Waiting for Boris Johnson
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The purpose of this editorial is simply to share with the merry band that reads The New York Sun the video of Boris Johnson being interviewed in respect of Winston Churchill’s use of language. We have no illusions about how difficult it would be for Mr. Johnson, or anyone, to emerge as a historic figure on the scale of Churchill, who acceded to his country’s leadership in a time of war having already racked up an epic combination of political and military experience.
Then again, too, it’s hard to recall a recent political figure in Britain who comes quite as close as Mr. Johnson does to echoing Churchill’s style. They were both swashbuckling foreign correspondents, even if Churchill swashed with his buckler, so to speak, in the thick of the Boer War, whereas Mr. Johnson brandished his buckler in the arguably more treacherous theater of Brussels. They both, in any event, emerged as masters of the English language.
We first began to appreciate this in 2016, when Mr. Johnson played a leading role in winning Britain’s vote for independence. He did so by perceiving that the vote could not be won with a xenophobic campaign, even if unrestricted immigration was one of the precipitating grievances of the Brexit campaign. As importantly, he did so by crafting the prose to inspire Britons to focus on the possibilities independence would disclose — the “sunny uplands” of liberty.
It turns out — why should anyone have been surprised? — that Mr. Johnson is a student of Churchill’s use of language. Just how much so one can glimpse in the above video, where, prompted by interviewer Gaby Wood, he starts dilating on some of Churchill’s most famous phrasing. We lack the ability to do it justice, but just take a look. Watch it at the family dinner table, and it won’t be just the famed Ms. Wood who ends up giggling in appreciation.
And none too soon, we say. The debasement of political rhetoric these days has been something to behold. One may blame our inchoate leftists and their stodgy European comrades or one may blame President Trump. Or all of them. No matter, we await the events across the pond with a certain relish at the possibility that — if Mr. Johnson emerges from the fray as the next premier — inspiring political rhetoric could wax again.
Not that the prospect is itself without its dangers. After all, if Mr. Johnson is tapped by his party to lead the country and if Elizabeth II does ask him to become prime minister, he is going to face enormous temptations to compromise on the very principles over which he once walked out of the government. Same goes for the challenge the new premier would be facing in the Strait of Hormuz. Those are corners out of which Mr. Johnson may be tempted to try to talk himself by using his skill for circumlocution. That would be no laughing matter.