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“I thought I'd share this Boris Johnson story with you” (facebook.com)
293 points by carusooneliner 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 183 comments

I've been lucky enough to know some US state level politicians for quite some time, not major figures, but folks who did it most of their life (while doing other things too) and were successful at it.

I often got the felling that they did that thing, and even pushed the issues they did... because they were successful at it and it fit their personality. Most were not idealists despite what they said IMO, I suspect many if pressed to change their positions did not really care about the issues outside of a couple topics at most (and due to the winds of change in US politics most actually supported surprisingly different issues over time). They were just very good at getting along with people, shaking hands, negotiating deals, had the social skills that provided them the financal and political support hey needed to keep going.

In many ways it seemed to be a lifestyle that once they were successful, was also a sort of social life, and to some extent a thrill seeking event (elections are exciting) that just kept them going as people.

Not to pass the buck on any moral choices they make, they're certainly responsible, but I suspect for may they just sort of fall into it, and just don't want to quit the lifestyle as it fits who they are.

> Most were not idealists despite what they said IMO, I suspect many if pressed to change their positions did not really care about the issues outside of a couple topics at most (and due to the winds of change in US politics most actually supported surprisingly different issues over time).

They represent the views of the people who vote. Those views change over time. This is much like me doing what my employer asks for, despite my own preferences. It's not our views which are important, but rather the ability to execute for those we are working for.

I think most workers don't care so much about the mission of their employers. They find a way to make their work interesting and things get done regardless.

I think this point of view is arguable.

First, politicians may be considered as representative of either _only the people who voted for them_, or as _representative of everyone_.

Secondly, many politicians do not really change their point of view, the change in people's opinion is expressed by voting different people.

Must this be a binary choice? Both effects are at play here.

Politicians will often adjust their publicity stated views to match their electorate to be more electable. As the electorates opinions change over time, the publicly stated views of the politicians also evolve. Occasionally politicians who want to bring about a certain kind of change they believe in passionately are able to shift the views of their electorate also. This happens rarely but it happens.

In other words this business attracts people of all kinds: the cynical kind that just wants power regardless of policy and the kind that wants to bring about the kind of of change they think will take society to nirvana regardless of what people think. Usually each politician has both sides. It’s a continuum.

yes, I agree completely.

>This is much like me doing what my employer asks for, despite my own preferences. It's not our views which are important, but rather the ability to execute for those we are working for.

Unfortunately that is still something I have trouble with. From Political Correctness, to taking the blame when we ( I ) have advices against such actions when their view doesn't work.

Like Penn and Teller, it's always interesting to see a magic trick deconstructed. And it is a "trick" or a "routine", as much as anyone else's performance. It relies entirely on intelligence and the ability to think on one's feet, combined with a good memory of a stock of anecdotes that can be matched to the audience. Or at least a few stock ones that can be hammed up. The anecdotes mentioned (SHEEP and SHARK) are highly political, too, focusing on "EU regulations" and "health and safety"; mocking these is absolutely a staple of Johnsonism, and it goes down well with the soft-right and businessmen.

The haplessness is a routine that Brits absolutely love, and again it takes no small skill to be professionally hapless. This was also a staple of Wogan's performances; famously, for the big Children in Need telethons, he never did any of the rehearsals but came on and delivered a charismatic and funny performance - all night.

The problem is that Johnson is not applying for the job of chat show host, he's applying for PM, and this routine absolutely does not work on other EU leaders. He also appears to be entirely self-centered and amoral. Years ago having a daughter in adultery would have disqualified him ( https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/may/21/boris-johns... ), but in post-Trump times nobody cares.

http://www.harrowell.org.uk/blog/2017/12/11/the-two-cultures... : explores this concept at greater length. As a Cambridge alumnus I'm absolutely familiar with brilliance as a kind of performance. For those in that culture glib effortlessness is prized. An earlier example might be Enoch Powell's showboating on his Classical Greek paper - when asked to do a translation into Greek of a poem, he did two versions as pastiches of different Greek poets and then left early.

The thing people need to know about Boris is that 99% of what you see in public is a carefuly crafted image of a harmless, and somewhat likeable buffoon.

If you listen to the recording of where he was talking with an acquaitance about supplying him with the address of a reporter for said acquaintance to "rough up" an entirely different man emerges, one who doesn't stammer and ham things up.

Boris is a very calculating man, and has fooled so many, for so long. This story paints this point very vividly.

So Boris, the Oxford man, has an "Everyman" shtick that has wide appeal. Smart man.

Politicians who are so smart as to become something else are a bit scary, hard to trust if they are mostly an act.

I suspect this is mostly for public consumption and he dropped this when actually working. Thus maybe it is just his interfacing with the people shtick. And then it is mostly harmless.

"There is an idea of a Boris Johnson, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there."

did you manage to get that doria reservation for tonight?

It's certainly true that the harm he does is not caused by his Everyman" shtick. It's caused instead by his brutal incompetence.

I am reminded of a post I once read[0] on how coyotes are 'too clever by half'; smart enough to realise how to win each skirmish, but without realising they're losing the metagame.

Johnson strikes me as someone who has learned to 'hack' the skirmishes (e.g. by playing the fool when giving speeches as discussed) in order to win in the short term, but who seems oblivious to (or to be willfully disregarding) the long term detrimental effect his skirmishing has on the UK.

[0]: https://www.epsilontheory.com/too-clever-by-half/

but who seems oblivious to (or to be willfully disregarding) the long term detrimental effect his skirmishing has on the UK.

He's not oblivious to it, he just doesn't care. Why should he? His ego is the only thing that matters, other people are a means to an end. He has the same low cunning as trump, I think he's quite good at reading people, and manipulating them, but others are just tools to him. He is remarkably similar to Trump in fact, and as Sarah Kendzior said about Trump:

"If Trump senses he may have to make a personal sacrifice, he will sacrifice the world instead."


The same holds true for Johnson. He will happily sacrifice the UK for the sake of his political career, so that he can be prime minister.

He did pretty well in London - certainly better than Kahn, who has been disastrous.

