Boris Johnson Tries On a New Campaign Persona: Disciplined

Boris Johnson Tries On a New Campaign Persona: Disciplined


As he has throughout his career, Mr. Johnson still affects a carefree insouciance about the details. In Uttoxeter, he said he needed to wrap up his remarks because, “I now have to go,” pausing for several awkward seconds, as he looked around for a prompt from an aide, “somewhere else.” The audience tittered.

Still, Mr. Johnson’s single-mindedness has unexpectedly made his campaign a somewhat joyless affair. There have been few moments of genuine spontaneity and more instances of protesters heckling.

The most memorable image of Mr. Johnson’s campaign may prove to be his tense exchange with a local reporter who was trying to show him a photo of a child who had been forced to sleep on the floor of a hospital in Leeds because of a lack of beds. Rather than express sympathy for the child, a defensive Mr. Johnson grabbed the reporter’s phone and stuffed it in his pocket.

Mr. Johnson’s aides have tried to soften his image. They released a commercial, inspired by a scene from the film, “Love Actually,” in which he turns up at a woman’s door and pleads wordlessly for her vote with flash cards (one of the film’s stars, Hugh Grant, has campaigned vigorously against him).

But the prime minister, who made his name as a journalist, has methodically avoided scrutiny from the news media. He limits access to reporters who cover his campaign and ducked an interview with the BCC’s infamous interrogator, Andrew Neil. On Wednesday, when a reporter asked him to go on camera with the TV anchor Piers Morgan, Mr. Johnson escaped into a walk-in refrigerator.

Such tactics outrage journalists in London. But it is not clear that they have hurt him with the working-class voters he is targeting. Despite Mr. Johnson’s messy personal life, allegations of misconduct while he was mayor of London and his disingenuous handling of Brexit, the news media have scarcely laid a hand on him.

In this, he is similar to another populist politician with a checkered past who ran a convention-flouting campaign and won, said Baroness Rosalind Scott, a member of the House of Lords and a former president of the Liberal Democrats.



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