Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson, 44, is the most original new face in British politics since the emergence of Margaret Thatcher as a capitalist conservative nearly 40 years ago, the most engaging since Tony Blair and the most entertaining in many decades. His instant and natural wit, always lively and almost never nasty, recalls Harold Macmillan, Winston Churchill and even Benjamin Disraeli, though he has mastered self-deprecation as they never did. "But, madam, why?" he famously asked a woman who said she was voting for him.

With his ursine physique, mop of tousled blond hair and complicated private life, he seems at first an unlikely candidate for great popularity. But he is impossible to dislike, touches all political and sectarian bases and, in his complete lack of self-importance, is the anti-politician.

Never pompous, always good-humored, only serious in the face of matters that could not tastefully be treated otherwise, a crusader for London and the personification of the most well-liked traits of the English, Boris is someone the British will not tire of as a personality, so he will be judged on performance. Though he is an alumnus of Eton and Oxford, his family is middle-class. When an editor, and as a Conservative MP, he was impossible to pigeonhole into any distinct group, and his election as mayor of London showed that he pulled support from all sections of that polyglot metropolis.

He possesses the superb ability not to offend anyone while espousing policy. As an MP, he had a constant struggle not to reduce proceedings to a comedy routine. Now that he holds a great executive office, he is showing his mettle in government while losing none of his ability to be a pleasing newsmaker. Boris is in a good position to remain for a long time where he is, or to make the jump to national office following the likely victory of his party in next year's general election. He is a man to watch, and it will be an unusual pleasure to watch him.

Black was the publisher of the London Telegraph newspapers and Spectator from 1987 to 2004

Fast Fact: Johnson, who was born in the U.S. to British parents, is descended from Muslims, Jews, Christians — and King James I