The office of mayor in London does not carry enough powers for any mayor to be "disastrous". That's just ridiculous hyperbole.

Other than that, the views on London mayors tends to mostly follow party lines, so it's not a particularly worthwhile discussion.

Objective measures say different. Just look at the bloodbath on the streets, about which Kahn appears to be perfectly sanguine.

If you think there is a 'bloodbath on the streets' of London you just demonstrate that you have no clue what London is like.

And even if you had been right, the office of the mayor only has oversight powers and limited powers to set priorities and shift some resources. Most of the Met budget and control of their day to day operations is outside the mayors purview.

EDIT: Here's a wikipedia page with info on the media frenzy around the violence in London last year, and the comparisons to New York in particular, which basically jumped to lots of conclusions from a single month: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_London

And here is stats for April, that shows a higher rate of violent crime in Sussex (233 incidents per 100,000 people) than in London (227 per 100,000 people): https://ukcrimestats.com/Police_Forces/ - however this too means pretty much nothing; the numbers fluctuate too much to start drawing many conclusions based on the headline numbers.

But I guess by your argument there's a "bloobath" going on in Sussex then.

Sure, sadly lots of crime and drugs in Sussex - I'd imagine Brighton on its own accounts for a lot of it, and there is the county lines phenomenon everywhere. That doesn't change the upsurge in London. I'd also be extremely suspicious about taking the official crime statistics at face value - the history of their manipulation is long and detailed.

Whatever you might think about it, it does however change the nature of your narrative of blaming Khan for it when London does in fact not stand out.

Can you cite a source that defines the “bloodbath on the streets” of London?

So which US state do you live in, out of interest?

West Sussex.

Not far from London then. You should pop by sometime, witness the complete lack of bloodbaths on the streets.

As I noted in another comment, Sussex police in fact recorded a higher rate of violent crime than the Metropolitan police recorded for London in April. It gives an indication of just how much the media affects peoples ideas of crime levels.

growlist 24 days ago [flagged]

That's ok, I prefer England.

Do you want to explain why you don't think London is English?

growlist 24 days ago [flagged]

Err, perhaps the fact that the majority of the population are not ethnic English people?

Please keep regional and ethnical flamewar off HN. Not wanted here.


Thank you for confirming what it's clear several of us suspected.

Yes, QED on why he really dislikes Khan - the colour of his skin.

Bloodbath is a stretch and the uptick in knife-crime isn't localised to London, it's nationwide, and almost surely the result of tory austerity.

> almost surely the result of tory austerity

Just a laughable assertion.

Just to add the opinion of someone who actually lived in london under both mayors - this is false.

Johnson's time as mayor was marked by trying to claim the successes of others (buses and bikes introduced by Livingstone), and failed initiatives like the expensive garden bridge which was never built or buying illegal water canons which could not be used, and addressing non-problems like drinking on the tube.

Khan's London has been professionally run and is tackling real problems like air quality and too many cars.

Both suffered from problems with crime caused by a decade of police cuts imposed by central government. London is still dramatically safer than any large US city though, including New York.

You don't live in London do you?

He is a fool who pretends to be playing one. The upper echelons of the conservative party are not at all meritocratic - you do not have to be whip smart to get there, but being personable counts. He's made enough self inflicted strategic blunders.

Nonetheless he holds a certain appeal for the upper classes in the UK. I don't think his appeal translates down to people who work for a living though.

Say what you like about Boris, but there is good evidence he's not stupid as lots of people would like to believe:

'Johnson excelled in English and Classics, winning prizes in both, and became secretary of the school debating society, and editor of the school newspaper, The Eton College Chronicle'

Also I think the whole upper class/working class dichotomy you present is kind of old hat these days (and somewhat patronising to the people you cite that 'work for a living' - whose viewpoints and aspirations are generally somewhat beyond merely hoping for an indoor toilet), often pushed by the left as an electoral tactic against the right (even in spite of the fact that all UK political parties are stuffed full of ex-Oxbridge types).


Whip smart is an ironic choice of words, in the context of political parties.

Unfortunately his appeal does translate down. Even to those for whom his proposed tax cut will be detrimental.

The Mail readers, the people who have been convinced that EU migration has stolen their jobs, the people who want to be in the £50k bracket... And those who are fed up with political spin and disillusioned with politics, the Brexit voters.

They have been led to believe Boris is the answer, whereas he's arguably just the cliff we'll be jumping off of.

Great article, thank you.

As for BoJo, he is smart as a fox. Trump is the same. They make 1-2 stupid things, so people call them stupid. On the back side they scheme and plan. Haters see the stupid actions and hate. They play a game of chess, sacrificing a pawn (some 'credibility' by saying something stupid), and while people are getting tired of their artificial stupidity, they march on doing their thing left alone.

Someone who managed to be the mayor of London, then get in the Parliament, then managing to be in the top 2 candidates for Prime Minister, have a net worth of a couple of million (of the £€$ we know), he CANNOT be THAT stupid. He plays the game and he's winning. I don't like the man. But I don't like him because I don't like his policies, his ideas, and I don't like Brexit.

But as a politician/player, he's rocking this game.

People who think Boris is stupid, are completely missing it. He is like Varoufakis. He sees an opportunity and grabs it. Maybe the 'bet' will pay off, maybe it will not. But: Mayor of London --> Minister of "Foreign Affairs" --> Prime Minister.. I call that an intelligent human being.

I am not sure about Boris, but I am 100% certain that the narrative about Trump playing 4D chess is bullshit.

I believe that George Bush may have had a persona to some degree (https://keithhennessey.com/2013/04/24/smarter/) because it pays off to speak like a man of the people. But everyone who's worked with Donald Trump and spoken out afterwards tell the same story about how utterly stupid he is.

In Denmark, we once elected a comedian into parliament. He won on promises like "more sunshine" and "bigger christmas presents". People loved it because it was fun and a bit of a finger to the boring, smooth politicians that they usually saw. I guess you could argue that he is smart in that he was able to win the crowd, but what I take away from that is more that the crowd is fickle and will go with (and push) a trend or a fad if it looks fun or supports their anger.

