AS the gaggle of screaming mostly teenage fans at New Street station in Birmingham reached a crescendo, a passer-by was well within her rights to ask the question. “Is there a rock star?” she queried in response to the Justin Beiber-esque mania that had gripped the always busy but seldom crazy train station.

Flying high with the voters Boris has a high humiliation threshold…

Well he does has big floppy hair, loves a stage and his arrival always causes a stir but the unlikely reception was for Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson whose arrival in the northern Labour-city of Birmingham was this week likened to the famous platform arrival of Vladimir Lenin who stepped onto Finland Station in St Petersburg to begin the Russian Revolution.

And in many ways the arrival of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson in Birmingham late last year (2012) is the start of what could be a great upheaval this year not just for the Tories but British politics in general which is as desperate for a hero as Canberra’s federal parliament is for respect, appreciation and talent.

Boris has never been far from the headlines for all the right and wrong reasons but since his profile during the 2012 London Olympics, he has become very much the man everyone in the UK is talking about.

He was always going to go to Birmingham to attend the Tory national conference in October but not even the party faithful could have imagined the reception he received.

It began at the station with hundreds of adoring chanting fans – including one adapted soccer serenade “I love you Borrrrr-is, and if it’s quite alright I need you Borrrr-is …” – before he was whisked away to the Hyatt Hotel where he was met with another throng of adulation.

But nothing compared with when he actually arrived at the conference centre – a full day before he was expected to play an official role - where the British press not known for being short of adjectives described his reception as simply going nuts.

By his own admission it was all very bad for his ego and stole the show somewhat from the lackluster Prime Minister David Cameron whose leadership of the party and country has been roundly criticized as weak, particularly in light of the worst double dip recession in a generation and an already unstable government coalition of convenience (and yes just like Canberra).

But then he protests too much and every time he praised his boss Cameron to some observers there was just a hint of cynicism inside his buffoonery and lively public address masking massive ambition.

By the time Boris, known affectionately among other names as BoJo, took to the stage the following day for his official address, his name was on its way from being whispered as a future prime minister to being openly spoken by many in the 1500 person hall and by some who held his name aloft in banners.

His popularity in Britain is as much out of desperation for a political saviour with a clear well understood attitude in unstable times as it is for genuine admiration for a man whose wit, unorthodox views and self deprecation is almost Australian in its delivery. Not to mention the Eton and then Oxford educated man is actually intelligent too.

“I think I deserve some sort of world record as the biggest harvester of undeserved credit during the Olympics,” he said in mocking modesty this week of his popularity that stemmed from his very animated support during the Games, including a ride on a flying fox which broke down midway and a raucous “bringing home the bacon” address for Team GB.

Johnson first came to public attention in 1999 as editor of the Spectator magazine, having previously worked for The Times (where he was reportedly sacked for falsifying a quote) and later the UK’s Daily Telegraph.

In 2003 he was vice chairman of the Conservative Party and a year later elevated to the Shadow front bench as Arts spokesman. But he was later sacked from these roles over claims he lied about a four-year extramarital affair – which reportedly included romps in the backs of taxis.

But friend David Cameron brought him back to the front bench when he was made leader and in 2008 Johnson was put up as the candidate for the plum role of mayor of London, which he this year was re-elected for a second term.

But it was the Olympics and his fantastic oratory that saw his public popularity in Britain soar with the 48-year-old New York born man able to capture the mood of the people even if it meant criticising his own party. He makes no apologies for the later and sees it as healthy democracy.

He would come out with the most ridiculous over the top phrases, now known as Borisisms, but also passionate nationalistic sentiments about the greatness of Great Britain. And all the while he never took himself too seriously as was evident by the flying fox stunt which jammed to leaving him dangling embarassingly above the ground in his suit, an incident which he would later regale.

It is a rare talent to be able to self deprecate while at the same time putting forward with statesman-like aplomb clear vision on public policy even on sensitive issues such as the economy, education and even the highly vexed London issue of a Heathrow Airport extension.

Think cross between Joh Bjelke-Petersen for the lines and charisma of Bob Hawke with a sprinkle of Bob Katter nuttiness and you’d close to the Johnson double helix DNA.

But not everybody is a fan.

Senior Tory Cabinet MP Kenneth Clarke nailed it for some, including those in the Cameron camp who believes he needs less ambitions for the top job and more concentration on his current mayoral role.

“He’s a great entertainer, he’s a great personality … he is actually a highly intelligence highly educated guy,” he said.

But he later added: “At the moment its terribly fashionable to see Boris as an aspirant prime minister to be. I’d have thought it disasterous for Boris unless he gets it under control, it isn’t going to go anywhere and by next year it will have gone out of fashion.”

High profile commentator and editor Max Hastings described his friend Johnson as an egomaniac, an “X Factor” showman bereft of judgement, loyalty and discretion who couldn’t control his libido let alone a country.

“He proved himself the perfect maître d’ for the London Olympics but few maître d’s are fit to cook the dinner … his chaotic public persona is not an act - he is indeed manically disorganized about everything except his own image management,” he wrote in his weekly Daily Mail column.

