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Top 10 political gaffes


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Boris Johnson made headlines last week when he found himself stuck on a zip wire waving British flags in celebration at Great Britain winning its first gold medal of the Olympic Games. While many politicians would have gone red-faced and tried to forget the whole thing, Johnson’s famous eccentricity and sense of humour has seen his popularity increase even further.

TNS takes a look at ten famous political gaffes – many of which weren’t received quite as well.  

1. Former US President George W. Bush is the undisputed king of political gaffes. There are almost too many to choose from, but here’s a personal favourite: “Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?” Former Vice President Dan Quayle wasn’t much better in his use of English; at an elementary school he corrected a young child’s spelling of ‘potato’ to ‘potatoe’.

2. Bush’s father George Sr. wasn’t quite as renowned for his gaffes, but he is responsible for one of politics’ all time infamous moments. At a formal dinner in 1992, the President vomited over his host, Kiichi Miyazawa, before fainting. The incident did little for US-foreign relations - the unfortunate man on the receiving end happened to be the Japanese Prime Minister.

3. Senior Tory politician Chris Grayling did nothing to improve public perception of MPs when he criticised a decision he believed had been made by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown... only to discover it had actually been made by his own party. Cue awkward backtracking and an apology for the “misunderstanding”.

4. Prince Philip may not be, strictly speaking, a political figure, but his comments have time and again caused minor diplomatic damage. He even manages to offend people in his own country  – such as the time he compared the opening of Hertfordshire University to a shop that had had its windows “blown in” during the Blitz.

5. It may be considered unprofessional for any politician to be secretly recorded calling David Cameron an “arse” and a “despicable creature”. It’s slightly worse when that person is Patrick Mercer, MP for... the Conservative Party.

6. At least one leader has the unwavering support of one of their colleagues. Australian minister Bill Shorten showed his impressive loyalty to Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a TV interview when he claimed he fully approved of the PM’s position – despite admitting he had no idea what it was. “My view is what the Prime Minister’s view is... I’m sure she’s right”, he said.

7. Back in the UK, the Tories aren’t the only party capable of blunders. Just days before the 1992 general election, Labour leader Neil Kinnock took to the stage at a supporters rally, enthusiastically claiming “we are on our way to victory” and repeatedly crying “we’re alright!” Unfortunately for Kinnock, the performance was seen as smug and over-confident, the public turned against Labour and the party was handed a surprise defeat in the subsequent vote.

8. You might be forgiven for thinking that Greek politics is all about fixing the economy. Not always; on a TV debate, a politician for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party reacted badly to opposition criticism. He threw water over a female guest, before hitting another in the face.

9. What could be worse than assaulting two women on TV? How about pulling a gun in a live debate. A Jordanian MP did just that earlier this year, showing what a great advocate of democracy he is.

10. As Boris Johnson’s example shows, not all gaffes leave a negative impression. The London Mayor’s namesake, Boris Yeltsin, was more famous for his fondness of vodka and dancing than his political achievements as President of the Russian Federation. And so I leave you with this brilliant collection compiling some of Boris’s best moves. Enjoy.



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