My favorite promise of his is "more tailwind on bike paths" because it's so utterly danish :)

Do you think the individuals that choose to go to the media and speak negatively of him are an unbiased sample of all of the individuals he has meaningfully engaged with through the years? This is the problem with basing your perception of reality on the media. Dog bites man is not news, man bites dog is news. If all you have to rely for your characterization of "other" people is the media then you'd suddenly think there was a massive epidemic of men running around biting dogs! Won't anybody think of the puppies!? We need to urgently pass anti-dog biting laws!

As one example of this that we can quantify, a major issue in the US is "responsible gun control" to combat an epidemic of homicide and violence driven largely by high powered "assault rifles." In quotes there since an assault rifle entails selective fire, generally between full and semi automatic - those weapons are already illegal. Anyhow, let's test this against the data. In the US in 2016 there were 11,004 firearm homicides. [1] How many of these were caused by rifles? The answer is 374, about 3%. Nearly all of our gun crime is driven by cheap little pistols. But "assault rifles" make much better media and sound scary, so it results in a grossly misinformed public who think there's some massive epidemic of "assault rifle" driven homicide.

[1] - https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-...

>I am not sure about Boris, but I am 100% certain that the narrative about Trump playing 4D chess is bullshit.

Compared to the narrative that a person who could run several multi-billion dollar businesses, negotiate deals all around the world, get back from bankruptcy (even if it was with cunning and winning banking favors) and play the media to become President is stupid?

You are missing the subtext of that narrative - Trump did none of those things. People around him and behind him are responsible. I'm not saying that is true (probably is) but it explains how a dullard with his dad's cash can achieve what he has.

All billionaires have an army of support. Even if Trump didn't handle the details, he was still on the forefront on high end deals, not sitting in the back and letting some CEOs do them (which many heirs do).

Lots of dullards with dad's cash just spent it on women and booze or lose everything, Trump kept it (if he didn't increase it, considering the bankruptcies and re-emergences) and made his name a kind of brand.

He is not gracious or polished (he's an American businessman after all, that's par for the course), but he does have the P.T Barnum kind of spirit (which is not exactly that of the dullard).

And even if we forget the business thing (say he had zero accomplishments there). The elections thing, he did mostly by himself. He obliterated opponents and won voters (including from his own party) starting from zero, when media and pundits gave him zero chances.

Could you or me?

I think the PT Barnum spirit comment is absolutely fair, but it's also true to say that PT Barnum was more unusually driven and genuinely fond of attention than a 4D chess player.

As for Trump, there's a theory fashionable in some circles that his speaking style is purely performative to simplify or reframe his genuinely sharp grasp of the issues for his audience. But it's undermined by his tendency to embark upon similar rambles about how his pilot said the airports should give airlines better equipment (?!?) and pilots are very clever and if the FAA isn't run by a pilot it should be in front of the sort of apolitical business audience where there's nothing to gain from not just doing the presidential thing and appearing to listen. Sure, nobody's saying his drive isn't exceptional or that the basic strategy of seizing media attention and promoting the sort of populist policies his opponents were squeamish about didn't work, but that's not the same thing as him actually being the smartest person in the room playing 4D chess to disguise it. His persona's at least as WYSIWYG as any other politician.

I think Johnson might be more deliberate in his unpolished approach, but I also haven't seen any reason to believe the whimsicality and studied flustered look isn't there mainly because he genuinely does prefer anecdotes to details and struggles to give a straight answer. The counterpoint to this Johnson story of charmingly chaotic speeches is a recent video where he's asked what he does in his spare time, and he appears to be making up a hobby as he goes along in a manner which just looks incredibly awkward. And yet references to this hobby (making models from boxes) in an old column suggest he was actually honestly trying to explain it! Would have come across a lot better if he'd told a joke about not having any spare time and thrown in a half-remembered story about how Winston Churchill spent his time...

+1 In a way Trump really is a political genius. He cleared the republican opposition away like so much moldering dust on a piano and then played the damned thing so powerfully he defeated the Clinton machine when nearly every intelligent observer, political scientist and pollster thought his impending loss was a sure thing.

The only other unexpected, unseasoned political opponent to defeat the Clinton machine was another political genius named Barack Obama.

Simply by winning the presidency both of these guys have demonstrated a political genius rarely seen in US politics.

The problem with this hypothesis is that it seems to imply that his money resulted in some sort of advantage other candidates did not have. In reality he was outspent by nearly half a billion dollars in the general election and he was also outspent by every major competitor in the primaries as well.

If it wasn't an economic matter and instead he just hired better people - that would still be quite an amazing skill. To be able to have hired better people for his campaign than professional politicians who have been studying and living politics for decades?

You're aware of what a complete cock up he made of his entire time as Foreign Secretary?

Bring smart is not the same as being well-prepared, diligent, conscientious, tactful or having your constituents' best interest at heart.

You don't get to be King's Scholar at Eton being a buffoon.

You don't get to be King's Scholar at Eton being a buffoon

OK, so he's a clever buffoon.

Buffoon is pretty much exactly what I took from the fairly well known interview with Eton's former headmaster speaking about Johnson's time there.

> You don't get to be King's Scholar at Eton being a buffoon.

No, you get it by hereditary wealth, connections and nepotism.

You're aware of what a complete cock up he made of his entire time as Foreign Secretary?

He has correctly calculated that he doesn't have to actually do good work to become prime minister.

It all starts to make sense when you realise he has no morals and very little interest in the outcome for the country or other people, only for himself.

Most certainly, given the electorate who will put him in that place. It's Brexit über alles in der Welt.

Not sure how that puts the longer term prospects of the party.

> he CANNOT be THAT stupid

I think you're underestimating the role of luck in success.

This was a fun read. My take is that politicians showing up to random award ceremonies and giving a canned speech is a normal situation, though. That he can give a canned speech in a way that seems self-deprecating and authentic, in order to entertain and connect with the audience, is impressive. I can understand why someone would feel that this is a form of lying.

He is an entertainer and capable of manipulating crowds. My concern is the lack of people like this who share my own politics.

