Winston Churchill fought in the Boer War, was instrumental in the defeat of Nazism and won the Nobel Prize for Literature, yet Boris Johnson found a way to write a biography of this unique great man and focus it mainly on Boris Johnson. let go.
So what we can expect from the newly announced Johnson memoir, in which the author is completely free to write about nothing but his own favorite and indeed only subject of interest – himself – is terrifying to contemplate.
It won’t even be Johnson’s first political memoir. In 2002 he published a short book called Friends, voters, compatriotsa diary of his successful bid to be elected as an MP for the first time a year earlier.
In that book, he quoted himself at length, before explaining that the quotes were only accurate “in the Thucydian sense, in that they convey the meaning of what I said.”
Thucydides, in his History of the Peloponnesian War, acknowledges that the quotes are largely fabricated – due to the fact that absolutely no form of modern media or telecommunications would be invented for another two and a half thousand years, that he could not be in two places at once, and so he had to imagine what different diplomats and negotiators from the major city-states said to each other at the time. That they were accurate in the spirit if not the letter.
The ‘Thucydidean feeling’, needless to say, does not apply to politicians who scour their own quotes afterwards, especially when the politician in question had already been fired by a newspaper for scouring others’ quotes.
All this is to say, if he had to allow himself a modicum of poetic license in terms of accuracy regarding an innocent Christmas stocking stuffer about life on the stump in the year 2001, that doesn’t necessarily bode well for his memories. to life in Downing Street, which came to an end when his own party correctly calculated that absolutely no one could ever believe another word of his words.
Thucydides had to be inventive because there was no other way he could “cover up” the war. He couldn’t be in Corinth one day and Melia the next, eavesdropping on crucial negotiations. In contrast, Johnson’s more recent Thucydian tendencies were because he didn’t know what was going on where he really is.
What is the value of an insider’s account of life at 10 Downing Street, if we already know that that insider can attend not one but several parties in his own house, not knowing they are taking place?
If Johnson is looking for inspiration, he could do worse than check out Watch Wot I Dun by Don Powell, the drummer of glam rock band Slade, a majestic work that tells the story of what it was like to be in one of the world’s biggest bands, despite also being involved in a horrific car accident that robbed him of all memory of once being like this.
What will the blurb say? “And finally, here is, in his own words, a man’s story of how over 100 people were fined for having parties in his own house and he knew nothing about it.” Chapter 1. I wasn’t there. Chapter 2. Actually I was there, but no one told me. Chapter 3. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
All political memoirs are selfish, but this one is sure to break records. Ex-Prime Ministers tend to use the medium to finally give their own account of the trip, now that they’re out of their way. Johnson, on the other hand, has not relinquished the wheel. And if Johnson can turn a book about Winston Churchill into a treatise on the greatness of Boris Johnson, imagine what he can and certainly will do with a book about himself.
It can be safely assumed that the Nobel Prize panel will not be bothered. But it will certainly disturb the rest of us who, at least as far as he is concerned, have not suffered enough.