How media portrayals have shaped the way we perceive the British Prime Minister

Boris, BoJo, Britain’s Donald Trump. Our Prime Minister is no stranger to colloquial nicknames — but why is this so different to the way we see other politicians?

With the inundation of news about Brexit and the ever-changing Covid-19 measures, I couldn’t help but notice the way that Boris Johnson is presented by the media and perceived by the public. The first thing to note would be the many alterations of his name. Understandably, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is not his public name of choice. Such a name shows the clear class distinction and lack of relatability to a figure so far removed from ordinary people. However, generally speaking, news outlets tend to refer to politicians either by their full name, or last name. When it comes to our Prime Minister, it’s quite a different story.

I found articles from The Guardian, The Sun, The Telegraph, and Daily Express, all referring to him as ‘Boris’ in the headline. One Daily Mail article even goes as far as calling him ‘Boris the human bulldozer’. Using his first name implies a sense of him being like any other citizen, someone to joke about and perhaps make light of. In contrast to this whimsical persona, Johnson is an Eton-educated, upper class politician like the majority of his peers, making very significant decisions that will heavily influence our future. Downplaying his position as a politician risks people not taking criticism of him seriously. ‘Good old Boris could never.’. But could he?

An article about language politics refers to George Orwell, who wrote in his novel 1984 about the way leaders use vocabulary to control the masses. Indeed, the study of language politics makes clear that public opinion is heavily influenced by the words chosen both by politicians and news sources. Partly through language, an image of a relatable and slightly clueless Boris Johnson has been created. A Huffington Post article discusses the nature of Boris’ own language throughout Covid-19 announcements. In one particular announcement, he said that “we can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill”, urging the nation to be “jolly careful”. This language adds to the image of ‘not-so-serious’ Boris. As the article points out, “Boris” has become a brand — he is seen as “the lovable buffoon with the unkempt hair who somehow managed to ascend to the highest position in the land with a smile and knowing wink.”. He is separated from other politicians because he is not publicly framed like them.

I was only 10 when Boris Johnson became the Mayor of London. Having received a certificate from him for a dance challenge at school and having seen images of him all over the news, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what kind of person he was. I would refer to him as being ‘funny’ or ‘cute’, due to the ridiculous images of him circulating the news. The famous abseiling shot, the countless images of him with messy hair. All factors having an impact on the way even children perceive a pretty controversial politician. Of course, politicians are no strangers to having unflattering photos published by newspapers (see: the infamous Ed Milliband bacon sandwich photo as just one example). The difference? This image of Boris has been carefully crafted over the years, with the goal of altering the public’s perception of him.

Aspiring copywriter, writing about all things journalism and social media! Twitter 🐥: @sara_haromunoz