> He is an entertainer and capable of manipulating crowds. My concern is the lack of people like this who share my own politics.

The creepy part for me was not the canned speech. It was the attempt to manipulate the people at his table. The last minute arrival, the shock at finding he is the speaker, forgetting his speech at the table... I would also feel like I am watching a fraud

Chances are, if you are watching a politician, you are watching a fraud. The earnest ones are usually the most dangerous ones. They may actually believe the blather that comes out of their mouths that they don't understand.

Many politicians have the skill to get and keep power, but not much other skill.

It's all staged. The late enterence, the demands for paper and pen, leaving it on the table and 'winging' his speech. He knows it all adds to his mystique, that sheet of paper will be passed around and talked about. He knows that he has been sat on the most influential table with the most influential people. He reminds me of great improv, that he takes a bit and goes with it. Shame he's being kept of the telly at the moment.

Except none of it is improv. It is all planned.

Wouldn't it feel more fraudulent if he "turned off the buffoon" as soon as he got backstage? When you perform a role that requires acting in a certain way, it becomes a part of you too; how many teachers come home and find themselves still in their "classroom persona" for a bit?

Do you think he continues this persona with his family? He must turn it off at some point. He cannot go home and tell his wife every other week how shocked he was to find that he was the main speaker.

And yes I consider performers who clearly separate their personal identities from their fictional identities less fraudulent.

I'm not sure what he tells his wife, but what he shouts at his girlfriend loud enough for the neighbours to hear is currently a matter of national news.

It's clear that Johnson is, to some extent, "fraudulent"; he's certainly a man of dual loyalties (he earns more as a "journalist" filing one column a week than he does as a Minister). What's more interesting is why most of the rest of the media class seem to go along with it.

> Do you think he continues this persona with his family? He must turn it off at some point. He cannot go home and tell his wife every other week how shocked he was to find that he was the main speaker.

I'm sure he has a life outside of his after-dinner-speaker persona, sure. But equally, I'm sure that parts of how he acts when speaking occasionally bleed over to how he acts with his family, and vice versa.

We all play different personas in different contexts, but even those with a very artificial role - actors, wrestlers, cosplayers - bring some of their "real" self into the role and vice versa. Indeed staying "in character" the whole time one is on set is a cornerstone of respected acting technique.

It reminds a comment I heard on radio about a French president (Mitterand, I think), who starts his speech by saying he won't read the speech prepared by his writer because his audience is worth more than just a canned speech and then read just the speech written by his writer

Isn’t this normally called a one-trick pony?

Alternatively it is very much like what actors do; act.

I am struggling to see a sense of professionalism, concern or leadership, unfortunately.

Nice hair, though.

I don't think he is giving the sheep speech at EVERY occasion. Presumably he has more than one trick up his sleeve.

The moral of the story: it's a giant con, and all of us, worldwide are the mark.

The only logical conclusion we can make about this post is that the writer is indeed a good storyteller!

jeremy vine is a very well known journalist and radio show host

His younger brother is less political or gloomy; an accomplished comedian and a king of one-liners.

"I decided to sell my Hoover... well it was just collecting dust."


Think for yourself: what is happening underneath all these distractions by loud and obnoxious clowns? Am I possibly missing something important while all this fuss and nonsense is distracting the general public?

Because, we are living in an age of cults. The mechanics of the cult process are well and truly understood by the rich and powerful at this point, and we are never going to be safe for as long as we are members, unwittingly, of a cult for which we don't know the real purpose.

In some horrendous nihilistic way we seem to get the politicians we deserve. Hopefully Boris and Trump are the end of this mess and after they screw everything we get something better, but I fear it’s just the start. It really does feel like we live in the hunger games right now.

It’s literally a certain portion of boomers and above who are these people’s main constituency. TPUSA et al can try and claim there’s a silent minority of youth for these proto-fascists, stats would disagree though. It’s the boomers mostly, whose elected political representatives have spent their whole lives running down the state, making things easy for themselves, and now they expect to retire and cost a fortune in healthcare and that younger generations are just going to go along with it. And maybe they’re right, life expectancy is helping them to keep winning elections. Not forever though. #NotAllBoomers of course, but they did keep electing the ones who’ve put us in the position we’re in today vis a vis huge upcoming tax liabilities and very low - historically - current levels of tax income.

If you want some interesting reading, google generational eu sentiment in the uk, it’s the boomers who are the most anti. The greatest generation are generally positive, given they actually went through the war.

Here [1] are some data on this exact topic. Pew broke down ideology by age. While it's true that older individuals tend to become more conservative, this is a not a new phenomena and has been observed and commented upon for centuries. Of course when young we know there is no chance we could ever 'compromise' our views as the years pass. Nonetheless, life experience changes us in ways we often could never have predicted. Ok, but in spite of this there's no crystal clear correlation. In particular the split among ideology on the 65+ group that most consistently votes one way or the other (representing about 66% of the entire population) is split 50/50. And similarly there is also much more diversity in views among younger individuals than is typically represented by e.g. social media.

The one interesting correlation they did observe is one between your cohort's (by age group) voting tendencies and whom the president was when your cohort turned 18. Like you mention the Greatest generation who turned 18 under FDR lean heavily democratic. Though contradicting your hypothesis is the fact that you're presumably referencing WW2. And the Silent generation served extensively in this war. And they lean heavily republican.

One interesting thing I've observed (and wrote in a post a little above in a peer to this comment chain) is there tends to be a periodic shifting of ideology, that in general just tends to be against the status quo. And Pew's data provides some really interesting insight there. For instance they broke Boomers down into three 5 year groups. The groups are divided based upon who was president when they turned 18. Those 3 presidents were Kenny/Johnson, Nixon, and Ford/Carter. The Ford/Carter combination is frustrating for data, but regardless the results we get:

- Kennedy/Johnson - lean heavily republican

- Nixon - lean heavily democrat

- Ford/Carter - lean heavily republican

Not easy to classify things in a straight forward way, but interesting data nonetheless!

[1] - https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/09/the-politic...

