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20 July 2022

Letter of the week: Jonson and Johnson

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By New Statesman

Many years ago, I attended a performance of Ben Jonson’s Volpone at Eton College, where my son was a scholarship boy. A certain Boris Johnson was aptly cast as the roguish lead. For the first 20 minutes or so I was quite impressed, but as the evening wore on it became apparent that this was merely a blustering schoolboy showing off in a role that he had not quite mastered. In this respect, nothing much has changed. He was not popular among his contemporaries. Ed Smith (“A plague on all our houses”, 15 July), quotes Johnson’s shrewd housemaster, Martin Hammond, who wrote that Johnson regarded himself as exceptional and “free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else”.

In view of what was patently obvious so long ago, it is incredible that the Tory party enabled him to become leader and then turned a blind eye to his lies and poor judgement over an extended period. Many in the party still support him and are happy to let him hang on for two months while the country faces serious crises. They show just as much irresponsibility as their tarnished leader.
Geoff Brown, Walton on Thames, Surrey

Would-be world king

Jason Cowley (Editor’s Note, 15 July) notes that Boris Johnson was “grotesquely indulged” in his quest to be world king. Charitably, he prefers not to point the finger at those who indulged him most recklessly.

In May 2019, when Johnson was running for leadership of the Conservative Party, I wrote a column for the Telegraph, and quoted from Aldous Huxley’s novel Point Counter Point on the superficial character of Oxonian brilliance. I received a note from the team running the comment pages that day, asking me to rewrite the column, “so that it’s not having a go at Boris”.

In the aftermath of Johnson’s public humiliation, it was instructive to read the same people listing his failings, which were, apparently, many and manifest.

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To most observers, including a few at the Telegraph, they had been evident for two decades.
Michael Henderson, London W13

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After the fall

The only part of Ed Smith’s admirable evisceration of our departing Prime Minister (“A plague on all our houses”, 15 July) with which I beg to differ is his description of Johnson as “fluent”. On the contrary, he is the most hesitant, bumbling and inarticulate British premier of my lifetime. He seems to find it all but impossible to string together a sentence without peppering it with an inexhaustible supply of “ums”, “ahs” and “ers”. It is by no means his worst characteristic but it is surely unimpressive and infuriating for his listeners. For my part, as speaker, I resisted the temptation to say, ”Oh, spit it out, man!”
John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons 2009-19

Reading Simon Kuper (“Let’s play master and servant”, 15 July) and Ed Smith dissect Boris Johnson’s premiership, I’m reminded that, for all the right’s accusations that the left is obsessed with “student” politics, it’s the right that seemingly get to Oxbridge, decide who’s going to run the country, and then spend the next 30 years enacting the same melodramas. We need to break the long-held cultural assumptions that equate class and ability. Politics is overdue the professional revolution that happened to sport in the early 20th century.
Craig Barker, Cheshire

The outstanding “Johnson era” series of articles (15 July) makes one weep at the time and energy the country has wasted following the antics of Boris Johnson. Your series should be added to and become required reading.
Peter Bareau, East Horsley, Surrey

I have to register my appreciation for one of the greatest satires I have ever read: Edward Docx’s “The death of the clown” (15 July) made me laugh out loud.
Greg Siggs, Ryhall, Rutland

On the nose

One of the many benefits of the long-awaited resignation of Boris Johnson is that I shall no longer be affronted by the long-nosed cartoons alluding to Pinocchio (“The art of drawing Boris Johnson”, 15 July). The whole point of the puppet’s story is that he learns from his misbehaviour and becomes, in the end, a real and good boy.
Ann Lawson Lucas, Beverley, East Yorkshire

André Carrillo gave an insight into a much needed art form. His favourite image, Boris Johnson with rain clouds gathered over his head, works really well, although every time I look at it, I see the late racing presenter John McCririck. Johnson should have replaced McCririck rather than become prime minister.
Steve Turner, Hellifield, North Yorkshire

Managed decline

While I welcome the new contributor Tomiwa Owolade (Out of the Ordinary, 8 July), his column was yet another article that framed falling birth rates as a problem and linked older people with stagnation and a lack of vision. I’m not the only person I know over 60 whose thinking is neither stagnant nor conservative. And while the population decreasing is not sufficient to solve the world’s terrifying problems – climate catastrophe and the rest – it is necessary. As for who will do the work, I still look forward to the Tomorrow’s World vision of automation ushering in the creative leisure society.
Jeanette Longfield, London W7

Natural high

Sophie McBain writes that a “sense of intimate connection to the natural world defines the mystical experience many encounter through psychedelics” (Encounter, 15 July). The turn to psychedelics to deepen our consciousness strikes me as a consequence of the disenchanted, materialist world-view that is now culturally prevalent. Meditation and prayer, regularly undertaken, provide an evolving experience of intimate connection, to self, other and world, that does not rely on taking any psychedelics.
The Reverend Ben Brown, Lewes, East Sussex

Nothing upstairs

I was amused to see Bill Wiggin MP plucked from his deserved obscurity by Sasha Swire (The Diary, 15 July). He is my siblings’ MP and is perspicaciously known by his constituents as “Bungalow Bill”.
Sue Lloyd, Bristol

We reserve the right to edit letters

This article appears in the 20 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Broken Party