Boris Johnson denied he'd run for parliament in 2015 at least 17 times. Photo: Getty
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Boris Johnson denied at least 17 times that he would return to parliament in 2015

The Mayor of London, who has announced he'll be running to be an MP, has consistently denied his wish to return to parliament in 2015.

Boris Johnson upon apparently discovering his predecessor at City Hall Ken Livingstone served both as an MP and Mayor of London simultaneously for over a year was markedly intrigued: 

"Was he really? How long did he do it for?... Really?... Did he?" he spluttered to the Total Politics journalist who was interviewing him, in April this year.

Whether or not this was just bluster, it’s clear Johnson has been tracking his route back to parliament for some time. Of course, he has served as Mayor of London at the same time as being an MP already. Very briefly, at the beginning of his mayoralty in 2008, he continued to be MP for Henley for a few weeks after taking his place at City Hall. So he’s always known it’s possible, and now he’s finally made it public that he will serve out his second term as London mayor (until the 2016 mayoral election), and also run for parliament in the 2015 general election.

However, he’s both skirted around the issue and outright denied his desire to return to parliament in 2015 for some time. Now he’s broken his word, it’s worth looking back at all the times he’s insisted he wouldn’t be running, or dodged the question, with a little help from BuzzFeed’s “11 Times Boris Johnson Denied He Will Stand For Parliament In 2015”.

2011

Do you miss the House of Commons?

I haven’t really missed it that much I have to admit. I love doing what I do.

I was a little surprised when you stood down from Parliament. I thought it would be great to have the Mayor of London in the House of Commons because it gives you a national platform. But I suppose if you have a constituency outside London it’s a bit difficult.

It’s so difficult. South Oxfordshire is a different kettle of fish. It wouldn’t have worked in the long run.

Can you see yourself back in there at some point?

I think Guto [Harri – Boris's head of press] will be there before I’m there.

February, in conversation with Iain Dale in Total Politics magazine

 

***

He says it would be "inconceivable" for him to be both an MP and Mayor if he wins the 2012 election:

“Complete nonsense... The job of Mayor of London is the most wonderful, most engrossing job I could ever imagine I would have in politics and loads of people realise how lucky I am to be here. And I hugely enjoy it, we've got an amazing team in City Hall.

“It gluts the appetite for power and executive action, and I love it. And I really don't want to do anything else. What I want is to get re-elected.

“I've said that I won't go beyond a second term. I'll be well-struck in years. I can certainly promise Londoners that I will fight my absolute utmost to secure a second term. I will do everything I can to persuade them to re-elect us and then I will do the best I can for the next four years.”

September, ITV interview during Conservative Party Conference, from The Telegraph

 

***

“Look, what I have said is that I won’t go on [as mayor] after eight years,” Johnson said when pressed. “I think you can go on too long.” What about cutting short the eight years? “No.” So he will serve a full second term? “You betcha!” Suddenly, he sounds more like the Wodehousian figure many adore. Asked whether he could serve as both an MP and mayor, he declined to comment but gave a low laugh.

September, interview with Prospect magazine

 

2012

BORIS Johnson last night ruled out ever trying to steal David Cameron’s PM crown.

He also declared he will NOT run to be an MP again in the 2015 General Election.

January, The Sun

 

***

There has been speculation that Mr Johnson could be a future Conservative Party leader, but he told the BBC he was dedicating himself to London and people could "take it for granted" that he would not stand as an MP at the 2015 general election.

May, the BBC, upon his re-election as London Mayor

 

***

I’m absolutely not going to be returning to Parliament, I’ve got to do a job here in London and that’s what I want to do and it’s a massive, engrossing job.

September, The Evening Standard

 

***

Mr Johnson stated explicitly that he would not return to Parliament before his mayoral term is up.

October, at Tory party conference, the Mail

 

2013

Boris Johnson has said he does not want to be parachuted in to another MP's seat in order to return to the House of Commons, a Derbyshire Tory party member has claimed.

March, The Derby Telegraph

 

***

Having been accused of ‘dithering’ by backbenchers, it seems Boris has no plans to commit to re-entering Parliament – or remaining as Mayor until 2016. In a recent interview on Pienaar’s Politics on Radio 5 Live, John Pienaar asked the Mayor whether he intended to “keep fudging” the issue about returning to the House of Commons. “Yes,” came the reply.

March, BorisWatch

 

***

Boris Johnson will not stand for parliament at the next election, The Spectator understands. The Mayor of London has told the Cameron circle that he will not seek to return to the Commons in a pre-2015 by-election, nor will he stand at the general election.

July, The Spectator

 

***

Getting down to the nitty gritty of the interview, I ask what it's like being mayor of London. "It's the best job in British politics by miles and I feel increasingly morose that I've forsworn the idea of standing again," he responds emphatically. "As the date draws nearer, like all people who love their job, I'm starting to think 'oh no', but it probably is the right thing to do to give another three years of real effort and then pack it in."