I find Newton's Third tends to apply, extremely consistently, in politics. For every action there is an equal, but opposite, reaction. In the US you can even see this as a now at least century long trend:

- raging 1920s

- warring 1940s

- civil rights 1960s

- corporate 1980s

- identity politics 2000s

- ?? 2020s

This isn't so much about the politicians in office, but rather society itself shifting back and forth. We, probably as an evolutionary imperative, are never satisfied. So we assume the opposite of the present must be better and we push hard in that direction until we begin to forget the past and suddenly decide that the opposite of the present must be better and start to push hard back in the other direction. The entire cycle repeats on about a 20 year period. Probably not coincidentally about the time it takes for a new generation, who has 0 living experience of the 20 years before their birth, to come into existence. And they, like all youth, tend to rebel against the status quo. Perhaps their lack of voting is also why this trend tends to be more about society than its politicians.

It creates this amusing and constantly recurring paradox. The people lobbying hard for one side or the other ultimately end up creating the exact opposite. I think the only way this cycle would ever end is if people, in general, became more moderate and resistant to radicals. But then perhaps that, itself, would become the ideology that is rebelled against!

I don't really see that much of a difference to be honest. From a cynical perspective it just seems that Trump and Johnson are more honest (relative metric!!) and therefore feel more obnoxious. I don't know Johnson, but his demeanor seems calculated.

After a decade of hyper sensitive terror paranoia, subsequent charades and fake makeup-morality, it can actually feel refreshing. The honest statesman seems nearly deprecated today. This is important since I believe the success of both is a direct consequence of past governance.

But overall I don't think that much has really changed for most people. Maybe some offices took a little bit of damage, but I don't see that in a purely negative light. Civil liberties will probably suffer again, but that seems to be en vogue anyway.

I block all Facebook properties at the DNS level. Is there another source for this?

Sweet. Thank you.

As a non-British, I say that the idea of Boris Johnson leading Britain through Brexit sounds just like an orangutan riding a double decker bus through Piccadilly Circus: you don't want to be there, but you don't want to miss a second of this show.

Sorry Italy! You're not the funniest country in Europe anymore. Britain just got their own Silvio Berlusconi.

Boris is much worse than Silvio Berlusconi, who is - predictably - following the money and looking out for his buddies. Johnson will happily ruin the whole country for a gain in status.

Certainly not for a gain of status. His speech was very well prepared to the target audience: Upper class cynicism, throw the plebs under the bus, nobody cares - the beaches do remain open.

And we'll entertain ourselves in the meantime, whilst the industry will have their will.

I’m not sure, at the start of this race Boris struck me as the candidate least likely to deliver Brexit. I suspect his supporters are going to be disappointed.

This is a true HN gem - thanks, really made my evening.

So he’s a comedian, and a bad one.

Why do we (our society) keep electing these sorts of people?

Because we value superficiality over depth. Always have, always will.

People interpret charisma as depth (or at the very least, as being capable). Nobody looks at a charismatic person and says, now there's a real idiot. Even in this story you see it. The author thought he was a genius, even after watching the insanity of a supposedly unprepared speaker trying to wing it.

The real spanner in that works is that he wrote the same "notes" twice. It may be that it is his go to, but he has at least measured its impact and rehearsed it. Having a go to may well be a time management strategy.

It is also something that can be prepared by other people, considering that another commenter has pointed out that he comes from a political family, it could be that this was prepared for him for exactly this purpose.

It could simply be the genius of the political machine. When you have systems and multiple people in place, it's hard to assess individuals. Clearly someone is, we just don't know who. But from that perspective, the representatives are often not where the intellectual heavyweights with the real decision making either.

What? Isn't Trump, Boris Johnson and George W Bush charismatic people and that is what is used against them? Charismatic but a fool underneath?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding your argument here.

People vote populist because they see themselves in that leader: "they're just like me". If the voters considered who they're voting for as idiots, that would mean the voters considered themselves idiots. Instead, people considered them "capable". Not a genius, but "able to get the job done". Charisma instills confidence, and is endearing.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton gathered large bases because of what they were saying, but not because of how they said it. Rather than instilling confidence by charisma, they had to convince people of their abilities. In a way, that's much harder. Charisma is a bit like a cheat code.

You can also see this in Bill Clinton, who despite passing some dreadful legislation and being scandalized, people continued to have respect for, because he was very charismatic.

So much of what these populist right wing politicians say is outright, easily verifiable lies/half truths though. It's more like we value anyone signalling that they agree with our already held beliefs far more than the actual truth.

Elitists makes people feel inadequate.

In this brilliant speech there may be an answer: https://youtu.be/wSRN8PUhHX0

So, he is an actor?

ok, thats hilarious.

Did not see that one coming.

He must have recognised the seachange of populism and created a persona to suit. Reminds me of the BDG video on Polygon on how to create the perfect E3 presentation. Particularly the part about Gaffes.

I suppose this was a long time coming, in marketing circles, it is agreed that "Generation X" was the first "Jaded" generation, and I feel like there's some link there. Marketing to that generation often involves taking the piss out of their own product, and it is now the generation which is right in the age group to start wielding significant power and still has a number of good working years.

> Reminds me of the BDG video on Polygon on how to create the perfect E3 presentation. Particularly the part about Gaffes.

Perhaps I’m the only one who hasn’t seen or knows exactly which video this refers to, and what it has to say about gaffes, but next time I would appreciate a link to go with a comment like this.

Sorry, I wasn't in a position to look up stuff on youtube at the time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UP091FeB-3o

It's been said that George W. Bush already did that decades ago, shedding his New Englander blue-blood upbringing for Texan rustic.

I dunno, I don't think it's very healthy that when presented with a bumbling idiot in a position of power you start to think it's a big ruse and they are actually a genius.

It's best to just assume they are in fact, a bumbling idiot.

When there are actually samples of his speech before and after moving to Texas, and when he was Governor of Texas versus President of the United States, it kind of lends more credence to the claim.

There are two essential options:

1. W "knew stuff" and chose to present himself as a Texan

2. W "didn't know stuff" and chose to present himself as a Texan

The second option is by far more likely. For one of many examples take the following clip:


Is there any evidence at all that W actually knew what tribal sovereignty meant yet chose to completely bumble the answer here?

