is accurate. I don’t want to live in a country led by a man whose girlfriend was ever given a reason to yell, “Get off me!”.
And there isn’t really a case for “respecting his privacy”, either. Johnson’s career began in a newspaper office, so he’s very aware that putting himself forward for such a role would involve a major sacrifice of privacy and greater exposure to the public eye. He has demonstrated throughout his political career that he isn’t averse to threatening media outlets in possession of information which could damage his career, which is problematic in itself. And perhaps in the past he has found himself exposed by the media for discretions which are somewhat irrelevant to his political competence, which is no doubt frustrating. But there is a notable difference between conducting an extramarital affair and getting into an argument with your girlfriend which involves “a smashing sound of what sounded like plates” and screams which prompted neighbours to call 999.
But The Guardian’s initial report documented one crucial part of the incident which appears to have been brushed aside. The article reads, “When contacted by The Guardian on Friday, police initially said they had no record of a domestic incident at the address”. Paired with the recent announcement by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, that he explicitly supports Boris Johnson’s PM campaign, as well as the failure to follow up an incident where another prominent Tory, Mark Field, assaulted a female protester at the chancellor’s Mansion House speech, grabbing her by the neck and slamming her against a wall, something feels a little “off”. What possible motive could the police have had for denying any record of the call-out, a response which is against their usual protocol? Why are so few journalists latching onto this and investigating it further? And why, when pressed by freelance journalist Alex Tiffin, did the Met Police deny this entire chain of events, thereby accusing the Guardian of false reporting?
In a case which is so ambiguous, and which concerns the man set to lead our country, The Guardian’s failure to release the recording only fosters more suspicion. If the police were right to dismiss the case without voicing any concerns, then there should be nothing incriminating on the tape which might harm Johnson’s campaign, thus releasing it would do no harm and would ensure peace of mind. And if there is something which ought to be heard and re-analysed, and which might throw his competence, stability and trustworthiness (even further) into question, then this Orwellian censoring raises questions far too disturbing to ignore.
No – Matt Leighton – 43% (74 Votes)
William Gladstone, instead of painting models of buses in his spare time, liked to amble around his properties cutting down trees for fun. While living within the walls of 10 Downing Street, he would often trawl the streets for prostitutes to take home with him, where he would give them a damning theological lecture concerning the sinful nature of their profession. He was also known to frequently self-flagellate, i.e. whipping himself due to his own perceived mortal ills, calling himself a “naughty boy” as he (possibly) went. With this in mind, do we remember William Ewart Gladstone as a masochistic lumberjack weirdo? No. Gladstone is remembered as one of our greatest prime ministers, who brought in compulsory state education, enfranchised millions of people and presided over Britain at the peak of her power. This is because what politicians do in their spare time, if legal, is nothing other than inane petty gossip.
The private affairs of Boris Johnson, who is almost certainly about to become our next prime minister, are certainly no exception. Any journalist who has followed the career of the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip should know that as long as Johnson has been in the public eye, his personal life has never mattered to the vast majority of the electorate. In 2007, twelve years before the majority of Tory leadership candidates, Boris admitted that he had smoked cannabis and snorted cocaine in his youth. Although today these admissions seem trivial to many, admitting to having used class A drugs twelve years ago was seen as something of a scandal by much of the media. However, when Bojo had his past transgressions brought up on Have I Got News For You, he was simply able to laugh the matter off, joking that he had only snorted “icing sugar”. Just a few months later, he had defeated Ken Livingstone to become mayor of London, something which most commentators thought impossible. Today, this feat seems even less likely, with the Labour party winning London in 2017 by over twenty percentage points.
If Boris Johnson was accused of an illegal or seriously questionable act, then it may have been in the public interest to release the tapes, and it may have even dented his bid for number ten. However, all that happened was that he and his partner, Carrie Symonds, had a loud argument late at night, the police were called, and they decided to leave after it was evident that nothing was wrong, let alone illegal. What does a recording of a bit of shouting do to change the facts of the story, and why is it relevant to the public beyond serving as Hello Magazine-tier gossip? Worse than that, continuing to rabbit on about something so trivial and meaningless just makes the media vulnerable to accusations of bias, allowing Boris Johnson to get away with much more serious questions over his head.
Instead of trying to keep the late-night spat in the news, why don’t journalists go after Johnson on substantive issues? Surely Brexit, solving internal rifts in the Conservative Party and ensuring a future for the United Kingdom would be better questions?
For example, one of the biggest issues with Boris’ pitch for PM is that while he is generally popular throughout England and tolerated in Wales, he is undeniably a figure of hate in Scotland. I know several Scottish Tories that are normally in favour of a diamond-hard Brexit, but have decided to vote for Jeremy Hunt in the leadership election because they are absolutely terrified for the survival of the Union under a Bojo premiership. In addition to this, Johnson has attracted the contradictory endorsements of self-styled “Spartan” Brexiteer Mark Francois, who would probably bomb Brussels if he had the chance, and Matt Hancock who has said that No Deal “is not an option”. How can these positions be reconciled, especially with the tiny size of the Conservative Parliamentary majority?
One of Boris Johnson’s greatest skills as a politician has always been in avoiding specific promises and details, allowing him to appear as all things to all people. As mayor of London, he successfully painted himself as a liberal, modern Tory with a global outlook. During the Brexit referendum, he morphed into a flag-waving populist man of the people, promising a renewal in British national confidence. Instead of quibbling about his personal life, interviewers should try and nail him down and find out who exactly Boris Johnson is, because if we don’t know now we’re definitely going to find out by October.
So please, let’s have fewer secretly recorded private conversations, dispense with inane talk of hobbies and favourite films, and focus on actual politics. The oldest and most successful political party in the world could be destroyed within months by a blonde bombshell, and distractions from that seem very short-sighted indeed.