Thoughts on the Boris brand, Biden's prospects, why the Brits got so good at pop, and what to read.
Apologies for the late delivery of The Ruffian, this has been caused by problems with our supply chain.
Boris Johnson has filed the first of his £1m-a-year columns for the Daily Mail, and it turns out to be a brooding threnody for those killed in the Titan implosion. I imagine the Mail hoped for something spicier. There’s barely any politics in it, other than a desultory jab at “lefties” moaning about unnecessary deaths (I am generally pro-billionaire adventurism but I would suggest that if you want to make an anti-regulation argument, this is very much not the occasion for it). There aren’t many laughs, either. In fact, it’s just not very Boris - it could be by anyone.
This is not accidental; it’s symptomatic of the tricky spot in which Boris now finds himself, as a political brand. He has two strategic problems. The first is that he is out of frontline politics, forever (the stuff about him returning is believed only by Boris cultists, pro and anti). He is no longer has the glamour of a hurricane propagating erratically towards the centre of power, which is what made his Telegraph columns essential reading. When he writes about politics now it’s as a pundit, and as yet another ex-PM (have there ever been so many alive at once and all of them with Opinions?).
The second problem is that Johnson’s greatest talent, as a columnist and as a public personality, is his sense of humour; his mischief, his gleeful subversion of pomposity. The wounded tone of his resignation statement had none of that, which is why it felt a little pathetic. It didn’t read like him, it wasn’t his voice. But that’s the role he is stuck with, now - the people’s tribune, shut out of power by a corrupt establishment, unjustly besmirched. A politician whose brand is Thatcher-like earnestness might get a long way playing that role, but it’s exceedingly hard to play for laughs. Similarly, it’s hard to take his Churchill-in-the-wilderness pitch seriously, because, well, it isn’t serious. He isn’t serious - his whole appeal was based on being gloriously unserious.
So Boris Johnson finds himself trapped in a political persona at odds with his brand, and two cancel each other out. The Daily Mail has signed a perfectly good columnist, but it paid for a brand which doesn’t exist anymore.
Catch-up service: recent posts included an interview with the brilliant David Krakauer on why he’s sceptical about AI risk, my notes on Succession; essays on the fundamental trade-off we make in choosing what to learn about, and the paradox of happiness.
After the jump, my thoughts on Joe Biden’s prospects of a second term, why the Brits played such a major part in the history of rock and pop, whether we should re-read old books, and two new books I recommend. Plus a truly bumper crop of juicy links, including 15m of pure Partridge joy. If you haven’t signed up for a paid sub, now’s the time to do it. You can always
get sucked in foreveropt out again.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Ruffian to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.