Friday, October 22, 2004

Boris Johnson: Honest Conservative

I am aware that the title in this case may be a oxymoron, but I feel I must add my ha'penny worth to the debate inspired by the current Conservative Front Bench spokesman for the Arts.

I first have to admit that my liking for Boris Johnson is partly because he is a neighbour of mine, and so I bump into him from time to time, his bird's nest blonde hair and chubby limbs wobbling through Islington on a bike, his large behind protruding from a family car with arms full of child's toys and "things country" and occasionally, wandering down to Highbury and Islington station as if in a daze.

Boris has all the classic Tory credentials with one important exception - he simply isn't oily. He is who he seems to be. He's reactionary, frequently misguided, and he speaks with several pounds of plums in his mouth, nonetheless I've always felt he's politically aligned to the right by dint of birth rather than temperament. He is an anachronism from a past era, somehow transported to 2004 and mysteriously alive. He embodies an effortless Jennings-style public schoolboy charm and naive good manners, self-effacing and scruffy no matter what he wears. His honesty causes him to offend often, and given his intelligence one wonders why. It's as if he assumes that people will of course make the same noble attempt that he would make to reflect upon his comments and to judge book rather than cover, rather than grab the easy soundbite and make off with his public image and reputation.

His public image took a huge battering over the past few days as he dared to comment on the loutish behaviour of fans at a football match when the crowd was asked to observe a minute's silence for the dead Liverpudlian Ken Bigley, recently kidnapped and beheaded in Iraq. Ken's was a sad tale of botched rescue attempt, political expediency and tabloid frenzy exploiting the pain of the relatives. I was amazed Ken lasted as long as he did. I sympathised with the family and avoided the news. Boris got himself into deep water by attributing the mawkish malaise he accurately described to the City of Liverpool, and then sunk the Johnson ship by mentioning Hillsborough, a football stadium tragedy in which policing errors caused 90+ people to be crushed to death. (Now apparently, because I didn't get the exact number of deaths correct, I am in serious danger of offending Liverpool as well.)

I don't agree with Boris on many things, but I have to say, his sentiment (if not his expression of it) was bang on. He correctly deduced that the reason for the crowd's bad behaviour was that they were being expected to feel something they didn't actually feel. It reminded me very much of Andy Warhol, who commenting on his Jackie Kennedy silkscreens and his choice of her happy face as a high-chroma modern icon in his "Death and Disaster" series, said that it wasn't that he was unmoved by her plight, but he didn't like the way the media were programming people to feel sad by using images of her grief, and that this media manipulation was wrong. Move on to 1997 and Diana's death. I can understand her family and friends grieving, but the mass hysteria was certainly media-inflated, as people followed examples of behaviour they saw on television, media driven, and media created.

Boris is right. News, tragedy in particular, is constantly taken and used by grandstanding politicians for advantage, mainstream media for profit, and many others for their own selfish reasons, and the death of Bigley and the consequent attempt to enforce solemnity is a case in point. We all dislike the horror that is unfolding in Iraq. Does it mean we must respond to every sad death there with a solemn group ritual, like Armistice Day ?

I did feel sad for Ken, and his family; but I think the winners here were the news media, and the government, who took this awful tale and said, "See ? this is what we're up against. We have to keep on fighting."

Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity, as the grafitti used to say. Weeping for Ken won't change a brutal, foolish and divisive foreign policy, and it won't bring him back, or the tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq who have died as a result of Bush's warmongering. I loathe and detest the way that post 9-11, the understandable feelings of grief and fear in the American populace were translated into an excuse for trampling on human rights in Guantanamo and Abu Ghurayb. The Nazis in Germany understood this playing of the public mood very well.

As far as Liverpool goes - great city. No Conservatives anywhere. Boris was right to go and expose himself to their withering scorn. It will have reminded him of school. I once locked myself out of my car, keys inside, and went into a nearby pub to ask for help. Told the barman what had happened, asked him if he had something I could break in with. Without batting an eyelid, and 100% seriously, he turned to the assembled afternoon drinkers and asked loudly, "Any scousers in ?"

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At 11:43 PM, Blogger Mike quoth...

For anyone who appreciates Boris and his jocular bumbling style, his mop haircut and his eccentric approach to public life and believes that this man can bring London deliverance from Red Ken, join this group.

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Bob quoth...

Well I can say is Boris is Gordon Brown and the labour partys best weapon now and during the next election......Keep up the good work Boris!


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