A brief history of politicians and their hobbies – or Boris Johnson and the “Dead Cat”

Filing your ‘hobbies and interests’ on a CV or job application can prove a massive headache. Sure – there’s a small group of weirdos who have interesting extra-curricular lives and here is their moment to shine. But for the rest of us – the ‘what do you do in your free time’ bit on a resume poses a quandary. Are ‘swimming’ and ‘music’ technically ‘hobbies’ or should you just come clean and write ‘liking cats on social media’ and ‘getting really inappropriately drunk’ instead.

When going for those high profile gigs, like Prime Minister or party leader politicians face much the same dilemma – but with the attendant jeopardy that almost anything you say as a politician can be used to make you look like an idiot. Claiming to like ‘fell walking’ or ‘spending time with family’ might sound like a safe bet but it also risks making you seem irredeemably dull. Tell the truth about that out of control collection of Doris Day memorabilia on the other hand and you’ll likely be dust at the ballot box.

Boris Johnson doesn’t have a Doris Day habit – as far as we know – but he does like to make models of buses – out of wine boxes

After a disastrous few days of campaigning, dogged by negative headlines, Johnson gave a brief interview to Talk Radio’s Ross Kempsell at his campaign headquarters on Tuesday. Having set out his manifesto which amounted to something about the Northern Powerhouse and something else about ‘positive energy’ and Brexit – the subject turned to his leisure activities:

“What do you do to switch off?” Kempsell asked.

“Well – I like to paint. I make things.” Johnson responded and warming to his theme added: “I have a thing where I make models … I make buses…… I get old wooden crates ……and I paint passengers enjoying themselves – on the wonderful bus.”

Initially it seemed so ridiculous that many wondered if he was simply making it up. But it quickly transpired that Johnson had been trotting out this line about making stuff out of packaging for years. In 2011, during his ‘cheese-period’ he told the Metro newspaper:

“You get Brie and Camembert in these lovely wooden boxes. Now it might sound cretinous and I’m not a very good painter but I enjoy it and find it therapeutic.”

Boris has a long and enduring love affair with buses

What leaders do in their spare time is oddly fascinating. Jeremy Corbyn is a keen ‘operculist’ i.e. he has a fascination with old manhole covers. Jeremy is a specialist in that he has a particular love of drain-covers and in an interview on Lorraine some years ago became animated on the topic in a way that I’ve never witnessed him discussing anything else.

For Corbyn it’s drains

Angela Merkel bakes – and can apparently make an amazing plum cake. Jeremy Hunt lists ‘Latin American music’ and ‘dancing’ as his hobbies – suggesting that his personality really comes alive in those private moments. Nigel Farage – leader of the Brexit party is a keen angler and likes to land a big whopper whenever he can. Former PM David Cameron is ‘soccer mad’ and so keen on the game that while in office he kept forgetting which team he supported. Tony Blair – one time front man of university rock band Ugly Rumours spent his time at Downing Street picking out tunes on his electric guitar.

The bigger the dictator the more incongruous their hobbies appear.

Saddam Hussein whiled away the moments between invading his neighbours, plotting to destroy the West and murdering his people writing romantic fiction. Hitler, like Churchill, loved to paint but he was also a big fan of Walt Disney’s Pinocchio and it is claimed doodled sketches of the little marionette on scraps of paper. Stalin liked drawing naked men. Idi Amin was a Tom and Jerry super-fan.

tom and jerry
Idi Amin was obsessed with Tom and Jerry

Boris’s revelation story certainly places him in the weirder echelons of political hobby-crafting and the last 24 hours on twitter has been dominated with chatter about his bus building exploits. So much so that the real meat of his interview – in which he sought to set out his agenda if elected as PM was completely ignored. So here it is:

Boris: Number one, Ross, we need to be increasing our spending on education around the country and lifting up the per capita spend. Number two, we want to have a big program of transport infrastructure. And I’m looking at all sorts of things we can do to help Andy Street in the West Midlands, Northern Powerhouse Rail, there’s all sorts of things we can do to help with our roads. We need to be putting some money into the police and on Brexit. We will of course be pushing our plan into action. So we are getting ready to come out on October the 31st.

Its bollocks, isn’t it? Proper drivel. And perhaps as the likes of myself have set out to write about Boris’s ‘busses built from boxes’ story we have all once again fallen for Johnson’s favourite trick – the so called ‘dead cat strategy.’

If you throw a ‘dead cat’ on a table everyone will be so busy talking about the animal and the event that they will be distracted from the substance of everything else that is going on around it. Perhaps sensing that he had delivered yet another lacklustre, ill-briefed and ill-prepared interview – Johnson came out with his elaborate story to divert attention from his unsuitability to be the next PM.

If only he loved fell walking instead.