Thursday, March 12, 2015

When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It

"Neil Kinnock's momentary soaking on Brighton beach in 1983 was used against him for a decade to demonstrate his haplessness.  Boris suspended, close up, from a zip-wire, his legs dangling helplessly, for a full five minutes, on the contrary represents what could happen to any of us.  He's a sport.  He's the hero of the age of the ice-bucket challenge".
- David Aaronovitch, Boris is winning over even old sceptics like me, The Times, 12 March

(Reproduced in comments below, as the Times is paywalled).
I owe our Dave a debt of gratitude for his column today, since it allows me to once again go over some of the themes I've been discussing recently and to chainsaw them into something resembling a point.

I'll shorterise Dave, who is astonished to discover that not only do people generally quite like Boris Johnson, to the point where BJ might even end up Prime Minister, but Dave really quite likes him too.

Amazing!

This, Dave concludes, is because Boris is very charismatic - such a really, jolly nice bloke that few of us can help but think well of him, unlike that Kinnock geezer who was so roundly mocked.  Which is an interesting theory, I suppose, but it's not quite as revealing as it is to note the possibilities that don't occur to Dave.

An example - is it perhaps possible that Boris gets off with his public buffooneries whereas e.g. Kinnock didn't, not merely because Boris is such a bang-on, stand-up guy but also - at least in part - because Boris is mates with half the newspaper editors, owners and media figures in the land?

Which is to say, is it possible that a lot of people who wield a fair bit of influence in the UK believe that Boris would serve their interests, were he to ever gain a position of real power, and that those people go out of their way to ensure that he's perceived in a good light?

I know how crazily unlikely it sounds, but I throw this out as a suggestion.  While I'm sure that Boris would comfortably survive the kind of merciless daily arse-pounding press coverage that, say, Nick Clegg has endured for the last five years and still come up smiling, it's surely worth considering the possibility that he might not

Or to make a more direct comparison, I note that Boris's zip-line larks were depicted across the following day's papers as a bit of jolly good fun by an all-round good egg of a proper nice geezer. 

Meanwhile, e.g. Ed Miliband can't so much as eat a sandwich without being instantly castrated and paraded dickless and ball-less on TV, as flashing headlines holler "Ridiculous Risible Retard Red Ed Can't Even Fucking Eat" at the populace for the next fortnight.

And we might say Yes, but Ed does seem to be a bit weird, doesn't he?

And while that's undoubtedly true, it's also fairly apparent that on nine out of ten UK high streets, Boris would barely be able to pull off a convincing pretence of being a human being, let alone a statesman.

From Tain to Torquay, Boris comes off like a bizarre HBO alien sporting a set of enormous flourescent genitals waggling on his forehead, and that's before he so much as opens his mouth to emit his usual chirrups and hoots.  Any serious attempt to install him in Number 10 would be taken up here not as a sign that it was time to secede from the Union, so much as one that it was time to erect a coast-to-coast steel barrier covered in barbed wire and machine-guns, just to keep the lunatics the fuck out.  

And the same could be said for much of the rest of the Tory party.  Being charitable, I'd say that it's obvious to all that George Osborne has the dead, soulless eyes of a man who keeps a locked room in his house full of sinisterly pristine china dolls, and that he personally possesses all the warmth and charisma of a serial sex offender in a Chelsea strip.

Hell, Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose grandest achievement this week was bewailing the possibility that MPs might have to suffer cutlery made from non-precious metals, looks like a teenage poisoner with intense, incestuous obsessions, but you seldom hear it mentioned.

And this works for the opposition, too - Tony Blair's rampaging egomania and aggressive mentalism were never difficult to discern and yet seem somehow to have passed by the pundit class until the point where New Labour's intramural squabbles became a liability.  His replacement's glowering persona was popularly portrayed as a positive, until the very moment it became clear that he possessed all the electoral appeal of oral herpes at a finger-buffet. 

Which leads me to conclude that contrary to Dave's belief, Boris might be "charismatic" not so much due to his personal qualities, but more because a lot of people, including Dave's boss, have decreed that it is so.

At least until it's necessary for him not to be, that is. 

And what of Dave himself, who unwisely rounds off his column by comparing Boris Johnson to Cincinnatus, as opposed to the Roman political figure that he more closely resembles?*

Why is Dave astonished to discover that he himself likes Boris so much?  

Well, if a Guardian columnist suddenly declared that he was just mystified by the full extent of his love for Ed Miliband, he'd be immediately deafened by shouts of "It's because you work for the Guardian, you dick.  Your salary depends upon it". 

Call me cynical, but you have to suspect that if Dave was the kind of guy likely to raise serious objections to posh dickheads who have the backing of the nation's political and media elite then he wouldn't be working for the Times, but would instead be cranking out columns about intersectionality at a fiver a throw for Comment Is Free. 


