In Tory Heartlands, Boris Johnson's Controversial Past Might Be Too Much

Past comments have left some people in this true-blue town uneasy, yet one suggests: "Why not try daft?"

Berkhamsted is bustling on a midweek afternoon.

The Hertfordshire market town, just 28 miles north of London, is at the heart of the safe Conservative seat of South West Hertfordshire, held by Justice Secretary David Gauke with a near 20,000 majority in 2017.

Yet despite the area’s true blue credentials, Tory leadership front runner Boris Johnson appeared to have few fans.

Not all of those who spoke to HuffPost UK in Berkhamsted were Tory party members, the contingent that will decide the next Prime Minister, and our attempts to gain access to nearby Conservative clubs were denied.

Some of those interviewed by HuffPost UK in the town backed Johnson’s ability to “tackle subjects off the cuff”, but many others said they hoped the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP would never get the keys to Downing Street.

Boris Johnson, seen leaving his home yesterday, has largely dodged media scrutiny.
Boris Johnson, seen leaving his home yesterday, has largely dodged media scrutiny.
ISABEL INFANTES via Getty Images

Johnson has largely dodged media scrutiny thus far in his campaign to become the next prime minister.

Questions surrounding his suitability for the role – particularly his use of illegal drugs – remain largely unanswered.

And a selection of Johnson’s past writings on everything from gay marriage (which Johnson compared to bestiality) to his description of non-white people (“pickaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”) has re-emerged.

Karen Ellison, 57, was out for a walk with her 5-year-old greyhound Lexi. She said Johnson’s controversies – and his past comments – made him look like an attention-seeking bully.

Karen Ellison likened Boris Johnson to a 'school bully'.
Karen Ellison likened Boris Johnson to a 'school bully'.
HuffPost UK

“I don’t think it does ultimately discredit him as a politician,” she said. “What I think it does is make him look like somebody who is willing to say anything at all in order to get on the front page and in front of people so that his views can be heard.”

“He’s like a school bully. He’s shouting,” she added. “He just shouts the whole time and drowns everybody out.”

Asked about his past description of gay people as “tank-topped bumboys”, David and Sandy Goddard said they felt such comments would disqualify him from a bid for Downing Street. “I think it does,” David said.

“But with regards to Boris, it’s part of his upbringing and his background and his education. He’s operating at a different level to society.”

“He’s just saying whatever he thinks to get in,” he added. “The problem is he’s so charismatic on the stage.”

Johnson’s past remarks seemed to catch another passerby off guard when asked whether they would put her off Johnson. “Definitely, yeah, absolutely,” Julie Leyland said. “I’ve lost a lot of interest if I’m honest at the moment, I’m sick of it.”

Inevitably, the thought of Johnson conjured a comparison with another controversial blonde-haired leader. “I’m not a massive fan,” Laura Tipler, 33, said. “I don’t think he’s a very good representative for our country… I just think if you look at America with Trump, in my opinion, he’s on a par with Trump and I don’t want to see the country go that way.”

Yet for Alan Benn, Johnson’s past controversial remarks do not disqualify him from a bid for No.10.

“He’s not afraid to tackle subjects off the cuff,” the 90-year-old, who was coy about admitting if he had a vote in the upcoming election, said. “He reminds me a bit of that American president – Clinton – who is the most wonderful responder to any political question put to him. Plenty of material and not too much hot air.”

Alan Benn said Johnson appeared unafraid 'to tackle subjects off the cuff'.
Alan Benn said Johnson appeared unafraid 'to tackle subjects off the cuff'.
HuffPost UK

“I think because he’s highly intelligent, very flexible and able to find his way through tricky situations,” Benn added.

For another person quickly dashing down the high street, choosing Johnson seems like a risk worth taking. “I think we’ve tried sensible, why not try daft?” the woman, who declined to give her name, said.

One passing pensioner, who declined to give her name but said she would vote in the upcoming selection process, said she did not back Johnson and preferred his one-time rival Michael Gove.

Finally, David Goddard reflected on how Johnson needs to focus on how he relates to ordinary people.

“He needs to understand what humility is,” the pensioner said. “And a real sense of belonging towards people, and keeping promises and not making stupid promises. Because he’s all theatre.”


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