Just last week, very few people outside of Britain had heard of Boris Johnson. But in the wake of the Brexit vote, the politico has become one of the most visible faces of the Leave campaign and a potential successor to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. He’s also been likened, on account of his conservative politics and unique haircut, to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
I was born and raised in London, where Johnson served as mayor for two terms from 2008 to 2016. It’s hard for me to remember a time when I didn’t see Johnson’s mug on the television. For those who haven’t closely followed his career, here are six things you need to know.
Like Donald Trump, Johnson was considered a bit of a joke when he first ran for mayor. John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, famously described him as a “clown.” But that all started to change when he trounced the competition in 2008 in the best set of election results for the Conservatives since the early ’90s. These days, Johnson occasionally plays up to his buffoon image to appear more human in the eyes of the public.
He began his journalism career at The Times after graduating from Oxford University. He didn’t pay more than lip service to objectivity in journalism, and became strongly associated with brewing opposition to the European Union. Some pundits argue that his background as a Euroskeptic journalist has helped him shape the rhetoric in today’s right-wing press. Johnson still writes a column for the Telegraph.
Johnson is a graduate of Eton, the elite boarding school that is perhaps best known for producing a seemingly endless supply of high-powered city workers, lawyers, politicians, and royals. David Cameron is also an old Etonian, which might explain some of the perceived rivalry between the two Tories (Johnson reportedly informed Cameron that he would join the Brexit gang by text message only nine minutes before he announced it publicly.)
In part, due to Johnson’s association with the school, Eton has received some flack for failing to teach its students how to become good leaders. As one Guardian commentator who worked at boarding schools argues, sending children away from home during their formative years has a major psychological impact and leaves them ill-prepared for relationships in the adult world.
Johnson will likely go down in the history books as one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, but polls show that he managed to convince 54% of Londoners that he had been a “successful” mayor. That’s quite an impressive result. Among his biggest feats were the public bicycle hire scheme colloquially known as “Boris Bikes” (although it’s believed that he ripped off the idea from his predecessor), a ban on alcohol consumption on public transportation, and the 2012 Olympics.
Who else could be forgiven for getting stuck on a zip wire in mid-air for a full five minutes?
The term goes back to the 19th century and is associated with paternalism and pragmatism. It’s making a bit of a comeback after being eclipsed for a time in favor of free-market capitalism. Both Johnson and Cameron have been associated with these ideas to some extent, although critics point out that they’re far closer to Margaret Thatcher’s brand of conservatism.
What highlights of Johnson’s career have I missed? Share your ideas with me @chrissyfarr on Twitter.