He isn’t an idiot, but he was a extraordinarily weak president. He essentially allowed Cheney, who is in turn puppeteered by his wife, to act as a second president.

IMO he is someone who could have developed into a good Senator, but unfortunately was the president at critical point in history.

Would you have links to share?

> It's best to just assume they are in fact, a bumbling idiot.

That is intellectual laziness. Climbing the political ladder is no mean feat. Sure, serendipity plays a big role, you need to be in the right place at the right time but don't dismiss people's intelligence based on public speaking.

He didn't "climb the political ladder". He was born on the top rung. His whole family are politicians, and his dad was president.

No doubt that was a massive influence, but we all know every presidents' son is also a president, specially in USA.

That's Occam's Razor. There are all these complex theories that people in positions of power who come across as idiots must in actual fact be master manipulative geniuses given they can so convincingly fake blithering idiocy and they can't possibly have got to where they are by being so clueless. But the simpler solution is that they are just idiots. Remember also that Eton has a reputation for drumming into boys on a daily basis that they are born to be future leaders and have to be confident of their superiority irrespective of competence or abilities. BTW, has anyone seen Being There?

Edit: Maybe we need a corollary to Hanlon's razor - "Never attribute to genius that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

In general sure, but when that person happens to be leading a nation, I would not be so quick to jump to that conclusion.

We're talking about a former leader of a nation for which the body of evidence is in. What is the evidence that he was feigning ignorance on foreign policy, national security, etc.?

Here's a first hand account from a former member of his staff, in an article aptly titled "George W. Bush is smarter than you":


Tony Blair claimed that George Bush was a very smart guy

People call their dogs or horses smart as well. It's a view that often reflects congeniality and agreement rather an objective assessment of intelligence.

> He must have recognised the seachange of populism

In 2006? That seems far fetched.

Your point about cynicism and politicians of his generation being the first to ironically cater to it seems more solid to me.

I don't think it's that far-fetched. The creeping beginnings of populism were detectable in the unusually emotionally-charged election of Obama (Change posters and the like), and that was in 2008.

Do you mean Generation X, or Generation Y (Millenials)?

I do mean Generation X, 1960s to early 80s

Fair enough, its just Gen Xers are starting to retire, which doesn't jive with "number of good working years". And surely your mid 30s is when you start climbing the greasy pole enough to wield significant power?

Maybe a better way of stating it is, no longer busy with children, where millenials are busy with that as a distraction.

Maybe. I agree with the general thrust of you argument, and I don't think that really detracts from the argument either. I think it just comes down to differing interpretations of significant influence.

Gen Xers have reached peak power. World leaders and CEOs are probably overwhelmingly Gen Xers. Up and coming politician and Managers and CEOs of new industries are probably Millenials, they are currently gaining significant influence.

But as I said, I agree with you, so don't really want to argue semantics :)

I think there is truth to that. Author mentions the break from what became spin and polish from the Blair years —where people became jaded and distrusting of that kind of politics.

In the US in prior years it became such a farce (this edifice of careful behavior) that candidates would do handwringing over what color tie to wear and how tall their shoes would make them look and how preened their hair should be. In doing that they all but forgot to speak directly to voters. That’s what Johnson, Sanders and Trump, (among others), like them or not have brought.

People believed too much in the five o’clock shadow myth of Nixon’s initial defeat. That drove politicians away from the realm of realism to polish and spin.

https://youtu.be/b5wfPlgKFh8 'President Reagan (Phil Hartman) acts hopeless and clueless in public, but in private he's an evil mastermind who knows every detail about everything happening in his administration. [Season 12, 1986]'

This calls to mind the idea that our world is uniquely suited to psychopaths (or whatever the current DSM-V term is). Cities are too large for people to be held accountable as a villager would. There is too much information for scandals to have consequences. The thirst for confidence and charm is so intense that charisma or presence is by far the most useful quality a person can have. Modern life is filled with so much stress that those who cannot feel fear or empathy are highly advantaged.

In the end you can have amorphous politicians who can change their identity at any moment and be hailed for it, because they provide some form of emotional value to people in a world where nothing matters anymore anyway.

Looking at the new generation of entertainers on streaming or video platforms, many of them seem to have dark triad traits.

Don't believe the hype. Lack of empathy is a huge handicap in life. People who are unable to imagine things from the perspective of others are often unable to correctly interpret or anticipate others' actions and responses. Managers with low EQ tend to not go very far.

Empathy is good because you understand people. Psychopaths may have empathy which often makes them good manipulators but they lack sympathy so they don’t feel with others. That’s my understanding.

I think you are referring to sociopaths and not psychopaths, the latter of which are associated with empathy impairment and aren’t as great manipulators as the former.

The APA considers them the same thing.

I think you two are talking about different things. Empathy has two components: cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy is the ability to imagine things from the perspective of others, and lacking that is clearly a big handicap. Emotional empathy is the ability to respond emotionally to other people's mental state, and it's definitely not clear whether lacking that (as sociopaths do) is a handicap.

Interesting distinction, one that I was unaware of.

I'd disagree with your assertion that lacking cognitive empathy "is clearly a big handicap" and also that "it's definitely not clear whether lacking [emotional empathy] (as sociopaths do) is a handicap".

Speaking from personal experience I frequently fail to exhibit what is deemed to be the correct emotional response to the emotions of others by either misinterpreting their emotion, being unable to adduce the underlying cause for an emotion, or not caring about or being unaffected by their emotion. This has caused much negative interpersonal consequences and has been highly detrimental. I imagine that emotional empathy is quite a big component of what people call emotional intelligence. (I also don't have the little voice that says "don't say what you're about to say" that other people have but I think that's something else?)

However I have no trouble imaging things from the perspective of others. I'd go further than that, I am too good at imagining things from the perspective of others. It's practically a default setting of mine to flip roles and situations around to evaluate scenarios from another's perspective. It's why people with ideological biases infuriate me because it makes them unable to perform this simple "trick", same with someone or groups suffering from delusions of exceptionalism and other tribal biases. Because this is so prevalent and doesn't appear to impact negatively on individuals I have to conclude it's not so much of an immediate handicap, it doesn't appear to hinder people getting on in life the way lacking emotional empathy does. (It does have rather big societal consequences obviously which can eventually hurt the individual via the group but people are too 'stupid' to see this if I may say that without causing offense.)

