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Boris Johnson: F is for …

Posted on 13 February 2009 | 7:02am

I never read any
of the freesheets handed out in London on the grounds that I am unsure which
are pouring more money into the evil that is Paul Dacre and his Mail
newspapers. But as I travelled on the tube last night it was impossible to
escape front pages about Boris Johnson and the f word. From what I could
gather, he had launched a tirade at Labour MP Keith Vaz, and used the f word
many times during the process. And so it proved.

This is quite interesting, possibly
revealing of something important. I have had many conversations with Boris down
the years, particularly when we were journalists, and he has never come over to
me as a swearer. I can remember many occasions on which he said crikey, cripes,
corker, blimey, gosh, whizzo and the like but I do not recall him using the f
, the c word, or the w word.

I cannot say the same for myself. I am neither proud nor ashamed to admit I am
a terrible swearer. All of the above, especially f and w, regularly leave my
lips. The f word in particular lends itself to so many different shades of
description and emotional expression that I tend to defend its use, provided it
is not entirely gratuitous. On the c word, I know it is considered beyond the
pale by many, but I am afraid there are some people for whom it is the only one
that will do.

There is a fair amount of swearing in my diaries – indeed my lawyer felt it
necessary to defend the principle of swearing in diaries at the Hutton Inquiry – though I have yet to match the creativity of my uncle Jim who once,
confronted with a piece of farm machinery that refused to perform, kicked it
and screamed ‘fuck it, the fuckin’ fucker’s fucked tae fuckin’ fuckery.’ I
simply do not accept this was the refuge of someone not good with words. It was
a superb piece of emotional expression. 

My uncle Jim, sadly no longer with us, was an otherwise mild-mannered, gentle,
teetotal Ayrshire farmer. His f word tirade was the result of f for
frustration. I imagine the same must have been the case with BJ. But I think
there may be something else going on here, namely Boris’s inability to take
criticism or pressure. When the going gets tough, he lashes out.

Not a good
sign in a leader. But then what have we really seen to indicate a leader is
what he is? It’s less his use of the f word that bothers me – more that I have
seen little to dispel the view I developed during his campaign for mayor,
namely that the f word which best applies to Boris rhymes with tool.

  • Daniel McGuinness

    Great post! It’s about time the people of London started to see what kind of man Boris really is. Completely incapable with dealing with scrutiny. Can anybody tell me what he’s achieved in the past 8 months other than a monumental piss up on the tube and the cancellation of vital public transport expansion.

  • Mike Dailly

    Perceptive analysis. BJ has made a virtue (and career) out of being a bumbler. While those skills might make be amusing on HIGNFY they don’t lend themselves to good leadership; and certaining not running the biggest city in the UK. It’s clear Boris is out of his depth. A walking illustration of the Peter Principle.

