Boris Johnson IS Pinocchio! How the Italian press see our PM – and us

Pinocchio by Bjorn de Leeuw. Photo of Johnson by Suzanne Plunkett, Wikimedia Commons

Remember when Johnson senior accused the British public of illiteracy, saying they would not be able to spell Pinocchio? This was the evasive response to a Tweet calling Boris Johnson ‘Pinocchio’ – a liar. Now, who else can we think of who uses that sort of evasive technique?!

The Italian press is still fascinated by the way in which Boris Johnson so often emulates the worst vice of the wooden puppet and, for Italians brought up on ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’, it is easy to see straight through Johnson’s lies even without the clue of the extending nose.

On 14 April the TV section of the Milan daily ‘Corriere della Serafeatured the compilation of video clips of the Prime Minister’s lies in Parliament. The item bore the title: ‘Il video con tutte le bugie di Boris Johnson fa dieci milioni di clic: «Non sa dire la verità»’ (‘The video with all of Boris Johnson’s lies gets ten million clicks/views: “He doesn’t know how to tell the truth’). The accompanying article explains:

“Ten million hits: a two-minute video made by Australian lawyer and journalist Peter Stefanovic, on the presenting of erroneous data to Parliament by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has gone viral. Posted online last August, the videoclip has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”

Corriere goes on to list the lies, using published figures from the government and its agencies to demonstrate that the Prime Minister has lied to the House of Commons. “Bugie o errori? Stevanovic non ha dubbi. «Siamo arrivati a un punto in cui la reputazione delle nostre istituzioni viene corrosa da un primo ministro che non riesce a dire la verità».” (“Lies or errors? Stefanovic has no doubt: ‘We have arrived at a point when the reputation of our institutions has been corroded by a Prime Minister who is incapable of telling the truth.’”)

Just like Pinocchio.

Pinocchio by Giorgio Scapinelli. Berlusconi by Ricardo Stuckert on Wikimedia Commons.

Italians have always enjoyed a good gossip; how generous of BJ to treat them to such a rich vein of scandal! Like many Italian papers, the Naples daily Il Mattino offered the following juicy article on 29 March 2021:

Boris Johnson: le confessioni dell’ex amante Jennifer Arcuri – «Recitava sonetti durante il sesso e non riusciva a frenarsi», (“Boris Johnson: the confessions of his former lover Jennifer Arcuri – ‘He used to recite sonnets during sex and couldn’t hold himself back’”).

The article goes on to detail further revelations of Arcuri’s ‘hot’ confession, suggesting that Downing Street is somewhat concerned about the investigation into the contracts which, while mayor of London, he had awarded to the businesswoman involved in new technologies. The article rounds off with: “Johnson è noto per essere eccentrico e per aver avuto molti figli da donne diverse.” (“Johnson is well known for being eccentric and for having had many children with different women.”) The same report appears in Rome’s Il Messaggero, also with the sub-heading «Sesso e sonetti di Shakespeare, i miei 4 anni con Boris Johnson». No need to translate that again!

An elderly Italian lady I know refers to our Prime Minister as a ‘puttaniere’: ‘whoremonger’, though some dictionaries suggest ‘Dongiovanni da strapazzo = low-life womaniser’. Take your pick … ironically, one of her sons, defending Johnson, says “What about Berlusconi?” Well, that is ironic! If ever there were a useful comparison with a self-obsessed, lecherous liar, Silvio Berlusconi would be a very appropriate one! Our Italian lady also comments how Berlusconi appealed mostly to uneducated Italians, and I remember how ashamed many sensible Italians were of their ‘leader’ …

There is another way in which BJ and Berlusconi could be compared: in the 1980s, the Italian economy was so strong that Italy’s GDP was often greater than that of the UK; then along came Berlusconi to start his first term as Prime Minister in 1994, and just look where the Italian economy is now! Boris’s Bexit is already well on the way to producing a similar plummet in our prosperity. Consider also how Berlusconi always looked to be the outsider in group photos at summits of presidents and prime ministers. Brexit Britain is fast becoming a similar pariah on the international stage under the ‘leadership’ of the man whose childhood ambition was to be ‘World King’.

Image by the author

On the subject of royalty, the Italians have always been fascinated by ours, having ‘binned’ theirs in a referendum in 1946. Recently, much attention has been focused on Harry and Meghan and all the controversy surrounding them, as evidenced on the front pages of two recent editions of the gossip magazine Oggi, and in the online Oggi magazine.

On 17 April, Rome’s daily La Repubblica carried an article under the headline: “Filippo, la vita in quattro matrimoni e due funerali”, “Philip, his life in four weddings and two funerals”. The subtitle explains:

“Le sue nozze con Elisabetta, la “Lilibet” di cui è stato “la roccia”, quelle di Carlo e Diana, di William e Kate e di Harry con Meghan. E poi le esequie di Diana, in cui scortò i nipoti che seguivano il feretro della madre. E infine il suo addio, che oggi verrà celebrato secondo i dettami preparati da lui stesso con cura per anni.” (“His marriage with Elizabeth, ‘Lilibet’, whose rock he has been, those of Charles and Diana, William and Kate and Harry and Meghan. And then the funeral of Diana, in which he escorted the grandsons who were following their mother’s coffin. And finally, his farewell, which will be celebrated today according to the instructions he himself had been carefully preparing for years.”)

The article itself begins by saying that Prince Philip’s near century of life can be summed up in their title: four weddings and two funerals. All the rest was “less important, just hands to shake, ribbons to cut, ceremonies in which to participate”, though it alludes to his life before marriage, notably his naval service during World War Two. The paywall prevents further reading, but the tenor of what can be read so far would seem to indicate a certain respect for a man whose life was dedicated to service: in the Royal Navy, and then as the Queen’s consort, and father of their family. Whatever one’s view of royalty, his was a life of service, most would agree; what a contrast to a life of self-serving …

Talking of self-serving – in a pub … Italians who travel (few of them do – they don’t need to!) love London. Hence the coverage in several Italian papers and in on-line media last week of the current phase of ‘opening up to normality’, with headlines like “Londra, prova di normalità dopo i vaccini di massa: riaprono pub, ristoranti e palestre”, (“London, proof of normality after mass vaccinations: pubs, restaurants and gyms reopen.”)

The Milan dailyIl Giorno has a similar headline, and gives more detail on the opening up of other establishments such as hairdressers and libraries. It says that Johnson has applauded ”un importante passo in avanti verso la nostra libertà’‘, (“an important step forward towards our freedom”); ironic that he and his government have done so much to restrict our freedom of movement across our continent, and threatens our freedom to protest.

So, to sum up these snapshot examples of how the Italian media present current UK news: the Italian press reports the royal funeral and the easing of pandemic restrictions, in both cases, in a benign, factual way. However, it presents a less favourable image of our prime minister, highlighting both the Bojo ‘bugie’, (lies) and his propensity to indulge in sordid extra-marital affairs. In a nutshell, Italians are left with the image of a ‘Pinocchio puttaniere’.