The reaction garnered by Boris Johnson in Scotland yesterday is one usually reserved for pantomime villains. Johnson is not the first prime minister to have been publically booed, but achieving this a mere six days into his premiership is almost unheard of. Incidents of booing and public displays of dissent have taken many forms over the history of British politics but no leader has hit the ground running as quickly as Johnson. Nonetheless, a few have come close.
Theresa May, booed during her own party conference in 2018
Days into premiership: 811
Booing score: 8/10
The booing began when she mentioned her so-called Chequers Brexit plan, and she was denied a standing ovation as she left the scene in an unprecedented display of party dissent.
David Cameron, booed during Andy Murray’s winner’s speech at Wimbledon in 2016
Days into premiership: 2,252
Booing score: 5/10
During his winning speech at Wimbledon 2016, tennis champion Andy Murray pointed out the “legends” in the audience, including “the prime minister of the country.” Murray perhaps didn’t recieve the reaction he was hoping for: the crowd cut him off with their booing. The tennis player extinguished the tension, quipping that “I certainly wouldn’t like to be prime minister. It’s an impossible job.”
George Osborne, booed handing out medals at the Paralympics in 2012
Days into premiership: N/A (lol, sorry George)
Booing score: 4/10
Though not a former prime minister, much to his own disappointment and literally nobody else’s, Osborne did receive quite the public reaction during the 2012 London Paralympics. And by that I mean that boos rang out as it was announced that the chancellor of the exchequer would be giving out medals for the 400-metre race. Embarrassing for Osborne, yes, but, as the commentator remarked, “a nice moment for Chris Brownridge”, who, as the then UK marketing director for BMW, was joining Osborne in honouring the winners.
Quite who booked the achitect of austerity, a policy that perhaps hit those with disabilities hardest, for the job, I’m not sure.
Margaret Thatcher, at the celebration of her funeral in 2013
Days into premiership: 12,394
Booing score: 10/10
Thatcher, it is fair to say, was no stranger to booing when she was in Downing Street. But she might be the only former prime minister to still be being booed, more than two decades later, posthumously. During her state funeral in 2013, ex-mining towns in England threw street parties to celebrate her death, people lined the streets of London to jeer as her coffin passed, and the song “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” reached number two in the UK singles charts.
Sir Alec Douglas-Home, booed in his final election rally in 1964.
Days into premiership: 355
Booing score: 8/10
So badly greeted by Labour supporters at an election rally was Douglas-Home that the former prime minister was forced to shout over their barracking in efforts to make himself heard in the TV broadcast. Unfortunately for Douglas-Home, he actually had been audible, meaning his voice was raised unnecessarily in a manner that made him appear, in his own words, “hunted.” He lost the election to Harold Wilson by a Commons majority of four.
Tony Blair, slow-clapped by the WI in 2000
Days into premiership: 1,132
Booing score: 9/10
Many cite a meeting of the Women’s Institute in 2000 as the moment that former prime minister Tony Blair, a previously charismatic leader, lost his shine. The then prime minister attempted to talk policy: “I’ve spent a long time trying to work very hard on the health service,” but was was cut off by an increasingly loud and painfully awkward slow clap from the audience. He smiled, thanked the crowd, and looked to his host for help. The women were asked to stop, “out of politeness”.
Winston Churchill, booed during the 1945 election campaign.
Days into premiership: 1,873
Booing score: 7/10
A prime minister remembered and revered for his public image is Winston Churchill. Although resoundingly popular during the Second World War, he lost favour among the British public in the aftermath. Churchill was seen as uncommitted to social reform and the rebuilding of the country and was reportedly booed for half an hour during a campaign speech at Walthamstow Stadium, before losing 1945 election in a landslide victory for Labour.
Though Boris Johnson is not the first and certainly will not be the last prime minister to face such overt public ouctry, his team will have to work hard to improve his public image, lest he be harangued by cries of, “He’s behind you!” next time he crosses the border.