Rob Hutton hasn’t a clue what he’s doing

All cynics need the chewing gum of romance

“I’ve got this!” Boris Johnson declares as he opens a box of muesli (English for “granola”). “I’ve got this! Oh buggeration.”

There are bits of dried breakfast cereal all over the floor. “Never mind!” Britain’s government chief declares as he marches from the room. “Onwards and upwards.”

I am watching this scene from underneath Johnson’s kitchen sink, where I am installing a new tap (English for “faucet”). I am there because my editors at the Wisconsin Star-Critic had a simple question: Is “Boris Johnson” the English for “Donald Trump”?

In an effort to answer that, I spent three months this year redecorating Johnson’s flat (English for “apartment”). Over that time, I had exchanges with him on subjects as diverse as why the wallpaper wouldn’t stay up and how much longer I was going to take. 

“Who agreed to this?” Johnson asked once, finding me trying to clean a spot of paste off the curtains (English for “drapes”). “You did, prime minister,” his communications chief Jack Doyle replied. “You said it would be cheaper than getting a professional decorator in.”

He’s a man who tells everyone what they want to hear and always dodges blame. But what’s the secret of his success?

There is much debate in the UK (British for “England”) about the country’s place in the world. The answer, it turns out, is more complicated than “north of France”.

“I’ve told my officials that instead of being a lumbering elephant, I want us to be a nimble leopard,” Foreign Secretary (English for “Secretary of State”) Dominic Raab said, as we discussed what I would charge to repaint his kitchen. “Only one that can change its spots. They’re working up a policy paper for me. And what would it cost if we used Dulux?”.

Johnson is the leader of the Conservatories, the main political party on Britain’s right (America’s left). For many years he worked at the Daily Telegraph newspaper as its Brussels Correspondent (English for “fantasist”). 

Since going into politics, he has been an MP (English for “congressman”) and then London Mayor (English for “mayor”). He’s a man who tells everyone what they want to hear and always dodges blame. But what’s the secret of his success?

As I wrestled with this, I was struck again and again that our style guide forbids me from using the words “charlatan” and “transparent liar”. 

Johnson has plenty of charm. In almost all our conversations, he referred back to an article I’d written about the TV series Cobra Kai. I’d argued it showed how quickly people with power could become bullies, and cited him as an example. “No, no, you’ve got that wrong,” he said. “I love the Karate Kid movies. To me they’re about the importance of seeking an independent path and looking for lots of fights all around the world, rather than sticking with the big local club and competing in the All-Valley Tournament.”

In our final encounter, he held my ladder while I was putting paper around the top of a door

It was a subject he would return to whenever I pressed him on his previous expressions of admiration for Trump. “Look,” he said. “Karate like bonsai. Wax on, wax off! Must dash!”

“My message to America is simple,” Johnson told me as I regrouted his loo (English for “bathroom”). “Ignore everything I said between 2016 and 2021. And everything my Cabinet say. And everything I ever wrote.”

The prime minister is an unlikely populist. He was educated at one of the country’s leading public schools (English for “private school”). Discussing football (English for “soccer”), he says he’s “more of a fan of the oval ball”, though this turns out to be a reference not to “American football” (English for “football”), but to “rugby” (English for honestly I don’t know where to begin).  

In our final encounter, he held my ladder while I was putting paper around the top of a door. I decided to broach the question of Brexit. Didn’t the current problems in Northern Ireland show the dangers of just agreeing to things and not expecting to have to hold up your end?

“YAWN!” he replied, shaking the ladder. “Brexit is BORING!”

From my new position on the floor, where I was now lying underneath a pile of £840 ($1,188)-a-roll wallpaper, I decided to change the subject. “I think I might have broken my leg. Could you call 999 (English for 911)?”

But he had already walked away. Boris Johnson had got this. Onwards and upwards.

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