*This joke copyright Joe McNally.

8 comments:

flyingrodent said...

Boris is winning over even old sceptics like me

No-one - even Ukip voters - seems immune to the London moyor's charisma, which could catapult him into No 10

David Aaronovitch, the Times, 12 March 2015 (spelling errors/typos are probably mine, rather than Dave's)

I have been dreaming about Boris. Not often, but then politicians rarely feature in my dreams - Tony Blair once did and that is about it. The mayor and I are usually hanging out somewhere and exchanging jokes. Anyway these Boris-shaped visitations from my unconscious are perfectly pleasant and make a nice change from anxious reveries about being stranded on a crumbling mountain ledge or finding myself on stage having forgotten my lines.

The dreams remind me that I have been thinking about Boris too. And the thing that I have been thinking is: "God Almighty, it may just happen. He may make it to the very top after all. How absolutely extraordinary!"

(FR notes here: Odd that this thought would be accompanied by a sudden urge to deliver a Dyson-strength suck-job to Boris in print, but I guess these bizarre things just happen sometimes).

I have known Boris for two decades - not intimately but almost well enough for me to be able to call him by his surname. In that time I had imagined, in Yeats' words, that he and I both "lived where the motley is worn". I saw him mostly as another scribbler, if a droll one, whose political ambitions were not to be taken too seriously. Boris making a speech about Latin in schools? By all means. Boris negotiating with Vladimir Putin? Give me a one-way ticket to Patagonia.

In 2008, I backed Ken Livingstone's bid to be re-elected as London mayor. I was impressed by the positive things he'd done and concerned at the shortcomings of his admittedly charming opponent. I wrote at the time: "The man is chaotic. The notion that a Boris administration will, as his website promises every few lines, subject London's finances and procedures to the most rigorous of scrutinies, is beyond parody". I thought his manifesto was silly and that if he got in he'd soon be out again.

Instead in 2012, in a bad year for the Tories, Boris was re-elected, his own vote substantially above that indicated by polling for his own party. And, though he had been lucky in his inheritance (the Boris bikes, for example, were already on their way when he was first elected, as were the Olympics), the fact was that he colonised every initiative with a vigour Cecil Rhodes would have admired.

All the same, London mayor is one thing; party leadership (and the premiership) is quite another. That requires, does it not, gravitas and a grasp of the great complexities of state? It also requires an appeal that goes beyond the Eton-tolerating south and into the old puritan mill towns of the north. Once exposed to the winter of hard choices, the blond butterfly would ice over.

Expecting Boris to implode has turned out to be like expecting Ed Miliband to win over voters. It just hasn't happened and it shows no sign of happening. In fact the reverse phenomenon has occurred. People have started off with a like for Boris and have - almost counter-intuitively - implied a competence from that affection.

flyingrodent said...

A colleague of mine found himself with a polling company talking to a focus group in Bromley, south London, in 2012. They were representative of London voters, including working-class people and people of all colours. What did they think of Cameron? That he was posh and didn't understand the ordinary person. And Boris? Yes, he was a guy you could have a pint with. But, said the pollster, what about the fact that Boris went to the same school and same university as Cameron? Some of the group didn't care and several said it wasn't true.

Neil Kinnock's momentary soaking on Brighton beach in 1983 was used against him for a decade to demonstrate his haplessness. Boris suspended, close up, from a zip wire, his legs dangling helplessly, for a full five minutes, on the contrary represents what could happen to any of us. He's a sport. He is the hero of the age of the ice-bucket challenge.

A recent opinion poll showed how Londoners intend to vote at the general election. Labour was well ahead. But one statistic jumped out, grabbed me by the credulities and wrestled me to the floor. You have to remember that Ukip supporters are generally the most disenchanted and cynical voters of all. They tend to believe that they're getting shafted, that all politicians are the same and that no-one is even vaguely competent. And yet 60 per cent of them thought Boris was doing a good job!

Despite everything I have thought and predicted, the fact is that now, in a year of decision, voters like Boris, regard him as somehow qualitatively different from the normal politicians and, in all probability, would "give him a chance". And who - apart from me - cares if he is breaking his promise to the London voters not to become an MP during his term of office? He's like a man who breaks wind in a lift and everyone wonders what smells so good.

Boris transcends party and gives the voter something political to relate to that has nothing to do with manifestos, spending commitments and other tedious electoral fictions. Meanwhile inside he is - and has always been - a man with a very serious sense of purpose. Being able to disguise the unusual intensity of your ambition under a very bearable lightness of being is a great and hyper-modern gift.