  • Mark Martin

    If I hear the phrase “It’s Political Correctness gone mad” I swear….well, I just swear. Its one of those phrases that makes me want to stick two fingers up at the person saying it and shout “**** off, you narrow minded ****!” to see what reaction I get. There has always been a strange alliance between the right and the left on this issue. Ever since the so-called morality of the Victorians and Edwardians. There was the traditionalists on the right and the reformers like the Webbs and the Fabians on the left who both shared the view that the “working classes” needed to be taught the purer things in life. From the right, so that they would be harder working and from the left so that they would be protected from themselves.
    This all seemed to come to a head in the 1980’s with the rise of the “Moral Majority” – the bunch that kept Reagan in power to wreak havoc on the world (think Bush was bad, then you don’t remember Reagan!) and so emboldened Thatcher. At the same time, left wing politics gave rise to the “alternative” comedians who did so much to sweep away the “mother-in-law/”darkies”/”paddy”/”pufter” material that was the staple of prime time TV like “The Comedians” (and STILL is of people like Jim Davidson). According to Andrew Marr’s “History of Britain”, Thatcher was tying herself in knots throughout the 1980’s trying to reconcile her belief in “freedom” with the rising tide of social freedoms and the need to deal with the issues of the day such as sex education. Her sidekick, the sinister Norman Tebbit, used to utter the term “1960’s” as though he had a turd in his mouth. Remember the ban on Clause 28? At the same time, I remember a near riot at an anti-racist gig in Bradford when due to a power failure, a guy got up on stage and told a joke that the feminists in the audience judged as “sexist” and stormed the stage, ending the gig and playing into the hands of the far Right. We had the ban on the “Black and White Minstrels” as well which was one of the first times I heard the phrase “political correctness gone mad”. It still pops up nowadays when local theatre groups want to do a tribute. Personally I thought the show was weird anyway – middle aged, middle of the road, middle class white guys blacking up in velcro wigs cavorting with white dancers half their age. If that’s your bag, there’s plenty of websites out there to fulfill THAT particular fantasy, I’m sure.
    Strange times.
    Towards the end of the 70’s, I remember giggling myself stupid at Jasper Carrott’s b-side to “Funky Moped” which was a sweary version of “Magic Roundabout” and the newly emerging Billy Connoly. And there was always the Pythons, of course. Then there was the reaction to the release of “Never Mind The Bollocks”, how I was attacked by both the Deputy Head and a posh Tory boy at school for wearing a “Rock Against Racism” badge (the deputy Head to his credit was enforcing the zero tolerance of “political” badges in school which was equally applied to to the prevalent wearing of NF badges, the posh Tory boy was a just a right wing ****!) and my own emerging politics from listening to bands like Gang of Four, Delta Five and The Raincoats.
    So, over the last few months there has been a lot of these strange double standards. There was the Ross/Brand/Sachs saga (wrong because it was RUBBISH and UNFUNNY), the complaints against Gordon Ramsay’s swear count and more recently the sacking of the spawn of Thatcher from “The One Show” for alleged racist comments (a wonderful example of the sins of the Mother being visited on the child!). Most of which has come from the “Daily Mail” – on the one hand wanting to “Stop this rising tide of filth” and on the other saying “Another Victory for the PC brigade”. Two sides of the same coin, that also condemns the so called “Health and Safety/Compensation Culture” that has allegedly led to the banning of everything from conkers (NOT TRUE, incidentally!) to snowball fights and sledging and then expresses moral outrage when someone is blinded by a snowball or, as happened the other day in South Yorkshire, someone dies in a sledging accident.
    The same papers that take great delight in mocking Britney Spears and Kerry Katona, two kids who may not be to everyone’s taste, but are clearly in need of psychiatric help! So it’s okay to poke fun at black people, gay people, Irish people, mentally ill people but NOT point out that people who make ill judged and ill informed statements and acts are wrong and stupid.
    My point being that when people complain about “political correctness gone mad”, just be aware of whose hands you may be playing into.
    As Lenny Bruce said; “Take away the right to say fuck and you take away the right to say ‘Fuck the Government’.”

  • Nikki O\’Reilly

    Absolutely agree about use of fuck and other words. I hardly notice them coming out sometimes, which is probably a bit sloppy. But when they’re needed they can have great effect.

    I remember when I was in the last year of infant school and I got really angry, I used to call people ‘a horrible bastard bitch’. The teachers were shocked so my mum took me aside and explained that some people didn’t like those words and perhaps I could use other ones instead. This obviously didn’t wash with me, seeing as she was the one I’d learnt most of them from. She spent a while trying to persuade me to at least use ‘drat’ instead of ‘shit’. I remember saying that drat was ridiculous, as it just didn’t have the same impact as shit. She gave in eventually. Fucking result!

  • Nikki O\’Reilly

    Love the political correctness rant. There is a group about this on Facebook at:

    As I mentioned on this group, when the Prince Harry/racist story hit the news a few weeks ago, my (rather drunk) friend said (quite innocently): ‘How can Sooty be racist? He’s f***ing orange!’
    Kept me going for hours, that one.

  • Marcus Dillistone

    The swearing seems to me secondary, of more concern is Boris Johnson’s behavior under the pressure of serious scrutiny.

    Boris’s appeal as an affable middle-aged ‘fogey’ hides a deeply in-bred arrogance of considerable proportion. It rarely surfaces because Boris’s life is easy, there is no pressure and he gets away with what he wants; work, affairs, etc., as he flows with the gravy of privilege.

    However, he will become increasingly exposed as the honeymoon fades and he fails to achieve much. Once he becomes truly accountable, expect to see a less affable Boris.

  • Paul Walker

    I agree totally with this blog (from a personal perspective). I myself am found to be guilty of the odd ‘f’ word.
    For me, if the context of Boris’ use of the ‘words’ is exactly as you have outlined in your first paragraph, then this is totally unacceptable.
    Swearing is fine; an expressive, emotive, humanesque quality even. But when it develops into a vicious attack on a fellow citizen, that is when the line is crossed and the swearing is used in an unacceptable manner.
    As for Boris himself, he has always struck me as lacking common sense and now, it seems that the pressure of his role is finally getting to him.

