London, A descendant of an Ottoman Turkish journalist and Russian Jewish rabbis, the Eurosceptic son of a European Commission official, and holding dual citizenship till some time back, Britain’s Prime Minister-designate Boris Johnson is a politician who terms himself as “a one-man melting pot” and has twice been Mayor of one of the most cosmopolitan cities but has been accused of racist and homophobic remarks.
Johnson, who prevailed over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to become the Conservative Party leader, was himself Foreign Secretary under outgoing Premier Theresa May and thus becomes the first holder of the post to rise to the top, after his Conservative predecessor John Major in 1990.
He also holds some other firsts among British prime ministers.
Though not the first British head of government to be born outside the British Isles, he, unlike Canada-born Andrew Bonar Law (1922-23), is first to be born outside the Commonwealth.
While other Prime Ministers have had an American background too, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, unlike his Conservative predecessors Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan whose mothers were American, was the first to be born in the US, thus becoming an American citizen too. (He gave it up in 2016). His middle name – which he uses as his first – came from a Russian emigre his parents had met.
Courted by controversy in both his journalistic (spanning The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator) and political career, Johnson was first elected to Parliament in 2001, but came to prominence in 2007 when he decided to contest against incumbent Ken Livingstone, of the Labour Party, for London Mayor in 2008.
He convincingly won and his first appearance was at the Baisakhi celebrations of the Sikh community in Trafalagar square.
As Mayor, Johnson began displaying contradictory policies that have been seen imbuing his political career. Though he championed the use of bicycles and public transport, he curtailed the congestion charge zone and refused to increase congestion charges for four-wheelers. He was also accused of not releasing an independent report on air pollution.
Called out over the racist and homophobic language of his newspaper columns and some public utterances, he sought to make amends by attending a Gay Pride march and supporting ethic newspapers.
In August 2008, Johnson broke traditional protocol of those in public office not publicly commenting on other nations’ elections by endorsing Barack Obama in the US presidential polls. However later, he was accused of making a racial slur against Obama.
Re-elected in 2012, he saw the city host the Olympic Games after six decades.
Not seeking a third term, he returned to Parliament in the 2015 elections and became a vocal proponent of the ‘Leave’ camp in the 2016 referendum to decide whether the country should stay in the European Union.
Johnson, who was against the EU since serving a journalist in Brussels in the 1990s, and despite his father working at the European Commission for six years, also raised the bogey of Turkey joining the EU, though he later denied making any such remarks. This was contested by the media who cited that his paternal great-grandfather was Turkish journalist Ali Kemal, and he himself took vacations in Turkey.
With Brexit succeeding, Johnson, who was tipped to contest for the succession to David Cameroon, however, chose to stay away from the fray. New Prime Minister Theresa May appointed him Foreign Secretary, a post he held before resigning in 2018, but not without a number of gaffes.