Mayor Boris Johnson and actress, Kelly Brook, Photo by Steve Vas, Featureflash Photo Agency, Shutterstock

Call me a nerd or a very boring person, but the first thing I did this morning was to look up the word “mugwump” in a dictionary, (who am I kidding), I mean Google. You might ask, why? Well, this was the adjective with which Boris Johnson decorated Jeremy Corbyn in an article he wrote for the Sun. “Don’t feel sorry for that mutton-headed old mugwump Jeremy Corbyn—he poses an enormous threat to our country if he gets into No10,” Johnson wrote. 

As politicians are on the election campaign trail—today (27/2/2017), Theresa May is meeting business leaders in the Midlands and Jeremy Corbyn is talking about affordable housing in Harlow—Boris Johnson is back entertaining British citizens in a series of interviews, articles and talks. According to Conservative sources, Johnson would have a prominent role during the campaign, due to his popularity and charisma, but others feel somewhat embarrassed by his gaffes. They believe that his interventions are a sort of attention seeking behaviour, especially after claims that the Prime Minister is trying to limit his media presence and avoid embarrassment during the campaign.

Boris Johnson’s comments

Johnson made his return by seasoning the election campaign with some spicy commentary in the Sun and a speech at the lord mayor’s banquet in London. In the Sun article, he made use of archaic words—a relic of his Eton education, perhaps—which are meant to baffle and distract rather than serve any other purpose. His speech was rather optimistic, reminding us of the pre-referendum positivity of free trade deals—Johnson and other Brexiteers’ promises, as we know, were soon to disappear and fade from memory, like words drawn in sand at the edge of the sea. At the banquet, he talked about “British haggis” and “potential whisky sales to India”, wondering of the opportunities of having “free trade deals with America, where they still have a ban on British haggis. Think of our potential whisky sales to India if only we could negotiate a cut in their duty of 150% on Scotch.” He did admit, however, that the Brexit process might cause “some plaster to fall off the ceiling” but he assured us that May would deal with it: she can “pull it off and usher in a new era of free trade deals.” We would never learn, but we do continue to trust you Boris.

The Sun article

Anyway, I kept you waiting for a while, but I’m back with the results of my word search. Mugwumps were Republican activists who voted for a Democratic candidate in the presidential election of 1884. The word originates from “mugguomp” meaning “person of importance” or “war leader.” It also refers to a person who remains independent from party politics or a person unable to make up his or her mind on a political issue. For example, the American writer Winston Churchill (b.1871-1947) wrote in his novel A Far Country (1915) that “Democrats were irrational, inferior, and … dirty beings. There was only one degree lower, and that was to be a mugwump.” It appears that this use of the word is closer to Johnson’s intended meaning. What a weird coincidence, though, the name of the novelist, which is often mistaken for Sir Winston Churchill's name, the Prime Minister of the UK (b. 1874–1965). I wonder whether Johnson was also mistaken. But, nonetheless, the choice of the word “mugwump” succeeds in demeaning Jeremy Corbyn, who is also called by Johnson a muttonhead, a slang word for a stupid and ignorant person.  

In his article, Johnson complained that people don’t see how big a threat Corbyn is: “They watch his meandering and nonsensical questions and they feel a terrible twinge of human compassion.

Well, they say to themselves: he may be a mutton-headed old mugwump, but he is probably harmless.

Do you have those feelings? Have you ever thought the leader of the Opposition is an essentially benign Islingtonian herbivore?”

He also advised that if anyone feels “a pang of sympathy for his plight,” should “fight it.” According to Johnson, unlike Corbyn, only Theresa May can offer a “strong, stable and decisive leadership” that would be “vital for Britain’s security.”

Johnson emphasised that Corbyn’s anti-military stance would be “calamitous”, especially in a world where Russian intervention in European democracies, Isis and North Korea’s “deranged regime” are a constant threat. His article was a call to vote for Theresa May: “We need Theresa May to get on now - without threats of obstruction from Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP- to deliver those freedoms the people voted for last year: the right to control our laws, our borders, and huge sums of money.” But it was also a call to Theresa May to welcome him in her closest team of trusted ministers. Let the campaign games begin!