  • Caroline Hett

    The word cunt is not beyond the pale. But it is beyond the pale that men with no imagination use the word cunt believing it to be the ultimate insult.

  • stewartfinn

    I dont think swearing is a problem as long as it is not overused. Leaders swearing in public is really dependent on the situation but if the need is there – use it.

    I heard Tony Blair swear a few times (in private) and to be honest it was funny and endearing in a ‘he is human and is pissed off’ way. But if leaders were to do it often in public it would be crass.

    My mild mannered, overly optimistic and positive girlfriend would rank the f and even c word as her favorite most descriptive words. She is right under the right circumstances there is nothing more satisfying than uttering f…

    *In the interests of transparency Tony Blair’s swearing came waiting on a lift in the TATE and on the phone while at Northern Ireland peace talks at Leeds Castle – which would have made anyone swear.

  • wonderfulforhisage

    Boris a fool, I think not. Methinks that this might be a case of what psychotherapists would call projection. Ask your mate Dolly D.

  • john lewis (no, not the store)

    well, if Boris is a fool, then what does that make the electorate of Greater London? Like it or not, you can argue that he has (as did Ken before him) a bigger personal mandate than any other elected politician and that includes GB and TB!

  • Fugitive Ink

    Surely Boris is just feeling a bit tense these day, what with having produced four different accounts of conversations between himself and his old mate Dave regarding the arrest of Damian Green, three if not four of which must logically be, to use another f-word, fibs?

    There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Bojo regards various aspects of the criminal law, conventional morality, basic attention to professional detail and so forth as rather beneath him – but formal enquiries into what Dave knew abou the Green arrest, and when, may decide otherwise.

    Fool? Nasty piece of work, more likely, all that rather theatrical ‘bumbling’ notwithstanding.

  • Alina Palimaru

    Crikey! I agree with Alastair, I find swearing to be a precious little pressure vavle sometimes. And curses often pass the LAPSE test (for literary, artisitc, political, scientific and educational value), so no worries about the Diaries being vulgar.

    In Johnson’s case it looks like the F-word has outlived its use for any of the above and became his exclusive tool for political discourse. This indicates his language is as clear and clean as his brain must be. If this is how he reacts to pressure…oh well, nobody cares about the tears of a clown.

    To Mark Martin, thanks for the excellent quote by Lenny Bruce!!

  • Fugitive Ink

    The Diaries vulgar? Heavens, no!

    The Diaries in their published form constitute a very much better book, as well as a more interesting historical record, than virtually anyone admits.

    As someone who once worked, albeit extremely briefly, in publishing, I can see the advantages of refusing to send them out in proof copy form – as expected, this did create an enormous buzz around them – but it did so at the cost of ensuring that too many high-profile readers simply filleted them for the scandalous bits, missing out on the overall texture, narrative and character development. (And yes, in discussing them this way, I do realise that they are ‘real’ diaries, unlike e.g. Edwina Curry’s ex-post-facto sub-Mills & Boone construction, but given how much editing clearly went in to trimming them down to their present svelte shape, there’s surely more than a little literary construction involved.)

    The Diaries are, in fact, excellent. Some people have, in print, sneered a bit at the notion that Mr Campbell has ever read, let alone enjoyed, ‘Madame Bovary’. Such people simply cannot have spent much time with the Diaries. Aside from everything we learn about the court politics of the Blair regime, Peter Mandelson’s ego, John Prescott’s usefulness, etc – jolly interesting, by the way – there’s a truly moving story of seduction, idealism, disillusionment, anquish, loss, reconciliation, jealousy, visceral hatred and, well, love there.

    Clearly, plenty of critics will wish to be cynical about Mr Campbell’s motives for telling the story this way – but, despite being a Tory (no, really!) I’m not one of them. Nor do I think, as so many profess to do, that Mr Campbell is a clunkingly bad prose stylist. That persistent flat tone in the diaries, the journalistic directness, the lack of high-flown rhetoric and, yes, the generous amount of swearing tells its own story. Vulgar? Really, anyone who thinks that either hasn’t read the ‘Diaries’, or else has read them through such a thick filter of prejudice as to have missed their qualities entirely.

    So, Mr Campbell, swear away – especially if you’re in the midst of reminding us that Bojo’s reign in London is a microcosm of what his marginally more repulsive mate Dave will doubtless turn out to be, once in power.