I have now begun to realise that the question is not "could Boris lead his party?" but rather, "who could stop him?". If David Cameron were to step down, for whatever reason, who would bet on Theresa May or George Osborne out-polling Boris among the Tory grassroots?

In fact, in the event of a parliament so badly hung that no party could assemble a majority, I could even imagine a scenario where Boris, like the Roman aristocrat Cincinnatus, might be called in to save the state. After all, just because David Cameron or Ed Miliband couldn't form a government, why shouldn't someone else try? Someone who could bring together people from several parties in a government of all the talents? Someone who had the charm and the steeliness to get very different people to work together? Except, unlike Cincinnatus and more like the hero of his most recent book, Winston Churchill, Boris would - in effect - send for himself.

This fantasy of mine will turn out to be wrong too. But if it happened, a very large number of British voters who don't care much for the Tories or even for politicians would probably - like the people on Channel 4's Gogglebox - turn to each other on the sofa and say: "That's all right. I quite like him".

septicisle said...

I know you retweeted this, but it's probably worth noting in direct relation that in the Mail the wife of a former government minister no less declares the Milibands to be the Kinnocks of today on the basis of their kitchen: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2990810/Why-kitchen-tells-need-know-mirthless-Milibands-s-suggest-Ed-Justine-not-fact-aliens.html

Anonymous said...

That would be the wife of the former government minister who furnished one of his kitchens out of expenses.

organic cheeseboard said...

urgh, awful stuff from Dave. Asyou say, totally ignores the fact that Boris is a journo whose positive treatment in the press derives precisely from that.

Someone who had the charm and the steeliness to get very different people to work together?

Johnson doesn't have this at all, though. I know it'd involve research, but Aaro should look at how his hero behaves at Mayor's Question Time, where he's supposedly held to account for the 'work' he does. He's atrocious - comes across as exactly what he is, a bully with friends in high places, with even less interest in transparency than Cameron, and a surprisingly low amount of his famous wit.

also

A colleague of mine found himself with a polling company talking to a focus group in Bromley, south London, in 2012. They were representative of London voters, including working-class people and people of all colours.

But they were in Bromley. A traditionally Conservative area with a safe Tory seat, with a very obviously conservative character. Bromley working-class voters are likely Tory voters; ditto Bromley residents 'of all colours'. All this example shows us is that Johnson is popular with Londoners who'd likely vote Tory, but we knew that anyway - his election campaigns focused on getting the outskirt Tories, who don't necessarily self-identify as Londoners, to turn up. The fact that they 'didn't know where he went to school' is evidence that the media don't focus on it like they (arguably) should - and it's not like Labour wouldn't hammer that one home if he ever ended up as leader.

People have started off with a like for Boris and have - almost counter-intuitively - implied a competence from that affection.

This, again, just isn't true., Most of the people who voted for him very likely never really interact with the things he's responsible for - in fact they likely don't even know. If he's subjected to any kind of scrutiny he fucks up massively (see the Eddie Mair interview, and MQTs) - and that would be immediately clear. He might succeed as a kind of British Berlusconi, but I really doubt it. The only trick he has is being a journo.

Anonymous said...

"As you say, totally ignores the fact that Boris is a journo whose positive treatment in the press derives precisely from that."

My opinion is that the positive treatment also derives from the fact that certain people in the press think that he will make it to the top (because he has powerful friends) so they want to keep on his good side. The role of the pundit in actually assessing a politician has been degraded because they are telling us who they think will win rather than their strengths and weaknesses. It reminds me of the "David Miliband has to be the leader of the Labour Party" school of thought which didn't tell us anything about his policies and character: it implies that we vote for someone because everybody else votes for them.

The key point in Aaro's article (in my opinion) is this:-

"In fact, in the event of a parliament so badly hung that no party could assemble a majority, I could even imagine a scenario where Boris .... might be called in to save the state. ...... Someone who could bring together people from several parties in a government of all the talents?"

The idea of a centrist coalition appears to be rattling around in the brains of Blairites. It may also be linked to your comments about The Times (though my knowledge of what The Times actually says is limited since my dentist, doctor and hairdresser have all stopped subscribing). I think that this is something worth keeping an eye on.

Aaro's Yeats reference is interesting. I presume it means Aaro has met Boris by chance in pubs after work (though it would be interesting to know more about how that happened). The line itself is supposed to imply that many of the people Yeats met in the pub after work were foolish, or that his life was empty and foolish. Is that what Aaro means?

Guano

Anonymous said...

"He might succeed as a kind of British Berlusconi"

Suzanne Moore's been plugging her 'Borisconi' nickname for a while now.

SimonB said...

I'd like to point out that I started the Borisconi thing in a CiF comment. Not that I get any credit from Suzanne.