A Brief History Of Boris' Most Sexist & Homophobic Comments

Natalie Gil

It's looking most likely that our next prime minister will be one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. The Tory MP, former foreign secretary and ex-London mayor has never been discreet about his hunger for the top job, but now it's almost reality – a reality that is filling some people in this country with fear.

Perhaps, given the shambles that is Brexit (Boris was one of the most vocal protagonists on the Leave side) and the shock election of Donald Trump in 2016, we should've been prepared for the fact that a self-styled clown with a history of making racist, sexist and homophobic comments and a CV of professional failures and misjudgements, is to become head of the UK government.

At present, we know very little about Johnson's future plans for the country, other than a proposed tax cut that would benefit the richest 10% most and his apparent willingness to go ahead with a no-deal Brexit.

And while it's easy to be taken in by the bumbling or distracted by PR stunts, let's take a minute to take a cold, hard look at Johnson's track record on some of the issues that affect women most.

Personal life

Let's start with the scandal that dominated last weekend – police were called to the flat that Johnson shares with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds in the early hours of Friday morning, after his neighbour heard a loud row between the couple that involved screaming, slamming and banging. According to reports, Symonds was heard shouting "get off me" and "get out of my flat". Other neighbours have corroborated the account: "It was a proper tear-up," one recalled. "Glasses being smashed, screaming and a lot of arguing. I thought someone was being murdered." Following the incident, Johnson has said he does "not talk about stuff involving my family, my loved ones"; his most loyal disciples and right-wing commentators defended him, with some claiming that concerned neighbours shouldn't call the police if they hear a row.

A coalition of domestic abuse campaigners – including End Violence Against Women, Solace Women's Act and SafeLives – co-signed a statement on Monday defending Johnson's neighbour's actions, and urging others to take similar action. "It’s not for us to judge what happens in anyone’s relationship, but it is for us all to take action if we are concerned about someone’s safety," they said.

With two women dying at the hands of current or former partners in England and Wales every week and a quarter of women experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime, encouraging silence and denouncing the episode as a "left-wing smear campaign" is literally life-threatening. It risks undoing the progress campaigners and charities have made in tackling the idea that we have no collective responsibility to victims of male violence.

And as for leadership rival Jeremy Hunt saying the incident is "irrelevant to the leadership debate" because "what happens in people's personal lives is really a matter for them"? This, combined with Hunt's troubling stance on abortion, shows British women are right to feel concerned about the only two candidates for prime minister.

Abortion

This weekend is far from the first time Johnson has remained silent on issues affecting women. He has always abstained from Westminster votes on abortion, including those related to Northern Ireland, where abortion is illegal in all circumstances other than when a woman's life is at risk, and a vote on introducing independent abortion counselling.

Critics also argue Johnson's lack of political support for abortion is hypocritical given his personal life. Back in 2004 it was reported that Johnson's alleged mistress, Petronella Wyatt, had two abortions while having an affair with the then-married father of four – one of which he reportedly paid for. Johnson was sacked from the Tory front bench when the truth about the affair emerged, rumours about which he had previously dismissed as an "inverted pyramid of piffle".

"To abstain is to maintain the status quo, which is to deny fundamental reproductive healthcare to citizens of Northern Ireland," says Kellie O'Dowd, co-chair of the abortion rights campaign group Alliance for Choice, which is pushing for reform in the country. O'Dowd believes a Johnson prime ministership would "set feminism and women's rights back decades" and confirm that "misogyny, racism and classism are alive and well in the UK".

Attitude towards women as a politician

Johnson is known for using his platform as a politician, and his Telegraph column for which he receives a £275k salary (that's an hourly rate of £2,291), to spout offensive comments about women. One column last August compared veiled Muslim women to "letter boxes" and "bank robbers". Tell Mama, which records hate crimes, drew a direct link between Johnson's comments and subsequent Islamophobic abuse: four women reported being called letter boxes the week after the column, compared to zero the previous week.

"I wonder if the Muslim women Boris has mocked and dehumanised in the name of being direct are now wondering how he is running for prime minister and why his opinions of degradation and fear mongering are being rewarded with popularity," wrote Mariam Khan, editor of It's Not About The Burqa, for the Metro recently.

Six years earlier, during the 2012 Olympics when he was London mayor, Johnson used his column to detail his "magnificent" time watching the volleyball athletes, describing them as "glistening like wet otters". A few months prior, female members of the London Assembly expressed concern over his "disrespectful, patronising way at meetings" towards female politicians that "[he does] not display when dealing with male assembly members". He denied being "remotely sexist" but the following year he suggested women only go to university because they "have got to find men to marry", during a panel alongside the Malaysian prime minister.