He won't be drawn on what he plans to do next, except, he says, firmly on message, to put the full weight of his support behind Cameron.

August, The Australian

 

***

He has told friends that he has no desire to spend the three years after 2015 serving under Cameron.

August, The Spectator

 

***

Boris Johnson has batted away suggestions he will become an MP again – by claiming he would rather write ‘airport bonk busters’ instead.

October, Metro

 

***

Asked if he will be an MP in 2015, Mr Johnson replied: "No, because I have got a huge amount of work to do and I have got to get on and deliver a colossal amount of stuff in London. What happens after two and a half years of being Mayor, who knows?”

December, York Press

 

2014

Boris Johnson has ruled out standing for Parliament in the run-up to next year’s general election and denied that George Osborne has attempted to convince him to return to Westminster...

The Mayor of London said he was “sick” of discussing his future plans after reports that was left furious following claims that the Chancellor had made a “personal approach” urging him to stand as an MP.

January, the Telegraph

 

***

In a 2011 questions session, Johnson was asked by Assembly member John Biggs if he would “undertake to not seek alternative elected office whilst Mayor of London.” BoJo’s one word response? “Yes.”

April, the Evening Standard

 

***

London Mayor Boris Johnson has denied reports this morning he is going to announce he will stand as an MP at next year's general election.

April, LBC

 

***

He won’t even give a give a clear answer on whether or not he will seek a seat at the 2015 general election. “I refer the Honourable Member to the answer I gave a moment ago,” he says. “People want to hear a lot less about, you know, my career and anybody else’s career, and they want to hear a lot more about number one, how are we going to stop Miliband, who I think would be disaster for this country, and number two, get on with a serious programme for Conservative reform of Britain. The more we navel gaze… let’s look forward.”

April, Total Politics magazine
 

After all these denials, it’s worth looking out for when Boris will break his solemn promise that he is not looking to become Tory leader or prime minister: “As I never tire of saying, my chances of becoming prime minister are only slightly better than being decapitated by a frisbee, blinded by a champagne cork, locked in a fridge or being reincarnated as an olive.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Angela Merkel's call for a burqa ban sets a disturbing precedent

The German chancellor's plan for a partial ban of the full-face veil is a clearly political move, which will do more to harm those women who wear it than protect them.

 

In these febrile times, women’s freedom and autonomy has become a bargaining chip in the poker game of public propaganda — and that goes double for brown, Muslim and migrant women. Angela Merkel should know as well as any other female politician how demeaning it is to be treated as if what you wear is more important than what you say and what you do. With the far-right on the rise across Europe, however, the German chancellor has become the latest lawmaker to call for a partial ban on the burqa and niqab.

We are told that this perennial political football is being kicked about in the name of liberating women. It can have nothing to do, of course, with the fact that popular opinion is lurching wildly to the right in western democracies, there’s an election in Germany next year, and Merkel is seen as being too soft on migration after her decision to allow a million Syrian refugees to enter the country last year. She is also somehow blamed for the mob attacks on women in Cologne, which have become a symbol of the threat that immigration poses to white women and, by extension, to white masculinity in Europe. Rape and abuse perpetrated by white Europeans, of course, is not considered a matter for urgent political intervention — nor could it be counted on to win back voters who have turned from Merkel's party to the far-right AFD, which wants to see a national debate on abortion rights and women restricted to their rightful role as mothers and homemakers.

If you’ll allow me to be cynical for a moment, imposing state restrictions on what women may and may not wear in public has not, historically, been a great foundation for feminist liberation. The move is symbolic, not practical. In Britain, where the ban is also being proposed by Ukip the services that actually protect women from domestic violence have been slashed over the past six years — the charity Refuge, the largest provider of domestic violence services in the UK, has seen a reduction in funding across 80% of its service contracts since 2011.

It’s worth noting that even in western countries with sizeable Muslim minorities, the number of women who wear full burqa is vanishingly small. If those women are victims of coercion or domestic violence, banning the burqa in public will not do a thing to make them safer — if anything, it will reduce their ability to leave their homes, isolating them further.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, racist and Islamophobic attacks spiked in the UK. Hate crimes nationally shot up by 42% in the two weeks following the vote on 23 June. Hate crimes against Muslim women increased by over 300%, with visibly Muslim women experiencing 46% of all hate incidents. Instances of headscarves being ripped off have become so common that self-defense videos are being shared online, showing women how to deflect the “hijab grab”. In this context, it is absurd to claim that politicians proposing a burqa ban care about protecting women: the move is transparently designed to placate the very people who are making Muslim women feel unsafe in their own communities.

