Opinion

Bohemian elite

Bohemian elite

If cleanliness is next to godliness, then Boris Johnson, the man vying to be Britain’s next prime minister, is indeed an impious man. To begin with, the former journalist and British Foreign Secretary has already made scruffy — from his mop of white-blonde hair to the baggy suits — something of a style statement. This week, Britons are locked in a debate about the state of Johnson’s car and what it says about the man who could very well lead the United Kingdom’s exit from Europe.

Photographs of the inside of Johnson’s car — a modest Toyota — reveal old gym bags, used food cartons, discarded books, crumbs and an assortment of what looks like waste paper. The books say much about the Conservative Party leader, often described as a British Donald Trump — one is a book written by a Thatcherite, the other a French edition of The Blue Lotus, a captivating Tin Tin story. But the larger question from the messy Toyota is this: Does being slovenly make Boris Johnson a man of the people or just, as one British “cleanliness expert” put it, an entitled “toff”?

Perhaps the reason that Johnson doesn’t care about the state of his car isn’t bohemian disdain for what people think, but rather, not caring at all, because a life of privilege (Johnson was born into an upper middle-class family and can trace his descent from a British monarch) has made sure he doesn’t have to. After all, what is a matter of shame for ordinary people is mere eccentricity for those at the top. At any rate, the PM hopeful could have avoided the debate by emulating Indian politicians and government servants. Here, the issue of the cleanliness of a powerful person’s car is very unlikely to come up — there is an army of drivers, helpers and ADCs to make sure it is always spotless.