France, where people still take Boris Johnson seriously
Boris Johnson’s party conference speech on Monday has had the British press in stitches these past 24 hours, but with so many jokes to choose from, they seem to have overlooked a jibe targeting French President François Hollande, who was labelled France’s “biggest tyrant since the revolution”.
Not so in France, where the comment was taken very seriously indeed. Remember when Johnson first appeared on the political scene and we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry? Well, it's still the case in France. Only there’s no British sense of humour here, so most people are forced to settle for the crying option.
Dismissed as a Francophobe who didn’t know his history in the French press, the tubby bikeophile received an even nastier drubbing on the message boards and the Twittersphere.
Johnson made the remark during members’ talks at the annual Tory (Conservative) party conference in Birmingham. The subject of David Cameron’s open invitation to French citizens came up. (In June, Cameron said he would “lay out the red carpet” for talented French people wishing to escape newly elected Hollande’s tax-happy government.) Johnson, who is not only a skilled lefty-basher but also a seasoned France-basher, willingly obliged. ‘Allons enfants de la patrie’, he began – the opening lines of the French national anthem – “We say to the people, not since 1789 has there been such tyranny in France. I am very keen to welcome talented French people to London.”
For those who have never heard of Johnson or his infamous funny-man acts, they might have thought he was unfairly picking on Hollande. Well, he was. But he had just come from a speech when he picked on his own party leader, David Cameron, by calling him a broom. He also picked on fellow Tories George Osborne “the dustpan”, Michael Gove “the J-cloth” and William Hague “the sponge” (the chancellor of the exchequer, education minister and foreign secretary, respectively). And that’s not to mention opposition leader Ed Miliband and his shadow chancellor Ed Balls (“the two Eds”), who received a far gruffer rubbing-down.
Johnson is like the school bully that laughs everyone into submission. Unfortunately, standing up to him only makes the French look over-sensitive. Instead, they should learn from David Cameron. Even when your colleague/ rival/ potential successor is making a fool out of you, the only way to retain some dignity, is to laugh along.
Watch and learn, Mr Hollande…