Boris, Winston, Brendan, Rex and Waugh

In a recent Spectator blog, Nick Cohen takes Boris Johnson to task for his adoption of an exit EU strategy. Cohen sees this as nothing more than a cynical move by Boris to take over leadership of the Conservative Party. He distinguishes Boris from his hero Winston Churchill because, while both are mavericks, Churchill had causes he believed in and fought for or against  (imperialism, appeasement). But, according to Cohen:

Churchill meant what he said, and was prepared to suffer when his beliefs were out of fashion. Johnson believes in the advance of Johnson. That’s all there is. There’s nothing else.

Cohen identifies a previous politician that Boris does resemble (but doesn’t hero worship). This is Brendan Bracken (Churchill’s protege), and this brings Waugh into the story:

Bracken too was careless with the facts. He invented stories about his childhood to con his way into high society. He was an energetic manipulator of the press in both Churchill’s interest and his own. (Whenever he gave dinner parties he instructed his butler to make up a story that the prime minister was on the phone and announce the news loudly to his guests). Evelyn Waugh couldn’t stand him, and in Brideshead turned Bracken into Rex Mottram, who marries the wealthy but naïve Julia because ‘he wanted a woman; he wanted the best on the market, and he wanted her cheap; that was what it amounted to’. Inevitably, he betrays her, within in months of the honeymoon.

‘Rex isn’t anybody at all,’ Julia concludes of Mottram/Bracken. ‘He just doesn’t exist.’ 

A fine line, which applies as well to Johnson after this week’s performance.

Waugh didn’t much like Winston Churchill either, but saw fit, for the most part,  to leave Winston out of his satirical writings, although he could be rather caustic in making references to his son, Randolph. The quotes from Brideshead Revisited appear in the London, 1945 edition, pp. 155, 240. In a later edition Waugh changed “cheap” to “at his own price” (Penguin, 1962, p. 169).

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