Sociopathy isn’t associated with empathy impairment like psychopathy is. Sociopaths understand empathy well, and can use it like a weapon.

What's your source for that? It's not how I've understood the distinction between sociopaths and psychopaths. In fact, it's not clear that there is a well-defined distinction. Everybody seems to draw the line differently.

Sociopaths aren't master manipulators. They mostly get by on the of element of surprise. People generally don't expect others to stoop below a certain level of immoral behavior in most contexts.

> “Now, I accept,” he went on in an uncertain tone, “that as a result some small children were eaten by a shark. But how much more pleasure did the MAJORITY get from those beaches as a result of the boldness of the Mayor in Jaws?”

A small reminder that this is a direct cause of Grenfell, where 72 people died in a burning building.


Not sure what you mean. But it seems society is making that compromise all the time.

For example road accidents seem like a better comparison? Many people get pleasure and benefits out of being able to drive, but a couple thousand people die because of it every year, including many children.

could you explain your comment as I did a search on this page and saw no mention of this

Boris Johnson is claiming that red tape hinders business and that we need less of it, and sure some people are going to be harmed but that's counter-balanced by the increased prosperity of everyone else.


He was part of a government that promised a "bonfire of red tape", and that included building standards.


> In a speech to the Federation of Small Business Cameron said 100 standards and building regulations were facing the bonfire – a move which he claimed would save around £60 million a year for housebuilders – or £500 for each new home built.

> His announcement effectively re-iterates the government’s commitment to trim down building regulations as part of its Housing Standards Review.

Grenfell Tower showed us why those regulations exist and what happens when you get rid of them - people die. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/15/grenfe...

From the Wikipedia article: "The national government commissioned an independent review of building regulations and fire safety, which published a report in May 2018"

That report is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-revie...

There was previous criticism of UK fire regulation, that's mentioned in the Wikipedia article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grenfell_Tower_fire#Criticism_...

But did he specifically axe regulations of fire safety? Or did he mean to abandon all ALL regulations? Just because some regulations may be good, does not mean all regulations are good.

> Johnson excelled in English and Classics

English and Classics... seriously, dude? That's good enough for working at Starbucks and McDonalds, I guess, but not for much else. Least of all for effective policymaking.

Please keep this sort of trollish flamebait far away from this site.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20284021 and marked it off-topic.

Not sure if you're kidding, but Eton is one of the finest schools in the UK, probably the world, so it's a bit much to be quite so disparaging. Also I'm guessing you've never heard of CP Snow:

'The Two Cultures is the first part of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow. Its thesis was that "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" was split into two cultures – the sciences and the humanities – which was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.'


Edit: Boris was also President of the Oxford Union, assistant Editor of the Telegraph, and Editor of the Spectator, as well as two-term London mayor. Surely you must give him some credit! I suggest it would take an extraordinarily fortunate fool to be able to pull off a record like that.

> Not sure if you're kidding

I was obviously engaging in some hyperbole to make my point as clear as possible, but the basic issue stands AFAICT. Is there any evidence we could look at of Boris Johnson's expertise in policymaking? So far I haven't really seen it, and "Eton and Oxford are great places and Johnson definitely knows his English/Classics/philosophy", while definitely impressive in some sense, is just not relevant to the issue. It's a bit like saying "Donald Trump is great at making deals and building things!", like, that just doesn't cut it. About the most I can say for him is that he may have learned some journalism on the job, which is a bit more relevant to current issues than anything about ancient philosophy - but no one sane would trust the average journalist to be an effective policymaker, either!

> assistant Editor of the Telegraph https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/24/boris-...

Max Hastings, his boss at the time doesn't have such a great opinion of Boris.

I would suggest as well that in more ordinary times, when the country has some decent leaders and is not so bitterly divided, he would have absolutely no chance of rising to the position he looks now likely to hold.

But these are very strange times, and "chaos is a ladder".

Max Hastings may well have an axe to grind, no?

> so bitterly divided > very strange times

I'm not so sure we are as bitterly divided or that the times are as strange as we are led to believe, and I think both of above have been pushed hard by those that would seek to thwart Brexit: 'the country is so divided, we must compromise (BRINO) in order to heal these divisions!' and 'look at how broken our politics is, we must revoke Article 50 in order to safely navigate these perilous waters!'

How competent was he as mayor? Most memorably he stood up for bankers, brought in Boris bikes, and most famously got stuck on a zipline. His primary talent is taking limited damage from scandals that should have ended his career.

"brought in Boris bikes"

Boris didn't even do anything with that one. Livingstone set everything up, but he left office before the scheme actually started. Boris just happened to be in charge when it started operating and he (very undeservedly IMO) got his name attached.

Who's the POTUS right now?

Please don't post political flamebait here.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20281979 and marked it off-topic.

DJT is a lot of things. Sociopath is pretty far down the list.

If this is true, the man is obviously a genius.

That said, the 'act of the fool' mightn't work in operational reality, because if everyone believes he's an unprepared bumpkin, then that's the reality, and he won't be respected.

His former editor at the Telegraph had some very harsh words about him, along the lines of 'he only cares about himself, he's totally unprepared, has no idea what he is doing' etc. and I'll gather that rings true.

So maybe he is a populist genius, but I'm not sure how well this will bode for the current EU/Brexit crisis.

He's certainly very intelligent. He went through Eton on a scholarship and then Balliol Colledge at Oxford also on scholarship (although only took an upper second). It would be pretty difficult to have a better educational pedigree. According to Wikipedia he was notoriously lazy at school, which may have accounted for not getting a first.

I've been told by acquaintences who knew him at Oxford that he definitely plays the bumpkin card, but is in reality very, very shrewd. I think he did a good job as Mayor of London. His views are pretty much diametrically opposed to mine, but I suspect that he will become Prime Minister and will probably do a pretty good job (though I might not be happy with the outcome -- competence in people with differing goals is not always a good thing ;-) ). I guess we'll see how it goes.

