Boris Johnson may be a 'prat' on a zip-line, but is his strategy foolproof?Reported by Metro.co.uk on Thursday, 9 August 2012 (on August 9, 2012)
*The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has dismissed suggestions he wants to be prime minister, citing his latest public gaffe as evidence. But do bungling politicians endear themselves to voters or put them off?
Boris on a wire... Brilliant political strategy or blatant buffonery? (Picture: Getty)
It is an image that we will treasure for years to come from this summer’s Olympics.
By the time the Games extravaganza has left town, will we really remember Hoy’s joy, Wiggins’ win, Mo’s moment, Pendleton’s pain or Jess’s success?
Or will we simply look back and laugh at the thought of one of the country’s most important politicians hanging from a zip-line in a public park?
When the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, got stuck in mid-air in Victoria Park last week, it was as if every internet meme-maker’s Christmases had all come at once.
Hours later, the web was awash with images of Boris as a cat’s plaything, a rear-view mirror ornament and shark bait.
Everyone, including Mr Johnson himself it has to be said, had a good laugh. Had it happened to almost any other politician, chances are it would have been an even bigger international incident.
But Boris has form when it comes to gaffes, both physical and verbal. And with every one he appears to become that little bit more loveable in the eyes of the public.
His actions may look like mere buffoonery, but is there more than meets the eye to falling into a river while collecting rubbish, as Mr Johnson has done?
Perhaps he is capitalising on voters’ desire for their politicians to be human beings, but would such a strategy – deliberate or not – take him all the way to Number 10?
Who is more gaffe-prone, Bush or Boris? Click link below to see graphic full size
CLICK HERE TO ENLARGE INFOGRAPHIC
Mr Johnson tried again this week to dismiss suggestions that he has his eye on being prime minister, even referring to the zip-line incident when doing so.
He said: 'There you have got it, how on earth could you elect that guy? How could anybody elect a prat who gets stuck in a zip wire?’
Mr Johnson has made good copy during the Olympics, describing beach volleyball players as ‘glistening like wet otters’ and having a pop at US presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his own gaffe-strewn comments about London’s ability to host the Games.
But whereas Mr Romney was hammered here and in the US for his comments, Mr Johnson’s have seen his stock rise.
‘Boris is perhaps the only politician who could get away with being stuck on a zip wire,’ said Dr Simon Griffiths, lecturer in politics at Goldsmiths, University of London.
‘He had the charm to carry it off. He realised he was in a ridiculous position, made a few self-effacing comments and laughed about it.’
Dr Griffiths said Mr Johnson is smarter than he lets on. ‘There's probably an element of strategy in Boris's buffoonery. He's getting better at knowing when he can get away with making a joke and when he has to be serious.
‘If any slip Johnson makes is interpreted as “just Boris being Boris”, then he can get away with almost anything. Other politicians are equally good humoured but are lampooned in the press for much smaller slips.’
Iain Dale, Conservative blogger and LBC radio presenter, said Mr Johnson is in a unique position among politicians because he can get away with making a mistake.
‘People don't laugh at Boris, they laugh with him,’ he told Metro. ‘Nobody has yet been able to understand this phenomenon that is Boris. Maybe when someone does, he will be beatable. But at the moment he is the most popular politician in the country bar none and is obviously riding on the crest of the Olympic wave.’
But could Mr Johnson be a credible prime minister, gaffes and all?
‘He’s proved himself to be an election winner,’ said Mr Dale.
‘If the Conservatives lose the next election they will be looking for an election winner. Whether he can convince the country whether he would be a good prime minister, I think the jury’s out on that, but he’s got a long time to do it.
‘Can I imagine him as prime minister? In all honesty, at the moment, no, but that may change in the next few years.’
Mr Johnson may be the gaffe guru in Britain, but he has some way to go before emulating former US president George W Bush. Yet Mr Bush’s capacity for walking into locked doors and mixing his metaphors did him no harm stateside.
‘Bush's linguistic problems played badly in places like Europe but actually endeared him to middle America,’ said Dr Philip Catney, politics lecturer at Keele University.
‘The impact of gaffes on the credibility of a politician is highly unpredictable. Mitt Romney has had a torrid time recently with gaffes, but he lacks the Teflon-like qualities of politician like Boris who consistently bounces back from various types of gaffes.
‘The public perception of their persona is crucial. Some politicians are loved for faults which others are skewed for them.’
While he may have charmed parts of the public as mayor of London, it remains to be seen how Mr Johnson would fare as prime minister if he put his foot in it politically.
‘Whilst many people are happy to see Boris waving a flag at the Olympics, fewer will be comfortable hearing him talk about the economy or defence,’ said Dr Griffiths.
He believes verbal slips rather than physical ones which ultimately decide a politician’s fate.
‘It's often little phrases that cause most damage - phrases that opponents can use to caricature you. When Margaret Thatcher said, “There's no such thing as society”, opponents latched on to it as a way of summing up the damage her policies created.
‘It's often the revealing little phrases opponents can seize on, rather than the zip-wire malfunctions, that can cause the damage.’
Links: Full news story
|Recent related news|
2 hours ago
|The Daily Mail carries a front page picture today of Boris Johnson, London's mayor, with a...|
2 hours ago
|London's charismatic first citizen - mayor Boris Johnson who is presently married to an Indian, is in...|
2 hours ago
|Senior judges dismiss Helen Macintyre's attempt to hide paternity of child born after brief affair...|
5 days ago
|Discussion paper includes developing a single, massive airport or building new runways near London...|
1 week ago
|It's fun to watch one ambitious Tory outmanoeuvre another, and no doubt Ed Miliband will be delighted...|