I would like to introduce you to the new Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson. He is remarkable. He is unique. His political success is based on the oft-repeated pratfall. Yes, Johnson has committed every political sin and is now at the helm of the most important city in Europe, and the one best beloved by Americans.
In the age of the technocrat, Johnson is more like something out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. For more than a decade, the British media have been regaled by Johnson’s “scrapes.” For example, he was demoted in the Conservative Party from a position on its front bench (which means that if the Tories had come back to power, he would have been a cabinet member) for variously insulting the city of Liverpool, antagonizing Pacific Islanders, and having an extramarital affair with Petronella Wyatt, a columnist at The Spectator, the weekly magazine which he edited.
Indeed, everyone at The Spectator seemed to be having an affair at the time Johnson occupied the editor’s chair. Publisher Kimberly Quinn, an American, was having an extramarital affair with David Blunkett, the blind British home secretary. Associate Editor Rod Liddle was having an extramarital affair with a Spectator secretary. Given that the staff is very small, that it is the oldest continuously published magazine in England (1828), and it is the seat of the Conservative intelligentsia, you can imagine how the tabloids loved the goings on. In fact, they took to calling Johnson “Boudoir Boris” and the magazine “The Sextator.”
Johnson was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and with which he has been able to cut himself. From Eton, the world’s most exclusive boarding school, Johnson sailed into Oxford University, where he distinguished himself as president of its debating society, The Oxford Union. Many a future prime minister has honed his skills debating at Oxford, and it seemed inevitable that Johnson would find his way into parliament. In 2001, he became a Conservative member.
Johnson’s running for mayor of London had all the characteristics of William F. Buckley Jr.’s running for mayor of New York. The only difference is that Johnson secured–to the horror of his party–the formal Conservative nomination, and now he is the mayor. At 43, he is one of the few executive mayors in England. He is a man known for his dazzling white hair, disorganization, irreverently witty tongue, and a sense that absolutely everything is not to be taken seriously.
Johnson was aided in his campaign because he was running against an equally bizarre, but more calculating, Ken Livingstone, also known as “Red Ken.” Livingstone had a long history in London politics and was elected to the new post of executive mayor eight years ago. Livingstone’s admiration of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, coupled with his newly found affection for big business, offended the left and the right of his party. Yet, to his credit, Livingstone introduced congestion pricing, which has eased London traffic, and coped with the al-Qaeda subway bombings on July 7, 2005.
But in this election, the big issues like the 2012 Olympic Games in London and street crime were dwarfed by a silly argument over buses. Livingstone had decided that it was time to replace London’s double-decker fleet with flexible single-deck buses, commonly called “bendy” buses. The argument is one of tradition versus modernity. Johnson, who mostly rides a bicycle, wants the double-decker Routemaster buses redesigned and saved. He wants to ban the bendy buses that he believes hurt the image of London as well as being, well, un-English: the Routemasters are made in England and the bendys are made in Germany.
The Conservative Party is not so happy about Johnson winning the executive mayoral race. They feel that he will embarrass the party leader, David Cameron, and generally humiliate Tory values. Johnson has the wit of Will Rodgers and none of the temperance. Here are some of Boris’s best:
“My friends, as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.”
“I don’t see why people are so snooty about Channel 5. It has some respectable documentaries about the Second World War. It also devotes considerable airtime to investigations into lap dancing, and other related and vital subjects.”
“I love tennis with a passion. I challenged Boris Becker to a match once and he said he was up for it, but he never called back. I bet I could make him run around.”
“I have as much chance of becoming prime minister as of being decapitated by a Frisbee or of finding Elvis.”