Critically, he was doing it at random awards shows where his expertise wasn't relevant. You could probably pull this off with no risk to your reputation if you pulled together (I.e. put the "pulled together" tape in your mental Walkman) when it was expected of you.

I think the point of the story was not that he was a 'good speaker' but rather, his foolhardiness is a populist act.

Which implies that his kind of bumbling attitude in popular politics might very well be calculated, i.e. he's not a fool, he's brilliant.

I'll buy that he's borderline genius with the populist bits, but I also believe basically everyone in international politics who say he's a clown, totally unprepared, never serious. Some of the things serious entities have to say about him are pretty bad.

Suppose you were a calculating actor like this guy, and you wanted to insult him. Would you design the insult around his private persona, which only you and a select few were privy to, or around his public persona, so that the public will agree with the insult? If the truth doesn't matter to you, you will join in on the illusion of him being disorganized, because that's what the public already believes.

The plebs don't seem to be aware that he's disorganized and unprepared or lacking in knowledge - that's beyond the things they care about it seems.

Apparently, people 'like him' and his sheer popularity I think is most of the driving force behind his success.

Anyone who's paying attention (small minority in reality) seems to regard him as a complete idiot, however.

The Financial Times, his former editor at the Telegraph, obviously the Guardian - any serious writing about him is seriously derisive.

These are harsh words [1]

The thing I don't understand is what the Conservatives are thinking at this time? Are they simply looking at the polls showing him as clearly the most electable in an election? Because I can't believe that conservative MP's don't realize he's a fool as well. Maybe they think they'll be able to combine him with a solid Brexit negotiator, but I don't see that working. I just can't fathom Boris Johnson sitting down with Merkel, and whoever the new EU President is going to be, and doing anything material.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/24/boris-...

Theres a poll from last week(?) I saw.

Conservative members put Brexit above the union (with Scotland and Northern Ireland), above the survival of their party, and above the economy. The only thing they put above Brexit is keeping out Corbyn.

Edit, here it is: https://monevator.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/YouGov-Tory...

I believe the Conservatives, like the Republicans in the US, have abandoned any attempt at actually ruling the country sensibly and just try to stay in power.

The Financial Times, his former editor at the Telegraph, obviously the Guardian

I would note that all three of these are extremely anti-Brexit. Lots of people believe (rightly or wrongly) that Leave wouldn't have won without the support of Johnson and blame him personally for Brexit, which they see as an abomination. They aren't going to be even handed in their judgement of him: really, I'd say anything they write about him is going to be a smear.

The Telegraph editorial position is 'Brexit' [1]

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/0/heres-where-britains-...

Yes I know. But Max Hastings is a former editor.

Not being British I don't really have a skin in the game, but thinking about how well things have been going lately over there with the "serious" people, I wonder maybe it's time to question the value of their seriousness. If you're very serious total failure, then the seriousness helps no one.

There haven't been many "serious" people at the helm since the Brexit vote. Clowns are running the show, and BoJo plays a very convincing clown.

Ultimately, though, that's a sideshow. He has no principles, forethought, or plan. So I struggle to understand how he'd improve the UK's position.

Theresa May wasn't "serious"? The woman who, on being asked about the naughtiest thing she'd ever done, said "running through a field of wheat"?

Since the Brexit vote the only people at the helm have been serious establishment types who saw the entire process as a damage limitation exercise, and who couldn't stop telling the country that what they had been offered and requested wasn't actually possible, the sky would fall and so on. Many such serious people made very serious predictions, most notoriously, the Treasury predicting that the vote would trigger an uncertainty-based recession that'd wipe out half a million jobs. Obviously the reality was very different.

Boris isn't an idiot. He is popular because he did a good job in London and comes across as a man who believes in Britain and wants to get things done. Whether he will or not is an entirely different matter; his party is still against him. But he's widely liked for understandable reasons.

politics allowed here?

Interesting stories with political overlap are ok (see https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20political%20overlap&...). I don't think one even needs to apply that criterion here, though. It's a story about a politician, but not exactly politics.

Sounds like he hacked the societal expectations of what constitutes a speech via social engineering

twice, the exact same way.

Plus who knows how many more the witness wasn’t privy to.

And the speeches that are to come!

Do you run programs only once? If you have a fabulous spicy pickle recipe and it rescues people from depression and cures alzheimer's, do you chance experimenting with the preparation? ;- )

This does seem like a contradiction of rules.

There's no rule against politics on HN as such (and never has been: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17014869).

The rule is against garden-variety politics—the kind with no intellectually interesting aspect: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.

Many good HN submissions have some political overlap. That's inevitable and fine as long as people don't use the site for political battle, which takes discussions out of the range this site exists for (the curiosity range). I've written about this a fair bit: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20political%20overlap&...

The no political battle rule though seems to make all direct U.S politics off limits however.

It's a question of what the community is capable of. If a thread can substantively discuss some interesting topic that overlaps with "direct U.S. politics", that's fine. If it degenerates into political battle and flamewar, it's off topic. Preserving the container takes precedence.

That "sea change" in populism did not started just now.

I felt since around late nineties that Western and Eastern politics are getting closer with each day, to the point of convergence.

See, that "ultrapopulism" did not start with Trump and Co., it started with mainstream, centrist parties beginning to resorting to extreme political maneuvers and demagoguery at around start of millennium, with WTC attacks greatly facilitating that.

Whatever slogans the modern ultrapopulists operate, could've easily be taken for something coming from Lenin, Stalin, Pol or Mao few decades ago.

Politician giving speeches at some random gathering of industry types - isn't that SUPPOSED to be entertainment? It's not as if those speeches matter in any way?

I think comedians do a similar thing, practicing their act until it seems spontaneous but every punchline hits. Why should politicians do their job part of "public speaking" in a different way?

So what does "for real" mean? If a comedian manages to look spontaneous, yet every word and move has been practiced hundreds of times, is he for real?

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