“He is also a far more ruthless and frankly nastier figure than the public appreciates.”

He closed out with threatening to leave Britain if Johnson made it to the top job and added: “Only in the star crazed frivolous Britain of the 21st century could such a man have risen so high – and he is utterly unfit to go higher still”.

His poor judgement remark no doubt a reference to when in 2009 on being formally informed in advance of an arrest of an MP he told the Police Commission Paul Stephenson he did not regard the arrest as common sense and wanted “convincing evidence” it was warranted which prompted a formal inquiry into alleged political interference. Or perhaps inappropriate comments seen as racism for which he had to public apologise including the one about the cannibals in PNG and the Queen’s picanninis in her Commonwealth or his reference to his $390,000 extra salary as a columnist for a British newspaper, on top of his mayoral salary, which he described as “chicken feed” at the height of the recession in July 2009.

Johnson knows that while he has nurtured his figure of fun to get him the mass popularity, he will have to do a lot more to be seen as a serious contender for the high office. That transition began at Birmingham from the mayhem of his arrival to his formal speech which did include hilarity that drew raucous applause and laughter but was also interspersed with the serious including an outline of his achievements for the city of London and city plans for the future.

The general election is due in 2015 and Johnson is committed to the mayoral role till 2016 but anything could happen in the interim as the momentum continues. In Birmingham, Johnson he would not try to get elected to parliament before 2016, although he later joked – or not – he sometimes breaks his promises.

Comments on this post will close at 6pm AEDT.

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19 comments

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    • Geronimo says:

      05:51am | 05/01/13

      Assisted by The Fearless Friar in Court Jester Clobber “doing some very important things’’ on the Monkey Bars, Bojo-n-Co, supported by a Great Big Troupe of True Believers, would make an excellent act to support the Aspirational Nationalism of the Warringah Town Clown.

    • ZSRenn says:

      07:39am | 05/01/13

      Give it a rest! Struth Geronimo! It’s a lost cause, your patronising comments are boring and almost trollish. This Australian is sick of people who hijack stories with the same ol same ol. The difference between your comments and some of the other haters is that theirs make sense.

      People like you who are not interested in arguing the politics and only interested in trying to sway the voters by denigration of a particular person, put this nation at further risk, above the damage that has been caused, due to bad government since 2007.

    • yeah-no says:

      09:16am | 05/01/13

      ZS Renn, you were going well with your rebuttal then undid the good work with your partisan ‘bad government since 2007’ ending, which cancelled it out.

    • Geronimo says:

      01:05pm | 05/01/13

      Never part with your deluded idea of patronization for Gods sake Zenno, The Abbott would get lost in his Weird-n-Wacky World without the protection of his Patron Saints of the Periphery

    • Court Jester says:

      01:39pm | 05/01/13

      Time to clear up a few myths.

      First, “ZSRenn”.
      Huh. It may look like it is, but it’s no more a real name than any of the rest of us use. It’s just a “handle”, pinched in this case from the name of the Chinese blog site for expats, Zhong Shang Renn.

      Secondly,  “Australian”.
      Yeah, well, maybe. In fact he’s an expat, resident in China.

      As for his opinions, well, they’re just that.
      Partisan, usually strident, often weakly argued and more often than not strewn with basic errors of fact.

      From time to time he trots out China v Australia comparisons - often unsourced. If you do make time to check, you’ll usually catch him out, trying to compare apples v oranges, misquoting numbers, dates and etc, or simply misrepresenting facts.

      From time to time he likes to play the “its just simple maths” card. These are usualy the most fun, as they mosly backfire as soon as they’re checked. He’s tripped up over basic maths, or over basic grasp of public info, so often it’s a joke.

      A selection of his best include

      spurious claims about the Chinese high-speed Tibet railway and its supposedly splendid costings;
      repeatedly misrepresenting the meaning of ABS income stats and definitions (and miscalculating the results);
      and
      repeatedly making false claims and basic errors in the numbers over carbon pricing rebates.
      (If you have the patience, you can check ‘em out by a google site search.)

      Plus, if you do pull him up over a factoid, you’ll probably have to do all the checking yoursefl - getting him to post a source is like pulling teeth.

      “Interested in arguing politics?” What a joke.

      Still, he got this bit right:
      “sick of people who hijack stories with the same ol same ol”
      Mmm, indeed!  Pretty much sums up ZSR - and PJ the astroturfer, too.

    • The Badger says:

      04:04pm | 05/01/13

      @court jester
      Pretty much sums up the two them.
      One a expat Australian (or so he says) living in China
      the other an Expat Brit living in Australia.

      Both astroturfers full of words without substance.
      They blow thought bubbles out into the either in the hope people who like thought bubbles will be attracted to them. You watch the bubbles descend onto the threads of the punch, where they quickly burst into the nothingness from whence they came.

      If we had a tea party in Australia, they’d be lifetime members.

