What is it with former London mayors and Hitler? Ken Livingstone got himself suspended from the Labour party for his references to Adolf.
Now Boris Johnson has talked himself into controversy by likening the European Unionâs supposed intention to create a superstate to Hitlerâs political ambitions.
The reaction to Johnsonâs ahistorical claim was utterly predictable. It set the EU referendum news agenda for a day… but it proved to be of dubious value to the Brexit campaign.
Throughout Sunday, the airwaves hummed to the sound of fury by Johnsonâs opponents and evident frustration by his supporters as they struggled to defend him on TV and radio news bulletins and current affairs programmes.
National newspaper editors joined the fray on Monday. But there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. The Daily Telegraph ran only a short news piece on âthe rowâ generatedby Johnsonâs interview with its Sunday title. And Johnson made no mention of it in his regular column.
Two titles favouring Leave – the Daily Mail and the Sun – sought to claim there was logic to the Johnson argument. Those advocating Remain poured scorn on it, and on Boris himself.
The Times, the Rupert Murdoch title engaged in the delicate process of switching from Euroscepticism to Europhilia, savaged the man who affects to lead the Brexiteers.
âThe tang of his own shoe leather is perhaps not an unfamiliar taste for Boris Johnsonâ, it began, adding:
âLife is too short to waste much of it seeking to place the utterances of Mr Johnson anywhere on a sliding scale between calculation and gaffe.â
It thought the hyperbolic Nazi reference was ânonsenseâ. But the Times saw it in the context of an increasingly degraded debate, concluding: âLeave Hitler out of it.â
The Mail overcame its obvious embarrassment by offering muted support to Johnson. It conceded that âinvoking the ghosts of Hitler and the Nazis in any political argument is a profoundly dangerous strategy.â
But it went on to defend Johnson for playing âa risky cardâ and argued that âbeyond all the sound and furyâ there was a point to his claim that the EU âis acting like the totalitarian regimes of the past and trampling on the rights and wishes of ordinary citizens.â
It concluded with a rhetorical question: âIs this really a cynical, hysterical argument, or simply the voice of logic and common sense?â
The Sun gave unequivocal backing to Johnson for making âthe reasonable point that various people had tried and failed to unify the Âcountries of Europe â including ÂNapoleon and Hitler.â
It said his Remain camp critics âexploded in fake outrageâ and âconfected fury.â Saying that dictators in the past have called for âever closer unionâ in Europe âis both truthful and a point worth making.â
The Daily Express gave Johnsonâs statement a double-page headline, âBoris: EU wants a superstate, just like Hitlerâ, but refrained from comment.
Its leading article on the EU debate – âthe devastating impact that mass migration has had on this countryâ – hammered away at its familiar anti-migrant theme.
The Guardianâs leading article explored the referendum debateâs âdescent beyond hyperbole into hysteriaâ and pointed to each sideâs accusations that the other one is âpeddling bogus statistics and ramping up baseless fear.â
Turning to Johnson, it saw his âugly and provocative allusion to the Third Reich as a metaphor for European integrationâ as âa move from the Donald Trump playbook – maximising controversy in order to dominate the conversation and drown out reasonable debate.â
It also took the opportunity to forge a split between Johnson and his fellow Brexiteers:
âMr Johnson is not famed for consistency or integrity, but there are other senior Conservatives… the likes of Michael Gove and Michael Howard… who combine sincere Euroscepticism with a conscientious view of public life as entailing responsibilities.
They should be alarmed by the direction the campaign they endorse is taking. A question they, and other moderate Eurosceptics, should face, is how much poison they are prepared to see tipped into the well of reasonable public debate in pursuit of a goal – Britain outside the EU.â
The Daily Mirror, having persuaded Cameron to contribute an âhistoric guest columnâ urging readers to vote Remain, gave it, rather than Johnsonâs Hitler analogy, front page billing.
But the paper didnât miss the opportunity to deride Johnson with a spread headlined âReich Charlieâ over a picture of Boris with his hand stretched out as if giving a Nazi-style salute.
And its political columnist, Kevin Maguire, laid into the âincreasingly unhingedâ Johnson, calling him âBritainâs Donald Trumpâ who âspouts poison about Germans with the wild prejudice of a Hooray gulping once too often from the port bottle at a Bullingdon reunion.â