by UnHerd
Monday, 9
November 2020

Flashback: Rory Stewart really doesn’t like Boris Johnson

The former minister's article echoes his UnHerd interview from October
by UnHerd

Rory Stewart doesn’t exactly hide his feelings about Boris Johnson. In an interview with Freddie Sayers last October he described the Prime Minister as a “disturbing” individual. What bothered Stewart about Johnson was a lack of “self-control”, made up for by a charm that allowed him to slide through one crisis after another with ease. “He’s not my type of man,” said Stewart:

It’s the skill of somebody who doesn’t believe in disciplining himself. If we’re talking Greek philosophy, he’s fascinated by this word Akrasia. The reason he’s not in Aristotle’s sense an ethical human being is that he lacks self-control. And he’s organised a whole life around this.
- Rory Stewart, UnHerd interview

These scathing comments were little more than a throat-clearing for Stewart’s latest assessment of Johnson. Reviewing Tom Bower’s new Boris biography for the TLS, Stewart expanded his attack on multiple fronts.

Here he is on the Prime Minister’s tendency to lie:

Johnson is after all the most accomplished liar in public life — perhaps the best liar ever to serve as prime minister. Some of this may have been a natural talent — but a lifetime of practice and study has allowed him to uncover new possibilities which go well beyond all the classifications of dishonesty attempted by classical theorists like St Augustine. He has mastered the use of error, omission, exaggeration, diminution, equivocation and flat denial. He has perfected casuistry, circumlocution, false equivalence and false analogy. He is equally adept at the ironic jest, the fib and the grand lie; the weasel word and the half-truth; the hyperbolic lie, the obvious lie, and the bullshit lie — which may inadvertently be true.
- Rory Stewart, TLS

For Stewart, Johnson’s lies are not even leavened by having a clear political object. They’re just lies. He is unimpressed by the way Johnson has glossed them in the past:

Johnson’s explanation for all these things is that he suffers from the classical vice of akrasia. He knows what the right thing to do is but acts against his better judgement through lack of self-control. He is, in Aristotle’s words, like “a city that votes for all the right decrees and has good laws but does not apply them”. But Johnson’s lack of so many of the other virtues listed by Aristotle – temperance, generosity (he is notoriously reluctant to reach for his wallet), realistic ambition, truthfulness or modesty – is startling. It is hard to accept that in every case he agrees on what is good, and intends it, but somehow frustrates himself from achieving it – rather than in fact having quite different beliefs, priorities and intentions.
- Rory Stewart, TLS

The PM often compares himself with his great idol, the Athenian statesman and master orator Pericles. Stewart takes the comparison seriously — and finds it wanting. Yes, “they both enjoy good speeches, democratic engagement, big infrastructure and fame. But Pericles built the Parthenon, not the Emirates Cable Car.” Ouch.

Read it all here. 

Join the discussion

  • Sheesh. Rory Stewart clearly doesn’t ‘do’ irony! He is also clearly riddled with bitterness and jealousy over a man who is much more successful than he could ever be.
    Johnson – twice elected Mayor of Labour London; winner of the Conservative leadership contest and democratically elected Prime Minister with a majority of 80.
    Stewart – failure as London Mayoral candidate; failure in the Conservative leadership contest; anti-Brexiteer who was in favour of overturning the Democratic referendum.
    Boris has nothing to fear from the vituperative tongue of Florence of Arabia.
    By the way, Boris won a scholarship to Eton whilst Stewart …..

  • Well he’s half right, Johnson does tell lies and lies often.

    It’s a rather massive stretch to claim he’s ‘the best’ at this or that this makes him uniquely unfit for office. During my time we’ve had a Parliment of rogues lie to get elected then try to reverse Brexit, all the while lying through their teeth about their motives – and in such an obvious way. We’ve had Cameron who ‘promised’ to not resign. We had May who lied, lied and lied again about Brexit. Then maybe we get to Tony Blair, a man who lied on a scale that would surely make even Boris blush.

    Now the true issue with Johnson in my mind is the ease with which he has adopted authoritarianism. Ruling by decree and talking to the censored press before Parliment. With this he’s on Blair’s level of comtempt for the British people.

  • ‘talking to the censored press before Parliment.’ (sic)
    If you have proof that the leaks are from Boris, I would love to see it.
    Boris may be many things, but fool, he is not. Whoever is leaking, it is not to Boris’s advantage.

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