    • ZSRenn says:

      04:31pm | 05/01/13

      One thing you cannot accuse me of is making personal attacks on members and another is that I recognise a member of The Punch I give him or her the courtesy of allowing him or her to maintain there anonymity.

      Court Jester and Badger you have broken a cardinal rule of forum participation. the question is why.

      My answer would be that I have struck a nerve in your game. I have constantly called for supporters of the Gillard government to answer my calls re her poor government rather than continue with the attacks on Tony Abbott.

      I can only assume that you are unable to defend this the worst government in Australian history and so you have turned to personal insults on me in an attempt to bully me from the conversation.

      What you should be doing is asking Gillard how she got your beloved Labor party into such a mess?

      PS I travel to Hong Kong to vote!  I am responsible for putting around $2,000,000 into Australia every year for which I receive no reward or compensation and I wonder what those calling me un Australian have done for our country lately.

    • Super D says:

      06:21am | 05/01/13

      The only reason Boris gets any airtime whatsoever is because David Cameron is such a wet Tory. He’s from the same mould as Malcolm Turnbull. He has all the fashionable opinions and is seen by the left as a decent chap to be in opposition. That being said Boris, like Cameron is pro EU whIch basically means he’s yesterdays man.

    • Nathan says:

      07:49am | 05/01/13

      Dam Turnbull how dare he appeal to people on the other side of politics. I agree though fashionable opinions are horrible i mean who wants a leader or a politician to say what many of us think. As far as fashionable Abbot would be your man on that one, has he made a stance on anything that could lose him votes?

    • AdamC says:

      11:45am | 05/01/13

      Actually, I see Johnson as a sort of British Turnbull equivalent. This is because, like Turnbull, Johnson is a media darling who is also popular with many moderate voters because (a) he has a lot of personal charisma and (b) he does not have many strong views on contentious issues. (Or, if he does have controversial views, he has managed to keep them pretty quiet.)

      Where the situation diverges between Oz and Blighty is that the latter already has a PM who ticks all the moderate, media darling boxes. And he is, surprisingly, actually doing quite badly. Here, by contrast, we have much more partisan, abrasive party leaders. Maybe what the Brits need is a new Maggie to up the Tory reform zeal, rather than a playful, lightweight Boris to keep the press entertained?

    • Richard says:

      12:17pm | 05/01/13

      @Nathan, there is a difference between ‘fashionable’ and ‘populist’. I dare say Abbot says things that more people agree with than not.  For eg. it was unfashionable for him to say that he wishes his daughter would stay a vein until she is married, but you ask any dad who had a pretty daughter the same question and I reckon most of them would feel the same way…

    • ZSRenn says:

      07:42am | 05/01/13

      Judging by this story the Tories would be best to completely ignore any political aspirations this man may have. Should he be elevated to a higher position the press would spend all of its time airing every wart that he has and finding new closets to open.  It would be like a journalistic feeding frenzy!

    • Jaqui says:

      08:08am | 05/01/13

      Who cares what the poms do?

    • Sprocket says:

      08:34am | 05/01/13

      babble-on does.
      He ‘quotes” from the tabloids all the time as if anyone else cares about his motherland.

    • 29 gold medals says:

      08:37am | 05/01/13

      Australians it seems, judging by how much British news/culture dominates your media landscape, with many stories coming with handy comments sections that allow Australians to take time out of their perfect lives to air bile and contempt for a country they profess to not think about. It’s all terrifically amusing!

    • Rose says:

      08:55am | 05/01/13

      It is a sign of what could happen here. In a Parliament with an absolute lack of leadership on both sides, with no viable options to look forward to in either party, we are starved for some one to fall in behind. We are ripe for the picking if anyone, in either Party, is able to string together some rousing speeches and shows any real veneer of leadership qualities.
      Similar to the hype when Rudd squared off against a tired and on the nose John Howard, the hype when a potential political messiah, such as Rudd appeared to be, comes along will be deafening!!

    • TallyHo says:

      01:21pm | 05/01/13

      @29 Aww, how cute to see a Pommy with his tail up for a change. We Aussies are happy that you and your countrymen can have a little sporting pride for a a while. It must have been so monotonous watching a country with a third of your population thrash you at oow, just about everything for decades.  Britain should cherish those goldies and polish them frequently, because who knows how many more your combined British team will ever see?

      Cheers, old bean.

      PS We Antipodeans are remarkably well informed. We even know what babganouge is! I know, shocking, isn’t it?

    • stephen says:

      09:21am | 05/01/13

      The only reason Boris gets a look-in is cause he’s an Old Eton boy and the Brits, like us, are still curious as to how old money does things.
      But if he was instead a Birmingham Co-Op drop out he’d get shown the door quicker that Winston’s cigar smoke in a room full of lesbians at a flower show.

      That, plus he is eccentric, which in my opinion is a put-on, a show for the EU deniers and the voters who want to vote Right, but draw the line at parting one’s hair that way.

    • vox says:

      02:55pm | 05/01/13

      Boris Yeltsin?

 

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