The Pretend of the Affair: Why most of the British media turns a blind eye to Boris Johnson's corruption

It's about a lot more than 'bonking'.

“Why are so many boys growing up with such toxic ideas about women?” ask the commentators. “Porn!” “Gaming!” “Gangster Rap!” (shout out to The Times’ Libby Purves zooming in from 1990), they cry. But there’s no mention of the newspapers themselves or the political culture they uphold and excuse. No mention either of the sentient binbag they support as Prime Minister.

Here’s Boris Johnson writing in The Daily Telegraph in 1996, back when he was in his shock-hack incarnation:

The unanimous opinion is that what has been called the ‘Tottymeter’ reading is higher than at any Labour Party conference in living memory…Time and again the ‘Tottymeter’ has gone off as a young woman delegate mounts the rostrum.

The real reason why Blackpool is buzzing with glamorous women is surely that they scent victory. It is not the great smell of Brut that makes John Prescott attractive. It is the whiff of power. With the fickleness of their sex, they are following the polls.

In the same period, Johnson wrote a piece boasting about how hanging up a Pirelli calendar of topless women in The Telegraph offices “caused something of a stir”. And again in The Telegraph in 2002, by then an MP and editor of The Spectator, he wrote:

What on Earth can Tony have said, to leave him, according to British press reports, about as pink and quivering as the freshly slapped rump of a Normandy milkmaid?

In a notorious campaign speech in 2004, he said:

Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts…

Advising the next editor of The Spectator in his 2005 farewell column, Johnson wrote:

Once the fire is going well, you may find your eyes drifting to the lovely striped chesterfield across the room. Is it the right size, you wonder, for a snooze. . . ?

You come round in a panic, to find a lustrous pair of black eyes staring down at you. Relax. It's only Kimberly [Quinn, then the Spectator's publisher] with some helpful suggestions for boosting circulation.

Just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way. Whatever you do, don’t get depressed if she starts saying ‘noos-stand is sawft this week, Booriss’ (she is American) or that she doesn’t like your cover.

Sonia Purnell, a former colleague of Johnson’s at The Telegraph, wrote in her biography of him, Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition (🤮), that this manner of writing about women was par for the course from him:

In his writing women were portrayed as rather feeble 'blubbing blondes' or 'collapsing with emotion ...

That may explain why Johnson jumped to plagiarising Raymond Chandler in his sexts to Jennifer Acuri.

The “you’re enough to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window” line is a direct swipe from Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely and a lift Johnson had already attempted in his execrable 2004 novel Seventy-Two Virgins. And, as Richard Bartholomew pointed out, Johnson may, in fact, have nicked the line because he saw it on the cover of the May 2002 edition of Vanity Fair.

There are several reasons that most of the media have ignored or buried The Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror’s exclusive with Jennifer Acuri offering extensive details on what she claims was a four-year affair with Boris Johnson.

The first is a mix of professional jealousy and snobbishness. The Sun isn’t inclined to throw much light on stories broken by its biggest rival. It’s not for nothing that its front page features a boast that it costs 30p less than The Mirror. Meanwhile, The Times still likes to pretend it’s ‘classy’ so that, in part, explains why it puts the story deep in the paper (along with some measure of loyalty to its more salacious sibling, The Sun).

The second is that Boris Johnson is one of their own. He’s a hack done ‘good’; a columnist who has achieved the ultimate accolade in the world of the professional opinion havers — his opinions can literally change the country. That he lies, cheats — even to the extent of allegedly having sex with Acuri over the sofa in his family home — and has the morals of an alleycat that even the other flea-bitten mogs consider ‘a bit much’ is all priced in.

Boris Johnson is so corrupt and morally empty that 10 pages of revelations about an affair tied to allegations that he gave ‘the other woman’ preferential access to trade trips and public money isn’t shocking or surprising. It’s just ‘Boris being Boris’ in the eyes of hacks who, in their hearts, wish they could get away with it and hadn’t had to sleep in the Volvo when their wife found out about [redacted for legal reasons]. The female columnists who make excuses for Johnson don’t see the benefit of attacking someone who their proprietors find useful.

We have such a broken media and political culture that Allegra Stratton — once a Newsnight reporter for whom the show had to apologise after she demonised a young woman for tabloid cred — can, with a straight face, claim that Boris Johnson “acts with integrity and honesty… [and] follows the Nolan Principles when conducting himself in public life.” It’s like the official spokesperson for Pepé Le Pew asserting that many people find his rancid musk quite appealing.

It’s nearly 19 years since Boris Johnson was first sacked for lying about an affair. And 34 years since he was sacked from his first job as a trainee at The Times for writing a story that lied about the opinions of his own godfather. But yes, this is a man who “acts with integrity and honesty” and always has done…

Of course Tim Montgomerie — a former advisor to Boris Johnson who was bounced out of Downing Street after making a speech to a right-wing Hungarian think-tank about how the government would cosy up to Victor Orban — went straight for ‘whataboutery’. He knows Johnson’s behaviour is indefensible so he constructed a strawman with the speed of an over-caffeinated teen building defensive barriers in Fornite.

The Sun turns the whole thing into a lark — “a romp” — and focuses on details about a lost sock because it wants to further minimise the story, having already shunted it to page 11. When Labour MPs are caught out, it’s front-page news, but yet another example of the Prime Minister’s proclivities is basically boring.

The next stage in this news cycle will be for columnists to dismiss Arcuri as a ‘scarlet woman’ and for the forthcoming inquiry by the Greater London Authority (GLA) into whether Johnson broke the Nolan Principles for ethical standards in public life to be framed as a witch hunt by political enemies.

The Prime Minister will say he’s focused on fixing the country and the affairs (both political and personal) will be pushed to one side by more stories about how happy he is with his new partner Carrie Symonds, their dog, and their delightful baby boy.

But the Arcuri case is more than the ‘bonking Boris’ story that it will be framed as by papers who have put their whole support behind the Prime Minister. While the Independent Office for Police Conduct concluded that it did not have enough evidence to pursue misconduct in public office charge, it recommended that the GLA investigate whether Johnson broke the Nolan Principles while Mayor:

While there was no evidence that Mr Johnson influenced the payment of sponsorship monies or participation in trade missions,  there was evidence to suggest that those officers making decisions about sponsorship monies and attendance on trade missions thought that there was a close relationship between Mr Johnson and Ms Arcuri, and this influenced their decision-making.

The implication is that people who could help Arcuri were aware that she was a ‘friend’ of the Mayor’s and that Johnson himself didn’t have to put anything down on ‘paper’ for the favours to be done.

The GLA investigation will look at whether Johnson behaved with “honesty and integrity” (🤣), whether Arcuri was given “preferential treatment” (🤣) and if there was a conflict of interest that should have been declared (🤣).

Whatever the investigation concludes, the right-wing newspapers already have their answer: “That’s just Boris being Boris.” But woe betide he eat a bacon sandwich in a ‘funny’ way, right?