More recently, last year, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow accused Johnson of sexism for referring to the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry as Lady Nugee, her spouse's title, rather than her actual name.

Sexist language as a journalist

Because of his long public career – which includes two sackings, the first while at The Times for fabricating a front-page story and then from the shadow front bench for lying about his affair in 2004 – evidence of Johnson's views towards women can be found decades in the past. During the 1996 Labour Party conference, for instance, he wrote a piece reviewing "the hot totty" in attendance for the Telegraph.

"The unanimous opinion is that what has been called the 'Tottymeter' reading is higher than at any Labour Party conference in living memory," he wrote, concluding that it was women's "fickleness" that explained why women were turning to the party. "It is not the great smell of Brut that makes John Prescott attractive. It is the whiff of power. With the fickleness of their sex, they are following the polls."

According to his Telegraph colleagues, Johnson also had a Pirelli calendar on his desk featuring naked women, which he kept on show despite complaints that it made women in the office feel uncomfortable. After leaving the Telegraph, where he was assistant editor, Johnson became editor of the right-leaning Spectator magazine. In his last editor's letter, he advised his successor to "just pat [Kimberly Quinn, the magazine's publisher at the time] on the bottom and send her on her way."

She's got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.

Johnson was also known for using derogatory sexual imagery in his motoring column for GQ, which he was awarded in 1999. "The reviews relied on words such as 'filly', 'chicks' and 'flapping kimonos' and were garnished with plenty of 'gearstick' gags," writes Sonia Purnell in Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition, a biography of her former colleague. "There is talk of blonde drivers 'waggling their rumps,' his own superior horsepower 'taking them from behind,' aided by tantalising thoughts of the imaginary 'ample bosoms' of the female Sat Nav voice."

Even after making his political ambitions known, during his campaign to become the Conservative MP for Henley in the 2005 general election, he tried to win over supporters – who he seemed to assume were all male – by promising "voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts".

Two years later, in 2007, Johnson was still commenting on female politicians' looks. In one Telegraph column, he wrote of Hillary Clinton: "She's got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital."

The LGBT+ community

Johnson has a history of homophobic comments. In a 1998 Telegraph column about the resignation of Peter Mandelson, who is gay, from the Labour government, Johnson referred to gay people as "tank-topped bumboys" who would be "blubbing" in "the Ministry of Sound" nightclub, and "the soft-lit Soho drinking clubs frequented by Mandy and his pals."

In another Telegraph column, he described proposals to increase equality for gay people at the BBC as "a spoof", according to Business Insider, which unearthed the column. "In my hand was a magazine from something called the BBC Resources Equal Opportunities Unit," Johnson wrote. "There were letters from gays asking about their 'partner's' right to a BBC pension."

In 2000, writing for the Spectator, he attacked "Labour’s appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools." When Johnson voted to abolish Section 28 (the homophobic law banning local authorities and schools from "promoting" homosexuality) in 2003, defying the party line, his reasoning was that he "object[ed] to schools being told what to do by government".

In his 2001 book, Friends, Voters, Countrymen, Johnson compared gay marriage to bestiality, writing: "If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog."

By the time he became mayor of London in 2008, Johnson supported marriage equality, but he was still making offensive remarks. In 2013 he was forced to apologise for joking, during a gala dinner for Pride, that gay men should take their husbands up the "Arcelor" on their wedding day, a reference to the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture in London's Olympic Park.

In 2018, Johnson was quick to defend the Spectator columnist and government advisor Toby Young, a longtime friend and colleague, when several of his sexist and homophobic tweets and articles were brought to light (in one column he referred to "hard-core dykes", while in another he described George Clooney as "queer as a coot"). Johnson described the outcry as "ridiculous" and praised Young's "caustic wit".

That same year, as foreign secretary, Johnson signed off a law in Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, banning same-sex marriage. A court later found the law to be in breach of human rights.

Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris, the young lesbian couple who were violently attacked on a London night bus in May after refusing to kiss, have come out against Boris Johnson's prime ministerial hopes. "I do not think that Boris Johnson is fit to lead anything, much less the United Kingdom," Chris told Channel 4 News, adding that Johnson's past anti-LGBT+ comments were "very much aligned with the global political climate of today".

A spokesperson from Boris Johnson's campaign office provided the following statement from the Metropolitan Police, issued after the incident at Boris Johnson and Carrie Symmond's home on Friday 21st June. It reads: “Police attended and spoke to all occupants of the address, who were all safe and well. There were no offences or concerns apparent to the officers and there was no cause for police action."

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