Steampunk is a genre of science fiction in which enthusiasts dress up in modified Victorian clothing and fantasise about things like lighter-than-air airships that are powered by steam engines, or wondrous submarines such as those imagined and written about by Jules Verne.
Steampunks look back at what was and imagine what is. And Boris Johnson has the mindset of a steampunk.
The former foreign secretary and mayor of London is leading a crowded field of Conservative members of parliament who are seeking to replace Prime Minister Theresa May as leader of the party and subsequently be granted the keys to 10 Downing Street. He is the highest profile name of the dirty dozen in the running — The only trouble is that there’s a growing movement to stop him. In effect, his biggest hurdle is he himself.
And last week, his campaign suffered a serious setback when a magistrate determined that he had a criminal case to answer when it comes to misleading the United Kingdom electorate during the Brexit referendum campaign of June 2016. Then, simply ‘Boris’, he was the very public face of the Leave campaign, trundling around Britain in a red bus that claimed that £350 million (Dh1.63 billion) would be made available to the UK’s chronically underfunded National Health Service if voters left the European Union (EU). That’s a claim that was simply untrue, misled voters, and swayed many to casting their votes to end the four-decade marriage with Brussels. And now, thanks to the efforts of a crowdfunded appeal brought by concerned citizens, Boris has a case to answer.
He, with typical Boris bluster, says it’s an affront to parliamentary politics and freedom of speech. It might well be, but it might also be a crime that carries the maximum sentence of life in prison. For his many opponents, the thought of Boris languishing away in prison for the rest of his life is indeed poetic justice for now, even if there’s only the very slightest chance that might happen. A weekly column for the Daily Telegraph on the life of an inmate might not be worth the £275,000 annual stipend he now receives for his musings on the working of real politik in the UK.
The official charge sheet against him should note his full name as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and that he turns 55 later this month. He was actually born in New York to parents who were diplomats, and he consequently was educated at the European School of Brussels, Ashtown House and, of course Eton — de rigueur for a potential prime minister. Add in a degree in Classics from Balliol College in Oxbridge — plus being president of the Oxford Union debating society — and it becomes pretty self-evident that Boris was focused on a career in politics from the time he could string a sentence together cohesively. Whether it contains the truth is merely an inconvenience it would seem, given the charge he now faces. Or that he actually began his journalism career at the Times, but was sacked for falsifying a quotation. He then became the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, with his coverage being highly critical of the workings of the EU and its policies. He went on to become the paper’s assistant editor for five years before leaving in 1999 to take over the editorship of the Spectator magazine, a publication dripping in Conservatism and free marketeering.
His first term at Westminster came after being elected in the very safe Tory seat of Henley, just west of London on the River Thames in the 2001 election, and he held the seat until he took a run at becoming the directly elected mayor of London. He won, and proved to be highly popular with most of the capital’s voters.
He reorganised the city’s chaotic tube system and timings, and brought in a new generation of iconic red double-deckers — still known today as “Boris buses”. But his greatest failure and an issue that still dogs him with more possible legal proceedings was his decision to back and fund a new garden bridge crossing the River Thames. It never got off the ground, soaked up more than £100 million in public funds and was cancelled as soon as he left office in 2015, being elected the MP for Uxbridge.
His shift to the Uxbridge constituency, close to the sprawling complex of Heathrow Airport, was meant to ensure that the planned third runway there — vehemently opposed by many living under the flightpaths of Europe’s busiest airport — would never be built.
That he was appointed foreign secretary by May and conveniently out of the country on a day trip to Kabul when the vote approving the project was held in the House of Commons merely served to underline his ability to play fast and loose with political ethics. Certainly then, on the face of it, he would therefore appear to have all of the qualifications necessary to succeed May. Too bad then that a poll released last week shows that he’s the candidate most distrusted by British voters for 10 Downing Street. Steampunks, after all, are simply full of hot air.