The sinister theory about Boris Johnson’s model bus story – John McLellan

Was Boris Johnson’s spurious story about making model buses a cynical ploy to distract internet search engines from the infamous Brexit bus, wonders John McLellan, as he decides to back Jeremy Hunt, a politician with a track record of delivery and grace under pressure.

There is little more boring than parents bragging about their clever kids, but my daughter has always been a smart cookie and we have just realised that even as a five-year-old she displayed the potential to be a future candidate for Prime Minister.

The proof is a box in which I keep the kind of sentimental bric-a-brac we all hang onto – old birthday cards from the children and that sort of thing. But it’s not any old box, it’s a wooden one which used to hold two bottles of wine. With a dividing thing. It’s tucked away in the wardrobe and I’d forgotten about it until this week when listening incredulously to Prime Minister-in-waiting Boris Johnson explaining his hobby. “I, well, I like to ... paint. Or I make things. I like to ... I make, I have a thing where I make models of, when I was mayor of London we built a beautiful – I make buses,” Mr Johnson told a bemused TalkRADIO’s Ross Kempsell.

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“I make models of buses. So what I do, no, I don’t make models of buses, what I do is I get old – I don’t know – wooden crates ... Right? And then I paint them,” he added not very convincingly. “It’s a box that’s been used to contain two wine bottles, right, and it will have a dividing thing. And I turn it into a bus. I paint the passengers enjoying themselves on a wonderful bus.”

A painted wine box? My goodness, I thought, that’s exactly what our Catriona gave me for my 40th when she was in Primary One. OK, so she used felt pen, but a decorated wine box it definitely is and it even had a public transport theme with a little train on one side.

But it’s very, very difficult to see how it could be turned into a bus, and an alternative theory doing the rounds is that Mr Johnson was under instruction from campaign guru Lynton Crosby’s team to get any kind of mention of a bus into an interview so that internet search engines will take people away from stories about the infamous Brexit bus, and this was the best he could come up with on the hoof.

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If so, it had the opposite effect; the very obvious gag about what he’d painted on the side was immediately pounced upon by the BBC’s Simon McCoy and appeared in the extensive coverage which followed. Maybe some of the campaign team has now been assigned to wine box painting in a desperate bid to produce evidence after the fact, but both the claimed hobby and the equally far-fetched explanation fit into a picture of mayhem behind what, in the space of a week, has become one of the most extraordinary leadership contests this country has witnessed.

The late-night barney with girlfriend Carrie Symonds over a spilt glass of red wine has seemingly been brushed off thanks to a combination of the political leanings of the neighbours who earwigged the rumpus and tipped off The Guardian and the staged reconciliation picture in the middle of a field, but with three weeks to go the chances of another unpredictable event must be high.

The question, for we lucky few who have a vote, should really be who is best suited to be Prime Minister, rather than who is most likely to deliver Brexit, but there is little to suggest the membership is putting the former first. I wrote last week that the most likely Brexit deal will be at best a slightly refined version of the Theresa May deal, but it would be more palatable to hard Brexiteers if that was coming from one of their own, and that remains my view. It is also undeniable that Mr Johnson has that magic “cut-through” ability, the instant recognition with the tousled blond hair and even opponents referring to him by his first name only, compared to the sober, mechanical persona of his rival whose surname is gleefully mispronounced by opponents.

But there is an old saying in advertising, with which ex-PR man Mr Hunt might be familiar and it carries a warning for those who believe the hype about Boris the master communicator; nothing wrecks a bad product more than good marketing. In other words, Mr Johnson’s shortcomings are magnified by his high visibility.

Mr Hunt comes with none of the Johnson baggage so his job in the rest of the campaign is to persuade the membership he is every bit as robust on Brexit, and in Scotland he will defer to the Scottish party and Scottish leadership to deliver bespoke polices. It would be a mistake for the Hunt campaign to try to inject more pzazz into their man than he naturally possesses, but they can build his image as a multi-lingual statesman who would not embarrass the nation at the G20 compared with the anti-semitic chaos that has become the hallmark of today’s Labour Party.

Mr Johnson undoubtedly has star quality and entertainment value in spades, but can we who have a vote honestly say we will be proud to have him as our leader and chief spokesman? We’d all enjoy him as the warm-up man at the October conference, but leader of a G7 nation? I’ve come to the conclusion that if both candidates are committed to facing down the EU, then between a successful businessman and serious politician with a track record of delivery and grace-under-pressure as health secretary and a lovable rogue with, apparently, the same pastime as a five-year-old, there is only one choice.

Trump’s gofer changes his tune on Scotsman

In his new book, Donald Trump’s gofer George Sorial claims that then First Minster Alex Salmond tried to persuade his master to buy The Scotsman, but said they were not interested in “a paper that nobody reads”.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this was true, to the extent that Mr Salmond took a great interest in what the papers were saying and was known to bend the ears of management in a bid to keep the editors under pressure about their editorial lines but at one remove.

But a paper no-one reads? Then why, when I took over at The Scotsman in 2009, was one of the first calls I took from a certain George Sorial who was very anxious to ensure the paper supported the Trump golf course plans for the Menie Estate?