Whatever you think of Boris Johnson’s ability to be Prime Minister you have to admire the PR skills of Carrie Symonds. Last Thursday evening an event occurred which could seriously damage Boris’ chances of winning the Tory party leadership contest – a domestic row between the couple in which the police were called to her flat. Unsurprisingly, it dominated the news agenda over the weekend. In a sense it still is way up the news agenda. But over the past 36 hours the focus has subtly changed. The ‘scandal’ is no longer what was said, and thrown, in an upstairs flat in Camberwell last Thursday, but the provenance of a soft-focus photo of the couple – apparently all smiles again – sitting in a Sussex garden.
On LBC radio this morning Nick Ferrari challenged Boris repeatedly over the photograph, suggesting that it couldn’t have been taken over the weekend because it didn’t show his hair in its current state. ‘It’s over six weeks old, isn’t it?’ said Ferrari. Twitter has gone mad, while a live feed on the subject, as of writing, is coming up as the most-read item on the Guardian website. What a brilliant piece of sleuthing and interrogation by Ferrari – matched only by the genius which has gone into the production of the photo.
I would say, looking at Boris’ hair and the footage of him on LBC this morning, that the Conservative leadership frontrunner has been caught out fair and square. But who cares? Does anyone really think that it’s a big deal planting a photo on the internet to put yourself in a good light? Surely that is what millions of Britons are doing constantly on Instagram and Twitter. Unless you are suffering an advanced case of Boris Derangement Syndrome it is hard to see what we are supposed to be fuming at here. Is it posed, was it caught by someone passing with an iPhone? Is it out of the family album? So bloody what?
What the photo has achieved is to deflect attention from a matter which really could damage Boris’ chances of becoming PM – his conduct in a domestic row – to one which is starting to make his enemies look ridiculous and desperate. Meanwhile, Boris is managing to evade the difficult questions which he needs to be asked: how does he think he is going to convince the EU to reopen negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement when the EU is adamant that it won’t? Why is he focused only on tax plans which would benefit the better-off? Can we really trust him with the nation’s finances after the fiasco that was the Garden Bridge?
Today, Boris has gone some way to answering people, like Amber Rudd, who have attacked him for refusing to do interviews. He has submitted himself for interview on what is usually a serious radio discussion programme. And he was come out of it looking like a serious figure, while his detractors seem obsessed with trivia. For that, I suspect, much of the credit is due to Carrie Symonds.