When politicians talk about banning the burqa, the public hears an attack on all Islamic headscarves — not everyone knows the difference between the hijab, the niqab and the burqa, and not everyone cares. The important thing is that seeing women dressed that way makes some people feel uncomfortable, and desperate politicians are casting about for ways to validate that discomfort.

Women who actually wear the burqa are not invited to speak about their experiences or state their preferences in this debate. On this point, Islamic fundamentalists and panicked western conservatives are in absolute agreement: Muslim women are provocative and deserve to be treated as a threat to masculine pride. They should shut up and let other people decide what’s best for them.

I know Muslim women who regard even the simple hijab as an object of oppression and have sworn never to wear one again. I also know Muslim women who wear headscarves every day as a statement both of faith and of political defiance. There is no neutral fashion option for a woman of Islamic faith — either way, men in positions of power will feel entitled to judge, shame and threaten. Either choice risks provoking anger and violence from someone with an opinion about what your outfit means for them. The important thing is the autonomy that comes with still having a choice.

A law which treats women like children who cannot be trusted to make basic decisions about their bodies and clothing is a sexist law; a law that singles out religious minorities and women of colour as especially unworthy of autonomy is a racist, sexist law. Instituting racist, sexist laws is a good way to win back the votes of racist, sexist people, but, again, a dreadful way of protecting women. In practice, a burqa ban, even the partial version proposed by Merkel which will most likely be hard to enforce under German constitutional law, will directly impact only a few thousand people in the west. Those people are women of colour, many of them immigrants or foreigners, people whose actual lives are already of minimal importance to the state except on an abstract, symbolic level, as the embodiment of a notional threat to white Christian patriarchy. Many believe that France's longstanding burqa ban has increased racial tensions — encapsulated by the image earlier this year of French police surrounding a woman who was just trying to relax with her family on the beach in a burkini. There's definitely male violence at play here, but a different kind — a kind that cannot be mined for political capital, because it comes from the heart of the state.

This has been the case for centuries: long before the US government used the term“Operation Enduring Freedom” to describe the war in Afghanistan, western politicians used the symbolism of the veil to recast the repeated invasion of Middle Eastern nations as a project of feminist liberation. The same colonists who justified the British takeover of Islamic countries abroad were active in the fight to suppress women’s suffrage at home. This is not about freeing women, but about soothing and coddling men’s feelings about women.

The security argument is even more farcical: border guards are already able to strip people of their clothes, underwear and dignity if they get the urge. If a state truly believes that facial coverings are some sort of security threat, it should start by banning beards, but let's be serious, masculinity is fragile enough as it is. If it were less so, we wouldn't have politicians panicking over how to placate the millions of people who view the clothing choices of minority and migrant women as an active identity threat.

Many decent, tolerant people, including feminists, are torn on the issue of the burqa: of course we don't want the state to start policing what women can and can't wear, but isn't the burqa oppressive? Maybe so, but I was not aware of feminism as a movement that demands that all oppressive clothing be subject to police confiscation, unless the Met’s evidence lockers are full of stilettos, girdles and push-up bras. In case you're wondering, yes, I do feel uncomfortable on the rare occasions when I have seen people wearing the full face veil in public. I've spent enough time living with goths and hippies that I've a high tolerance for ersatz fashion choices — but do wonder what their home lives are like and whether they are happy and safe, and that makes me feel anxious. Banning the burqa might make me feel less anxious. It would not, however, improve the lives of the women who actually wear it. That is what matters. My personal feelings as a white woman about how Muslim women choose to dress are, in fact, staggeringly unimportant.

If you think the Burqa is oppressive and offensive, you are perfectly entitled never to wear one. You are not, however, entitled to make that decision for anyone else. Exactly the same principle applies in the interminable battle over women's basic reproductive choices: many people believe that abortion is wrong, sinful and damaging to women. That's okay. I suggest they never have an abortion. What's not okay is taking away that autonomy from others as a cheap ploy for good press coverage in the runup to an election.

This debate has been dragging on for decades, but there's a new urgency to it now, a new danger: we are now in a political climate where the elected leaders of major nations are talking about registries for Muslims and other minorities. Instituting a symbolic ban on religious dress, however extreme, sets a precedent. What comes next? Are we going to ban every form of Islamic headdress? What about the yarmulke, the tichel, the Sikh turban, the rainbow flag? If this is about community cohesion, what will it take to make white conservatives feel “comfortable”? Where does it stop? Whose freedoms are politicians prepared to sacrifice as a sop to a populace made bitter and unpredictable by 30 years of neoliberal incompetence? Where do we draw the line?

We draw it right here, between the state and the autonomy of women, particularly minority and migrant women who are already facing harassment in unprecedented numbers. Whatever you feel about the burqa, it is not the role of government to police what women wear, and doing it has nothing to do with protection. It is chauvinist, it is repressive, it is a deeply disturbing precedent, and it has no place in our public conversation.

 
 
 
 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.