Johnson is not Jobs
Yesterday Laura Kuenssberg wrote about Boris Johnson in What is the PM's relationship with the truth? — as part of this she compares the PM (via a handy anonymous source) to Steve Jobs:
One former colleague compares him to the late Steve Jobs, the hard-driving founder of tech giant Apple. Jobs was said to have a "reality distortion field", described by his biographer as a "confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand".
In other words, ordering the truth to suit his ambitions, refusing to take no for an answer, relishing proving that the impossible could be done.
That does sound familiar, as it is quote from m’colleague Andy Hertzfeld’s great primary source, folklore.org:
In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he's not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules.
Now I can see the superficial similarity, but this comparison misses the entire difference. I have not spent time with Johnson, but I have worked for Jobs.
Johnson made his way into politics via the Oxford Union, colour journalism and TV comedy. His entire modus vivendi is based on the way of the Union debater, where you are assigned the position to take arbitrarily, are judged based on flamboyance and clowning, and never see the consequences of your advocacy. Indecision is a skill, and obfuscating it even more valuable.
Jobs, while also a socipathic manipulator, took lots of decisions. Arguably he took too many - another of my colleagues, Tom Dowdy, wrote the iTunes visualizer and had each effect individually approved by Jobs.
Apple was run like a royal court, yes, but in each case Jobs was the final decider - he would make product decisions, but he could be persuaded otherwise. One thing he would never do was flannel around making his support unclear. If you disagreed, you could keep the other choice going and make the argument again later.
Johnson, by all reports, will do anything to put off making a decision:
As Kuenssberg says:
Johnson’s technique for dealing with problems is to let them run out of control, building to a point of sufficient crisis that delay is no longer viable. That way the choice becomes perversely easier because there are fewer options left. Wait long enough and there might be only one.
I've been told on more occasions than I can count that Boris Johnson trusts hardly anyone, and suspects almost everyone. As one source describes it, he "behaves in such a way that people eventually tire of him, feel let down, and behave in the way he feared they would". The breakdown in his relationship with his former adviser Dominic Cummings is spectacular evidence of that.
But people who work alongside Mr Johnson are often kept guessing, unsure of what he really thinks.
It leaves him all powerful. His whim rules.
No-one who worked for Steve Jobs was left guessing about what he thought.