My Brexit Diary: Conflict of interests | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 23.05.2016
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My Brexit Diary: Conflict of interests

Thinking that Brexit is a bad idea and liking London's former Mayor Boris Johnson (pictured) seems a bit like trying to square the circle. Can DW's London correspondent Gerhard Elfers do the trick? - Read on!

It's good practice for any journalist to be honest and up-front with readers about any personal interest the writer might have in the subject of their story. It's a matter of professional hygiene, so readers can identify any conviction or belief that might color the story in one way or another.

So before I begin, I have to declare an interest. Two, actually. I'll come to the second in a minute, the first one is this: I like Boris. I really do.

Now you might ask, Boris? Boris who? You see, this is the first thing I like about Boris: he doesn't need a last name. In London, or indeed Britain, if you talk about Boris outside the two weeks that Wimbledon is on, it is clear that you mean the erstwhile mayor of the Greatest City on Earth, not the tennis champion.

Try it, do a web-based image search for "Boris," you get a screen solid with images of the floppy-haired Tory politician. His predecessor as mayor was a single-name man, too. His name is Ken. If you picture-google Ken, that's not him. That's Barbie's boyfriend.

Back to Boris. I like his suits. The sleeves are nearly always too short so that the cuffs of his shirts fully show. Not my style, but hey: a fashion statement. He's good with off-the cuff statements, I've interviewed him a couple of times.

He's witty, funny, and I even like the Latin quotes he throws in to show off his expensive educuation. Average politicians wouldn't do that, for fear of appearing too posh. But Boris knows: if you're a Tory and your name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, you can leave working class street cred to the competition.

Once, Boris got stuck on a zip-line in Victoria Park, while promoting the 2012 Olympic Games. He was dangling from the line for endless minutes, wearing a rather silly little helmet and an orange harness, which pulled up the sleeves of his suit even further. He was also waving two Union Jack flags. He looked like Bob the Builder in a silly accident involving an overhead power line on the Queen's birthday.

DW's Gerhard Elfers

Gerhard Elfers: DW correspondent in London

It was a precarious situation for any politician. But Boris pulled it off. Dangling in the air, he started to chat with punters, joking about his predicament, wittily, of course. The newspapers were awash with the pictures the next day. Any other politician would have become the laughing stock of his opponents and have his supporters in a facepalm frenzy.

It didn't harm Boris. Quite the opposite. People admired how he made the best of it, without looking more ridiculous than usual. You have to resist the urge to ruffle the man's hair and say "Awww. You little rascal!" I've read his Churchill biography. I even voted for him once.

And yes, I do know that "Boris" is an act, carefully calculated by one of the shrewdest and most ruthless political operatives this country can boast. But I can't help myself, when so many of our politicians seem to have undergone charisma-bypass surgery aged eighteen, bumbling Boris is just so REFRESHING. He comes across so HONEST.

When he came out in support of the Out campaign, I wasn't surprised. He's a gambler. It's his shot at the top job. I felt the urge to ruffle his hair. But, even for a hardened Boris fan like me, it came as a bit of a shock when he had the audacity and intellectual über-chutzpah to say that the EU was actually comparable to the "Third Reich." It's not only the fact that, being German, lazy or labored comparisons of anyone or anything with the Holocaust/Hitler/Third Reich make me twitch.

The European Union has many faults, but it has done more for prosperity and peace in Europe than any other institution. To compare this project to the regime that is responsible for the darkest chapter in my country's history is not only morally reprehensible, but dishonest. It's actually stupid, and nasty.

And I wonder whether he's not done the Brexiteers a disservice. Many undecided voters, on hearing such piffle, might smell the weakness of the argument and turn towards Remain.

Which is good, because I have to declare a second interest: I am of the opinion that it would be better for Britain and for Europe, for me and probably for you, if the UK remained in the EU. I've now come to the conclusion that this conviction and my sympathy for Boris are mutually exclusive. I'm afraid I'll have to let him go.

Gerhard Elfers has been in journalism for nearly 30 years, working, among others, for WTN, NBC News and German broadcasters ARD and RTL. Since 2008, he's been DW's business correspondent in London. He is writing a regular column in the run-up to Britain's referendum on European Union membership on June 23.

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