Was Boris right to compare himself to Churchill?

Oct 28, 2011
Charles Laurence

He doubtless has more in common with Churchill than Ken, who has also invoked the wartime PM

LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson has raised eyebrows after comparing himself to Winston Churchill from the podium of the Churchillian Award Dinner.

He was not calling for blood, sweat and tears. It was not that Churchill the mayor was invoking, but rather Churchill the journalist and the historian.

Boris was responding to shadow minister Liam Byrne who had accused him earlier this week of being a "part-time mayor", putting aside his duties to write Johnson's Life of London: The People Who Made the City that Made the World, due out on November 3.

It was "truly astonishing", Byrne told the Evening Standard, that Boris "can find time to write a book when he was elected to run London".

Boris seized the great man's mantle. "If some Lefty, snivelling opponent tells you that you can't combine writing and politics you can remind them that Churchill wrote journalism throughout his career," said Johnson. "And then he continued... to write the History of the English Speaking Peoples after Hitler had invaded Poland and when he was in charge of the entire British Navy."

I have checked the facts: Johnson is correct.

Churchill was on the backbenches as the jackboots marched towards the Second World War. When he wasn't making speeches, he was at home in Chartwell writing furiously to fend off his creditors.

He had been in the trade since he inveigled passage to the Boer War, and he was a journalist by nature. In 1939, he was writing a column for The Daily Telegraph, which is where the Mayor still scribbles. But Churchill's expenses were high, and so whenever he was not in office, he would sell his publishers a book or three.

As war broke out, the work in progress was indeed The History of the English Speaking Peoples, though the book did not finally appear - in its four volumes - until 1956-1958.

Boris is not the first London mayor to invoke Churchill. His predecessor Ken Livingstone, running again next year in an attempt to steal his old job back from Johnson, tried it this August. As the Daily Mail reported, Livingstone made the extraordinary claim that he was Churchill and Johnson was Hitler, and London voters had a "simple choice between good and evil". Labour grandees suggested the party find a new candidate.

There's no doubt there's a whiff of Churchillian destiny about Johnson.

Look out for a lucrative move from the Telegraph to the Daily Mirror – Churchill swapped his contract in the spring of 1939, while he was still churning out his history book, and wrote for the Mirror until summoned to No 10 to save the nation the following year.

And talking of war in Europe, if the coalition implodes over the EU, and the Conservatives find themselves looking for a new party leader, well, there are many who believe Boris could find himself occupying the hot seat at a considerably younger age than Churchill, who was 65 when he first became prime minister. Boris is a mere 47.

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