Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Boris Unbound

David Cameron may have finally managed to grab the headlines today with a decent enough speech, but it's the first time he has shifted the usual occupant of those large letters and front pages, Britain's Favourite Politician, Boris Johnson.

Boris Mania gripped the Tories in Birmingham all right, but it also seems to have infected most Conservative commentators too.  Spectator editor Fraser Nelson or the folks at Conservative Home were positively swooning in print at the very idea of Boris, an unusual level of adoration for even a Tory politician from those Conservative quarters.  Ken Clarke sounded a less than sycophantic note, but the joy of Boris even found it's way into a slightly more considered column by the Telegraph's Harry Mount, who begun with a Latin quote from one of Boris's old classics tutors (translated as "He was up to the job of emperor as long as he never became emperor") and then dissected some of Boris's best lines as having a clear descent from the language of that master of written humour, P.G.Wodehouse.

Nevertheless, it is surely a sign of both the desperation of the Conservatives and the relative dearth of talent in their ranks that they so readily attach themselves to a man who is essentially a celebrity comic.  Johnson is lucky in holding a prominent political position that carries relatively little power and which, for all its profile, only affects one part of British society.  He is undoubtedly amusing, naturally funny, someone who can wow an audience.  He did well as a chairman of "Have I Got News For You?".  Long before he became mayor I can remember the rapturous receptions he would get from student audiences at conferences where every other politician was greeted with apathy or hostility.  Of course, Boris was careful enough avoid any obvious partisanship at such conferences - he didn't want to alienate his public after all.

But Boris the politician is a man of dubious political judgement, and Boris the man an individual of suspect morality.  Seizing planning powers to himself again, the mayor endured a rather different reception at City Hall this evening when he ruled once again in favour of developers who wanted to redevelop an historic site in Spitalfields, in the face of local opposition.  This marks the fifth time he has used his powers to favour developers over local interests.  As a magazine editor, of course, he made a notorious mis-step when he published an editorial condemning Liverpudlians as exulting in a victim culture.  And there remains the whiff of unpleasant criminality in his apparent agreement to help his ne-er-do-well friend Darius Guppy attack a hostile journalist (the incident for which Ian Hislop gave him grief on his first HIGNFY appearance).

Max Hastings departs from the usual chorus of Boris worship in the right-wing press with an illuminating piece in the Mail.  I don't think Boris will actually get near being Prime Minister.  He triumphs as mayor - an essentially personality based post - but would trip up numerous times in a parliamentary environment (he never shone as an MP in his earlier incarnation after all).  But the telling argument against being too drawn to the idea of  Boris as PM comes in Hastings' excoriating conclusion:

I knew quite a few of the generation of British politicians who started their careers in 1945 — the likes of Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Edward Heath, Enoch Powell, Iain Macleod.

The common denominator among them all, whatever their party, was that they entered politics passionately believing they could change things. They were serious people.  It does not matter whether they were wrong or right — almost all of them had real beliefs.

Today, most aspirant politicians of every party have not a personal conviction between them. They merely want to sit at the top table, enjoy power, bask in the red boxes and chauffeur-driven cars, then quit to get as rich as Tony Blair.  Boris Johnson was at the Tory conference yesterday for one purpose only — the exaltation of himself.

This does not much matter when he is only Mayor of London, but would make him a wretched prime minister.

He is not a man to believe in, to trust or respect save as a superlative exhibitionist. He is bereft of judgment, loyalty and discretion.

Only in the star-crazed, frivolous Britain of the 21st century could such a man have risen so high, and he is utterly unfit to go higher still.


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