There is a long tradition of politicians working as (quasi)-journalists – and although more rarely – journalists turning full time politician. Boris Johnson, whose appointment as Foreign Secretary brought to an end, at least temporarily, his Telegraph column, is just the most recent example.
Boris may yet join a more exclusive club – that of journalists who become prime minister. History provides several examples, the most recent of whom is Gordon Brown, who worked as a journalist for Scottish Television, later serving as current affairs editor until his election to Parliament in 1983. Despite his media background, however, his premiership was renowned for its sometimes troubled relations with the press.
Brown’s illustrious predecessor Sir Winston Churchill was both before and during his political career a more prolific journalist than any other occupant of 10 Downing Street. Before his election to parliament he worked as a war correspondent for both The Pioneer and The Daily Telegraph, reporting on the Siege of Malakand in British India, the Mahdist War in Sudan and the Second Boer War in South Africa. His writing enhanced his political career considerably.
Although his star waned in the Thirties as his condemnation of Nazi aggression was widely regarded as alarmist, he kept his views in front of the British public via his newspaper articles until events proved him right. His speeches and histories give him a claim to be the finest writer ever to have been PM, and he was well aware of the power of words, epitomised in his quip: “History will be kind for me for I intend to write it.”
Although party leader and never prime minister, another very talented journalist and writer was Michael Foot, whose study of Hazlitt is still well worth a read, while Disraeli was a published novelist.
More obscurely, Ted Heath was news editor of the Church Times; and Harold MacMillan demonstrated a different kind of connection between politics and writing: his family owned the eponymous publishing company, and he worked in the firm while the Conservative Party was in opposition from 1945 to 1951.
The increasingly permeable boundaries between the media and politics mean that these are unlikely to be the last examples of prime ministers who started in broadcasting or newspapers. Of the current crop Ruth Davidson - a former BBC Radio Scotland journalist, presenter and reporter – is tipped for great things on one side of the border or the other. And one should never say never about politics: Michael Gove made his name as a newspaper columnist before entering parliament. It would be ironic, in view of recent events, if he were to beat Boris to the top of the heap.