Boris Johnson has not for the first time found himself in hot water over comments about women. The immediate fall out has exemplified the kind of polarising argument that seems to follow London's Mayor everywhere he goes: one side finding it impossible to not take offence at the veritable stream of political incorrectness that spews from his mouth almost every time he opens it, the other side defending his remarks as being firmly tongue in cheek.
To be fair, in the case of his latest episode of verbal diarrhoea, the latter are probably in the right. It's extremely difficult to not read the quote - that women enroll in university because "They've got to find men to marry" - in Johnson's trademark bumbling, fumbling tone, and whilst this kind of lighthearted jab at the fairer sex is still somewhat problematic, it's safe to say that there was no real malice or even conviction in his words.
It is for this reason, however, that I have a problem with good old BoJo. He has spent so long expertly cultivating - make no mistake, there's nothing accidental about it - his persona of an excitable eccentric that at times it almost seems that he's a panto act who has accidentally stumbled onto the wrong stage and found himself running the nation's capital. It's extremely hard to reconcile the bumbling, idiot savant with the ruthless, Eton and Oxbridge-educated politician that Johnson is under the surface.
There seems to be few similarities between the loveable fool who comes out with one memorable sound bite after the other - describing the Tories as the "funkiest, most jiving party on Earth", for one - with the man who's conducted extramarital affairs, one of which resulted in him fathering a child and another that cost him his job in the Shadow Cabinet when it emerged he had lied about it to then-party leader Michael Howard. The man who agreed to give details of a journalist's address to a personal friend in order for him to be beaten up. The man who, deliberately or not, has a track record of sticking his foot in it by using phrases such as "watermelon smiles" when discussing Blair's visit to Congo.
For those scoffing at the idea that, with the microscopic scrutiny that politicians are placed under, one could so effectively pull the wool over our eyes, this has plenty of historical precedence. Of course all elected officials put on a show when they're in front of the camera, but for some, it's a full time job. Richard Nixon had aides deliberately and systematically "leak" fake intelligence during his Presidency that portrayed him as a little more than a raving madman with a clenched fist pounding the circumference of "the Button", in the belief that doing so would help force the hands of the Russians and the Chinese and encourage peace talks (which proved vastly more effective than any of his predecessors' policies).
It's not at all hard to see why people are taken in by Johnson's ruse. He is, after all, shrewd and charismatic in equal measure, his public image a carefully concocted mix of Monty Python-esque surrealism and slapstick. He has presided over some notable successes during his Mayoral tenure, particularly the 2012 Olympics and the introduction of 'Boris Bikes' to provide a quick, green way of traversing the smoggy London landscape. His occasional sparring with Prime Minister David Cameron always goes down well, given the current economic plight of the country, and even the most cynical political commentators must have a hard time stifling a laugh at his admittedly brilliant one-liners.
Despite his assertion that he has "as much chance of becoming Prime Minister as of being decapitated by a frisbee or of finding Elvis", few are looking beyond Johnson as the stand-out candidate to replace Cameron at the top of the Tory party, thanks in no small part to his popularity and common touch, two things that the party are sorely lacking. His suitability for the role of Britain's head honcho and main ambassador are a matter of conjecture. The distinctly British flavouring to his quips that makes him so popular on these shores could well just baffle those from further afield - his famous whiff-whaff vs. ping-pong debate would likely prove as alien to foreign dignitaries as Alien vs. Predator is to the planet we call Earth.
Should Johnson be given the chance to lead the Conservatives, and potentially the country, he presents a most troublesome conundrum; rather than an anonymous, interchangeable stooge who we know next to nothing about, he is a man who has convinced voters that they do know him. Johnson echoed the thoughts of many following the Hutton report by describing Tony Blair as "a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet", a man "barely human in his elusiveness". The same could be said of Boris.