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A Long and Rich History of Boris Johnson Saying Reprehensible Things

The PM may not have said "people of colour" in the now-infamous Channel 4 clip, but one thing's undeniable – he has a track record of saying awful shit.
06 December 2019, 3:24pm
Boris Johnson "people of colour" caption from Channel 4 screengrab
A still from the Channel 4 clip that mistakenly transcribed "people of colour" instead of "people of talent" in Boris Johnson's speech. Screengrab via Channel 4

“It’s black and blue!” you said, with the bright eyes and the excitement of a child on Christmas morning, bemused at how anyone could see this bodycon dress as anything else. In the days that followed, Twitter was awash with millions of comments debating whether #thedress was black and blue or white and gold. You followed it all meticulously. Then it was Yanny or Laurel. A little more jaded this time, you sighed as your step-mum messaged “it’s defo laurel hun x” to the family WhatsApp group.

So here we go again, another debate over what amateur Twitter scientists will ponder over for centuries to come. Did Boris Johnson say “people of colour” or “people of talent” should be “democratically controlled” in a now-deleted video about immigration tweeted by Channel 4? (For the record, the broadcasters have clarified that the prime minister was saying “people of talent” and that they had wrongly captioned Johnson’s speech.)

Does it matter? Either way, he’s already on record saying a whole bunch of other really horrible stuff. When you’ve worked as a journalist and you’re a Tory, your vile opinions are forever immortalised in the archives of national newspapers, and other journalists with too much time on our hands will gladly pop down to the British Library to sift through dusty articles from the last 30 years to find concrete evidence of your cretinous behaviour.

But before we get started, the regular excuses given by Boris Johnson and his supporters about his horrible remarks are that they have been “wrenched out of context”, were said in a “different time” or were ”wholly satirical”. For clarity, I have also attached the context and date in which things were said. The satire? Well, you’ll see for yourself.

SINGLE MOTHERS

Context: In an article for the Spectator in 1995 about… I honestly have no idea what, and I’ve read it so many times, Boris calls single mothers “irresponsible”, says the working class are hopeless drunks and generally just chats shit.

The full quote: “It is no use blaming uppity and irresponsible women for becoming pregnant in the absence of a husband. Given their natural desire to have babies, and the tininess of what the sociologist William Julius Wilson has called the ‘marriageable pool’, it is the only answer.”

His response to this one was that he meant “no disrespect” and the words were again, twisted and distorted out of context. I think he says this because he knows a large proportion of people won’t actually check. Well, look now. :)

THE CHILDREN OF SINGLE MOTHERS

Context: In a 2006 collection of journalism called Have I Got Views For You (not sure who commissioned this and why), Boris Johnson said that the children of single mothers were more likely to “mug you”.

The quote: “The result is that in families on lower incomes the women have absolutely no choice but to work, often with adverse consequences for family life and society as a whole – in that unloved and undisciplined children are more likely to become hoodies, Neets and mug you on the street corner.”

Ironic, considering he’s uncharacteristically shy about his own record as a father...

POOR PEOPLE

Context: In a 2002 article in the Telegraph on Labour, Boris labelled the poorest 20 percent of society “chavs”, “burglars”, “drug addicts” and “losers”.

The quote: “The real divide is between the entire class of people now reposing their fat behinds on the green and red benches in the Palace of Westminster, and the bottom 20 percent of society – the group that supplies us with the chavs, the losers, the burglars, the drug addicts and the 70,000 people who are lost in our prisons and learning nothing except how to become more effective criminals.”

Interesting for Johnson to point the finger at the bottom 20 percent of society for being drug addicts when there is quite literally cocaine residue in the House of Commons. Can we also just acknowledge that the richest one percent own 20 times the wealth of the bottom 20 percent? Now that’s criminal.

WOMEN

Context: In a 1996 article for the Telegraph, Boris Johnson rated women at a Labour Conference on his very own “tottymeter”.

The quote: I mean, this is the headline: “Hot Totty Is On The Agenda As Women Start To Scent Victory”.

He continues in the article: "The unanimous opinion is that what has been called the 'Tottymeter' reading is higher than at any Labour Party conference in living memory" and that "time and again the 'Tottymeter' has gone off as a young woman delegate mounts the rostrum."

Bleach my eyes, this is so David Brent. “Totty” also very much has the vibe of a word said by someone who is no stranger to googling “naked boobs” on the family computer, clicking on a dodgy link and having to pay the neighbour’s adult son a tenner to come round and install anti-virus software.

MUSLIM WOMEN

Context: This article was literally written and published last year in the Telegraph, where he referred to Muslim women as “letter boxes”. A different time? Well, yes, but also very much no.

**The quote: “**I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes; and I thoroughly dislike any attempt by any – invariably male – government to encourage such demonstrations of ‘modesty’, notably the extraordinary exhortations of President Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya, who has told the men of his country to splat their women with paintballs if they fail to cover their heads.”

I think it’s easy, because of the laissez-faire attitude towards Johnson’s behaviour, to not truly feel the full force of these slurs, but let’s just take a moment to digest the fact that this comment corresponded with a 375 percent spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes after it was published.

GAY MEN

Context: In a 1996 Spectator article on the resignation of former Labour MP Peter Mandelson, Johnson refers to gay men as “tank-topped bumboys”. Bet he wished he hadn’t bothered now!

The quote: “Weep, O ye shirt-makers of Jermyn Street, ye Cool Brittannia tailors and whatever exists of human finer feeling. In the Ministry of Sound, the tank-topped bumboys blub into their Pils.”

Watching the ITV Election Debate the other day, I experienced a moment of sheer, indisputable Welsh pride during what, for me, was one of the defining moments of this election period so far. Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru, new father (congrats) and owner of a lovely Welsh baritone interrupted Nigel Farage to say: “The sad reality is this: we have a Prime Minister who referred to gay men like myself as 'bum boys in tank tops' and referred to Muslim woman looking like 'letterboxes'. This is actually creating a climate where abuse becomes acceptable, whether it’s abuse of women or minorities, and that’s why neither Trump nor Boris Johnson are fit to be in public office.”

I’m an eighth Welsh and have probably visited the country twice in my entire life, but in that moment, reader: I WAS WELSH.

CONGOLESE PEOPLE

Context: In an article for the Telegraph in 2002 about Tony Blair, Boris Johnson referred to people from the Democratic Republic of Congo as “piccaninnies”.

The quote: “What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth. Partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies; and one can imagine that Blair, twice victor abroad but enmired at home, is similarly seduced by foreign politeness.”

Could someone please direct us to the satire? Or explain how the context makes this horrible statement any better? Feel free to read the rest of the article, as with all the others, it actually gets worse, the more you read.

So there you have it, and feel free to share the ones I’ve missed out, but I’m sure it’s blindingly obvious to you by now that the only section of society omitted from this list are old, straight, white, wealthy men. And that’s because Boris Johnson probably doesn’t have a bad word to say about them!

It's fair to say that Boris Johnson probably doesn’t have a very high opinion of you. Don’t fall for his fuckwittery – he doesn’t care about you and he doesn’t care about the people you care about.

@rossy