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London, the Mayoral Race and Boris
by Dr. Binoy Kampmark
2008-05-03 09:32:12
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Apologies for forgetting to publish this yesterday. Even though Conservative Boris Johnson is the new mayor of London - ending Ken Livingstone's eight-year reign at City Hall - you may still be interested in Binoy Kampmark's thoughts...

* * * * * * * * * *


It is a contest between practised rogues.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent, 21 April 2008

With a degree of desperation, The Guardian (1 May) newspaper rolled out its arsenal to compel voters in London not to vote for the conservative candidate Boris Johnson, the bumbling, error-prone Etonian who once told Swedish UNICEF workers and their black driver in Uganda that he wished to ‘go and look at some more piccaninnies’. 

Zoe Williams’s column was a strident warning: ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid.’  What would be the consequences of ‘this bigoted, lying Old Etonian buffoon’ getting his hands on ‘our diverse and liberal capital’?  Fellow Guardian contributor Charlie Booker had already made his intentions to vote for a dog before Boris.

Surely elections of the Greater London area have not been this colourful in some time.  But things are desperate.  Columnist for the Independent, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown labelled the two front-runners, Boris and Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone, as ‘so flawed it shames democracy itself.’ (21 April).  In a battle of lesser evils, Ken came up tops. 

Actor Alan Rickman felt that Boris running London was much like putting an incompetent lunatic in charge of an asylum.  Another thespian, Arabella Weir, would consider immolation before the horses of the Ascot races.  Writer Bonnie Greer had fled New York to avoid Borisian madness.  London, she feared, would be handed over to the ‘Kensington and Chelsea gulag and the Bullingdon Ascendancy.’  Fellow author Will Self also had it in for the Chelsea ‘denizens’, who would not so much lionize Boris as cuddle him as the teddy bear mascot for ‘4x4’ driving.  Blake Morrison’s pen may migrate to Australia in the event of a Boris triumph.

Thumbs up then for Livingstone from a gaggle of authors, dramatists and social workers, a group Ken has done much to woo and convince over the years. Ken, no angel himself, is one who has had his fair share of contemptible buffoonery and fleshy distractions (five children from three women, for one).  He has also dabbled with race when it has suited him, and has presided over a rise in prices that makes London one of the dearest capitals on earth.

Johnson’s policies have been a smorgasbord of curiosities.  He wishes to bring back bus conductors.  He wants to run up police numbers.  Londoners are not safe, and Johnson is there to secure them.  He is against supposedly punitive regimes against the owners of fuel guzzling beasts who should simply aim to drive less.  Voluntary submission is the name of the Boris game.

He has also denounced anti-discrimination laws and dismissed racism as a problem of discourteousness. His political past is one of war against political correctness.  When Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the Congo in 2002, he considered it a waste of time: ‘No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British tax-payer funded bird.’  This tendency has won him friends and a broad readership for his idiosyncratic columns, something he built up while editor of the conservative Spectator magazine. 

A pity then, for the other candidates, not all of whom quite rise (or fall) to the levels of Boris’ self-combusting talents.  Some even sound eerily sensible.  The Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick is one such individual, and for that, he is unlikely to win office.  Others are predictably extreme – the British National Party has fielded its own candidate, while some candidates are simply bewildering – who on earth are the ‘English Democrats’? 

Whatever happens in London (results there on a knife-edge as we speak), British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in trouble across the country.  The British Labour Party has not been in such a mire of political unpopularity in over 20 years.  The state wide electoral results at the council level show a collapse of the Labour vote by 25 percent.  David Cameron’s Tories have nabbed something like 43 percent of the vote.  Crucial gains were made in places like Bury.  But the pre-election advice from the Guardian still resonated through Greater London: ‘If you passionately want to Keep Boris out, 1st Choice Ken, 2nd Choice Anyone except Boris.’

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Simon2008-05-03 10:07:05
Oh well....

Thanos2008-05-03 17:42:35
Williams is right and in the case of Boris people should be really afraid. With people like him is not the case of conservative winning or Labour losing but Boris winning and the British political life is going to pay for that. Unfortunately he's not going to stop in the British political life but his parasite kind will continue invade with his prejudices and often racism into people's lives.

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