  • Alina Palimaru

    To Fugitive Ink:

    I hope you know I was not intimating the Diaries were vulgar. I just addressed AC’s excusing the language he used.

    The Blair Years has become a political bible for me, and can’t wait to read the rest of his work. Unfortunately, AC’s fans in the U.S. have to wait longer for that joy…


  • Fugitive Ink

    Heavens, no, Alina! I don’t think it takes a particularly close and subtle reader of texts to see that you are – quite rightly – an unabashed, passionate and vociferous fan of the Diaries. I was just preaching to all the unconverted, who, you’ll perhaps agree, are rather more numerous than they ought to be.

  • Selena Dreamy

    With compliments – a rave from the grave:


  • Alina Palimaru

    To Selena Dreamy:

    First of all, your hyperlink does not work, so you may want to go back to school for some computer workshops!

    Eventually, I did find your blog page with your views about Alastair Campbell…much to my dismay! I know there are people who disagree with his political views, and other personal aspects of his life. We are all entitled to our opinions. Unfortunately, we are not entitled to our own facts!

    Let me just copy a passage from your meaningless diatribe, to demonstrate what a sick, depraved and pathetic little brain you have!

    Selena Dreamy: “Alastair’s past history was an unbroken chain of disaster, his blunders ranging from minor tactical gaffes to major strategic errors, to say nothing of his psychotic breakdown, clinical depression and
    uncontrollable outbursts.”

    For your information, Alastair is a brilliant political communicator and strategist, and his fanclub includes, among little people like myself, Bill Clinton, Gen. Wesley Clark and many other prominent international figures. He also happens to be the “architect” of one of the most spectacular political comebacks in England’s history. He may have made a few mistakes along the way, who hasn’t? He actually did assume responsibilty for some of them.

    But your passage seems to imply that Alastair himself is entirely responsible for his breakdown and depression. You should be ashamed of yourself!

    You are welcome to visit this blog and submit constructive criticism. I always enjoy a healthy policy debate. But if you intend to return with more unsubstantiated junk, just to brag about how much venom you harbor, then I will only say that you and your blog are a fraud!


  • Selena Dreamy

    Thank you, Elmira, for your the courtesy of your considered reply. It will be replicated, in a day or two, on my own blog:


  • Alina Palimaru

    To: Selena Dreamy


    Someone brought to my attention that you responded to my comments on Alastair’s blog. So I followed the link and lo and behold… the non-entity takes some time off her splendidly idiotic existence to strike back with even more nonsense. Well, shoot me again, because I am not dead yet!!

    Any person who does not have a single-digit IQ should have understood that I was merely addressing your ad hominem attacks against Alastair Campbell. As I made clear at the beginning, I respect other people’s opinions, especially when they are convincingly expressed and corroborated. But you went beyond that, implying that because Alastair used to have a drinking problem etc his professional merits were inexistent. You apply the same unadulterated nonsense to your judgment of Bill Clinton. Completely illogical! That was my only point.

    You, instead, went on yet another rant about Iraq and other policies. My post has nothing to do with Iraq or Alastair’s job in that sense.

    Regarding you labeling me a “political toady:” for your information, there are a few policy areas where I actually disagree with Alastair Campbell. But that does not make him any less brilliant a political communicator, and it certainly does not make him any less worthy of my praise for his professionalism, strength, character, and public service. To quote Barack Obama, “we can disagree without being disagreeable.” But such principles far surpass the comprehension levels of an amoeba like you.

    Furthermore, about your suggestion that I am a Bunny Boiler… Forgive me for stating the obvious, but you are clearly a low-life… And given the fact that you actually looked me up on google, and searched my entire Facebook profile demonstrates the true identity of the Bunny Boiler. Get a life!

    It seems to me that your judgment is clouded by some degree of religious fervor. You comparing yourself to Virgin Mary borders on the hysterical.

    A couple of other issues: I never stated or intimated in any way that I was an authorized moderator for the blog, so you should make the correction.

    In addition, next time you want to make a point, spare your readers the saccharine language and say it. My eyes were bleeding! Your demonstration of how language corrupts thought and vice-versa most likely made Orwell spin in his grave at 100 rotations per minute.

    Finally, I should remark your ingenuity about posting your comments interspersed with pornographic images… The content was boring to tears, so had it not been for those I am not sure people would have made it through to the end of the bloody thing.

    Eat this!