Being on first-name terms with the Prime Minister


Among those who got in touch with me after my previous post last week (thank you, Paul!) were a number who disliked the way I had adorned the title with the word ‘Boris’.

I tend to agree with them. It isn’t that the word is particularly offensive – what they didn’t like was the slap-on-the-back laddishness implied by calling the prime minister by his first name. Which, as they say, rather plays into his hands.

It is true that there is a small coterie of senior politicians who tend to be known by their first name – though, often not the first name they were christened with (Boris – sorry, Mr Johnson, was actually named Alexander).

It does seem to be a pretty modern phenomenon. We didn’t call Wilson Harold or Harold, Anthony, Winston, Clement, Neville, Stanley, Ramsay or all the rest of them. But we did call Heath Ted and Thatcher Maggie – though it seems to me that neither of those epithets were used by their supporters. Then there was Ken and Vince and now Boris.

Thinking about it, as I have for – ooh, minutes now – it does suggest to me that, not only are these politicians clearly their own people (even if we don’t really know who they are), and of course it helps them to have one or two syllables by which they are immediately recognised. But also that these names began to become part of the conversation, not via their supporters but via their political enemies.

Even so, Mr Johnson needs to realise that this kind of politics is not a game learned on the playing fields of Eton. It is not a laugh. Those of us who lent him our votes because of his electoral stance against tall buildings in London certainly won’t make that mistake again (he entirely forgot that particular promise). Nor is it any kind of jape, which might involve shutting down our democratic institutions.

None of this should suggest that we don’t appreciate cleverness in our politicians. We see it rarely enough. But it is right that continuing to call our first among equals as if he was one of us may encourage him to carry on in the English political style (banging of head against brick walls). Or failing to propose any kind of alternative to the Irish backstop – which amounts to much the same thing. See what I wrote before on the psychology of political incompetence.

If he carries on like that, then as people used to say of the First World War (started 105 years ago yesterday) – he will all be over by Christmas!

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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