Boris is a worry. Listening to him doing his Press conference with John Kerry in London today, he doesn’t seem to realise that foreigners are not British. It’s what you find when you set off on business trips to places like Germany, Japan or America. The rest of the world is not like us – at all. We like to play with words, concepts, sounds, anything else we can find, while we, at the same time, feel we are expressing something serious and profound. In just one sentence, one part can be a joke. Another part is intended to be totally serious, and yet another part can be yet another joke, or wordplay. A fellow Brit can follow the rapid switchover between play and serious, and not miss a beat, but to a foreigner it is simply incomprehensible how we are happy to appear flippant when they thought we were talking about something important.
The first thing you must do when going on business abroad/or government job is to realise that the flip between funny and serious has to be much much slower than is the norm in the UK. In fact, funny has to be parked totally, for a number of minutes or even hours. Only once the serious business is dealt with, can humour be introduced, and then, it’s totally humour and nothing serious can be allowed to come into the conversation in this phase of an exchange. That’s how foreigners do things, and Brits have to realise that if they want to get anywhere with people from other countries. When playtime arrives, everyone is involved with it, and no one person is allowed to be funnier than everyone else, unlike in Britain where the majority play straight, while the funny guy does the punchlines. That holds true in places like Germany and the USA. Those are places where the English sense of humour sometimes can translate, but not always. In somewhere like Japan and other Asian cultures, where ‘face’ is crucially important, it is really advisable not to introduce humour at all into a social or business proceedings. The risks are simply too great that someone might feel they’ve lost face, which can have very serious consequences indeed.
In today’s public appearance, Boris couldn’t sense that Kerry felt decidedly uncomfortable alongside him, as he tried to appeal to a typically British audience with his usual witty repartie, which has kept TV audiences guffawing for decades. Kerry tried hard to correct the error for him, but Boris just kept digging. He really can’t expect dignitaries from the rest of the world to change their perceptions as to how communication should take place, and become straight men to his witty punch lines. He has to become a lot more boring, and drop the school boy antics. It would make his denials and explanations a lot more authoritative into the bargain.
What he has to do is strike trade deals and avoid wars, business which is as serious as it gets. That’s a big enough agenda for now. Getting awards for being funny on programmes like Have I Got News For You must be put aside. Boris Johnson must surely realise the game has changed, and his role within it. His style must change overnight, or he’s simply going to become a major embarrassment. A fifty year old who imagines themselves nineteen is funny up to a point, but if he doesn’t quickly take on board who he is now, and how the rest of the world works, he’ll be left for dead.
He should be well able to make the change, and adopt an outlook of gravitas suitable to the role of Foreign Secretary. In fact the change would be endlessly fascinating, if he makes it – the former clown become circus ringmaster. If he doesn’t make the change and quick, Theresa May will need to realise her mistake. Have you got it Boris? No more student politics. This is now the grown up variety. Liam Fox can show you the way, and has spotted your problem. As he said during the leadership selection, politics is not a game.
The Cameron/Osborne era has gone. It went so quickly and with minds concentrated onto BREXIT,no one noticed its passing. Cameron and Osborne were two overgrown bullying public school boys, from the most privileged and arrogant section of that class. Becoming the court jester, while, at the same time, secretly, or even not so secretly believing himself brighter than the pair, Boris was a great political act. But with the smugness and arrogance of C & O gone, Boris’ well developed and obviously very successful role doesn’t work any more. Inside the EU, we were just a joke of a nation. We were incapable of making any grown-up decisions for ourselves anyway, so we resorted to entertainment and celebrity nonsense, and bullying. There was little point in attempting any constructive thinking anyway.
Outside the EU, we are no longer a joke. We have somehow found the strength in amongst a sea of hopelessness to start fighting back against the system, the system that the school prefects C & O were totally signed up to. They were of it through and through. Theresa May is not. She is from a lower middle class background, where an unbelievable dedication was needed to get from where she started to where she is now. Laughter and mirth from a court jester won’t cut it. Charm and applied intelligence, which Boris possesses, will. In some ways it’s just a change of style that’s required. The political champion who brought C&O to their knees, himself seems strangely out of place with them gone. In another way, though, it’s a change of substance. It’s time to show more of that intelligence.
A pubic school is really an advanced version of prison for rich people’s kids to learn that servitude is rewarding and can be entertaining, and to understand that original thinking is not permitted. Strangely Oxford University, even though respected across the globe, is little different. If Britain is coming out of the two, both the institutional public school prison of C & O (Liam Fox and David Davis and many others in cabinet are not from privileged backgrounds), and at the same moment we are heading for the exit from the EU super prison of the mind, Johnson could be stranded by the change of the tide. Johnson has to show that he can rework his act and thrive outside the jail, as well as inside. Media smugness is gone. Attention to detail, and constructive team-working are here.