Boris Johnson read these words from Philippians 2 in Westminster Abbey today :
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
It is, of course , possible that Johnson was set up and didn’t realise it. But if you wanted to find somewhere in the scriptures a text which best referenced the malignant personality and failed leadership of our woeful Head of Government you really couldn’t do much better than this.
“Selfish ambition” and “conceit” are the drivers of Johnson’s life and he is where he is because of them. He is an under-achiever throughout his adult life except that his ambition and self-regard have somehow delivered him privilege and high office. What has he done to deserve this? You will struggle and fail to find anything tangible. His private life is littered with deception and moral turpitude and his public life is much the same. This is a man you would not trust as far as you could throw him.
It was once the case that politicians who had grown up amongst privilege and advantage recognised this. “Noblesse Oblige” was sometimes a characteristic of Etonians but as author of “The importance of being Eton” Nick Fraser put it in 2005 “Etonians are the ultimate pragmatists, totally free of ideology. Other than the imperatives of getting – and gaining – power, no conspicuous motives inspire them”
But with the pragmatism there is rarely humility and never, ever, a tendency to “regard others as better than yourselves”. Eton is the top of the scholastic pile and it’s pupils know it. They may not always call those lower in the pile “Oiks” – as Johnson and Cameron called George Osborne (St Paul’s and Magdalen) at Oxford. But they know there’s no one better than an Etonian.
“Looking to [his] own interests” is indisputably what Johnson has always done. Marriages are abandoned if he decides that the pleasures of a new partner are what he wants. Loyalties, both private and political, are abandoned almost at a whim. Fidelity and honesty don’t enter into consideration – screw the “interests of others”.
Johnson wouldn’t even see the hypocrisy of reciting the words from Philippians 2 today. Words are just slogans to him without the uncomfortable need to ensure that they are true for himself, or said with genuine moral meaning. Momentarily there maybe the conceit that what he says is principled but should he need to contradict them – well there’s always another principle to choose.
The American political journalist Michael Gerson says that political hypocrisy is “the conscious use of a mask to fool the public and gain political benefit”. Today the mask slipped but no doubt tomorrow the sycophants will provide another one and Boris Johnson will live to pose and lie for another day.