It’s not like Boris Johnson hasn’t got previous. The former prime minister of the United Kingdom has something of a penchant for peppering his trademark colloquial turn of phrase with slang words that many people might find offensive.

In a 2002 newspaper column about Britain’s relations with Africa, he wrote of “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” when a quick Google search would have told him that a “piccaninny” was an offensive term for a small black child.

And in a radio interview in 2019, in which he was discussing child abuse, he said that £60m was being “spaffed up the wall” on historic investigations. “Spaffing” is a slang term that means ejaculation, a particularly nasty and inappropriate word to use in the context.

There’s more, of course, but let’s fast forward to this past weekend, and Mr Johnson’s contribution to the election campaign with his weekly column in the Daily Mail.

Without any explanation of the etymology or definition, he refers to the leader of the Labour Party as “Sir Keir Schnorrer”, as in: “Sir Keir Schnorrer hopes to benefit from popular frustration with government and acquire the biggest and least deserved majority in parliamentary history”.

This stopped me in my tracks. I know it’s ostensibly a piece of clever Johnsonian wordplay (and no one can say he’s not a gifted rhetorician), but I wondered how many readers of the Mail, particularly those from its Middle England heartland, would know the precise meaning of the word “schnorrer”. I wonder whether Johnson exactly knew, too.

It is a Yiddish word that denotes a beggar, a scrounger, or, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “one who wheedles others into supplying his or her wants”. As you can see, it’s not a nice thing to say of anyone, and I fail to see how, in anything Keir Starmer has done in his career so far, it is applicable to him.

Whatever else one might say about Sir Keir, there is nothing in his record that suggests this pernicious moniker. But in the case of Boris Johnson? Well… here’s a man who has others pay for his home improvements, who takes freebie holidays to Mustique, who gets his mate to secure an £800,000 loan, whose wedding was paid for by a Tory donor, who enjoyed the hospitality of a Russian businessman who was later given a seat in the House of Lords. Even then, I’d use a word that has greater common resonance: freeloader.

More than the hypocrisy and shamelessness of his casual slur on Keir Starmer, however, is the question of Johnson’s cultural appropriation. As a Jewish person myself, I find it in an improper, and at worst highly insensitive, use of language, particularly in these febrile times and in light of the fact that Sir Keir’s wife, Victoria, is Jewish.

But am I offended? I will save my outrage for more deserving causes. Don’t let yourself be whipped up by the frenzy on social media, or be swayed by the disapproval shown by respected commentators like Robert Peston and Danny Finkelstein, who both found Johnson’s comment unacceptable. No, this was little more than a lame joke and lazy journalism from a man whose attention to detail we know to be suspect.

In all the sound and fury, it was lost that the subject of Johnson’s column was Brexit, the subject that dare not speak its name in this campaign. So we should be grateful to him for opening a debate that, judging by audience reactions on TV and radio election panel shows when Brexit is mentioned, voters want us to have.

You will not be surprised that Johnson was vehement in his anti-Europe invective, and opined that Sir Keir would “immediately begin the process of robbing this country of its new-found independence” and seek to reverse the effects of Brexit. In language that Boris Johnson might actually understand, I want to say: semper sperare.

QOSHE - Boris Johnson's desperate attention-seeking is not worth your outrage - Simon Kelner
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Boris Johnson's desperate attention-seeking is not worth your outrage

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10.06.2024

It’s not like Boris Johnson hasn’t got previous. The former prime minister of the United Kingdom has something of a penchant for peppering his trademark colloquial turn of phrase with slang words that many people might find offensive.

In a 2002 newspaper column about Britain’s relations with Africa, he wrote of “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” when a quick Google search would have told him that a “piccaninny” was an offensive term for a small black child.

And in a radio interview in 2019, in which he was discussing child abuse, he said that £60m was being “spaffed up the wall” on historic investigations. “Spaffing” is a slang term that means ejaculation, a particularly nasty and inappropriate word to use in the context.

There’s more, of course, but let’s fast forward to this past weekend, and Mr Johnson’s contribution to the election campaign with his weekly column in the Daily Mail.

Without any........

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