Friday, November 29, 2013

If he didn't exist you'd have to make him up

A former colleague once remarked to me that we (him and me) had a lot in common with Boris Johnson. I remarked that with the exception of a fondness for the music of Talking Heads Boris Johnson and I had nothing in common at all, we come from different social backgrounds, different ancestral backgrounds, different political views and we weren't exactly separated at birth in the hairstyle department either.

Boris Johnson is one of the few people whose every utterance is guaranteed to make headlines, he is up there with David Beckham and Bono, bloody, Bono when it comes to having journos salivating at the thought of one of his soundbites.  So when the headline reads Boris Johnson: greed can be good  you know that somewhere in the detail there will be an explanation that almost certainly contradicts the headline if not the spirit of the contents.

Spans recent post about greed and entitlement was more of the most thought provoking pieces I have read for a while and the links are worth reading whether or not you agree with the underlying message because it forms, what the great Lester Bangs would have called, a 'think piece'.  It is a piece that was very much in my thoughts when I read the full speech of Boris Johnson and composed this blogpost.

One of the curiosities of 21st Century living and the availability of 24/7 news, social media, blogs and the general overload of the senses with information is that in many ways we have gone back to the future. We have returned to the era of our parents and grand parents and the newspaper vendors screaming their headlines at the local railway or tube stations, the modern equivalent of those headlines influence how we think and form opinions in some cases without the need to hand over our cash for the Evening News or Standard. We might smile at the headlines at the top of the online news pages or in the paper rack at the newsagents but how often do we delve deeper and read what is beyond those straplines?

The Spectator (link above) prints the whole of Boris Johnson's speech at the Centre for Policy Studies and he doesn't say 'Greed can be good' or 'Greed is Good' in fact what he does say is quoted word for word in a paragraph at the top of the article: "But I also hope that there is no return to that spirit of Loadsamoney heartlessness – figuratively riffling banknotes under the noses of the homeless; and I hope that this time the Gordon Gekkos of London are conspicuous not just for their greed – valid motivator though greed may be for economic progress – as for what they give and do for the rest of the population, many of whom have experienced real falls in their incomes over the last five years.’

When Boris does use the word 'greed' I think he is using as a means of generating headlines of encouraging debate  and provoking reaction, in the context of his speech it is about ambition. Of course the much quoted Gordon Gekko lines miss the point in the wider context because in order for individuals to make money, companies and corporations must first make money and ultimately pay more in Corporation Tax, PAYE and other taxes, so if you want to open up the argument a little then you could say that indeed 'greed can be good' but the pursuit of money for the sake of it rarely does anybody good in the long run, we are after all still paying a heavy price for the mismanagement of the economy for vainglorious pursuits and the pursuit of individual gains by members of the banking community.

Of course Boris can't help having a go at the BBC, he states that (in reference to the aftermath of the death of Lady Thatcher) "With habitual good taste, they played Ding Dong the witch is dead on taxpayer-public radio,"  - well actually they only played five seconds of the song and followed it with an explanation of why they weren't playing the whole song, you see the problem with 'taxpayer funded radio' like 'taxpayer funded bank bail outs' is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Anyway after a long rambling passage where Boris recounts the many successes of Lady Thatcher, omits any reference to her failings, and praises the phoenix like rise of London as a world city he then says, "And if there is to be a boom in the 20-teens, I hope it is one that is marked by a genuine sense of community and acts of prodigious philanthropy, and I wish the snob value and prestige that the Americans attach to act of giving would somehow manifest itself here, or manifest itself more vividly."

Isn't that the least, the very least that a society can expect from those who have the money and therefore the power? Should we not expect that to be the norm? Or are we happy to live in a country where, because capitalism is in full flow, we can expect those on minimum wages and subject to competition from non-English speaking immigrants to be vilified as scroungers whilst those who squander their power and positions of privilege can expect to be bailed out by the taxpayer?

Boris clearly likes his cornflake packet analogy and in the middle part of his speech he comes across as Charles Darwin only Boris seems to be lamenting the origin of the species rather than embracing it although he does acknowledge that it is a vital part of society and should really be embraced rather than chastened.

Boris is beloved by what I think of as the 'true right' because he is old school Conservative, in fact so old school is he that he is actually a Tory and not a true Conservative at all, which is strange given that his political heroine was so distrusted by the Tories because she was too Conservative! Boris makes a lot of sense but too often he feels the need to qualify his views by reference to other views, so rather than saying 'this is how it should be' he hides behind second guessing a dead politician whose party still hasn't won a General Election in twenty one years. We are now as far away from the election of Margaret Thatcher as her election was from the end of the Second World War, isn't it time that both the right and the left moved on from praising and vilifying her in equal measure?

Of course Boris will be vilified (and praised) by those who read the passages on the EU, on the CAP and on immigration caps, or at least he would be if people get the chance to read beyond the headline that Greed can be good' but he is actually saying what a huge percentage of the British population do feel. I read a piece in the newspaper this week which stated, much to the concern of Owen Jones and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, that it is estimated a whopping 87% of the UK electorate widely concur with UKIP's views on the EU and A8 immigration  Of course Boris being Boris he can't help pepper his speech with phrases like "the entire population of Transylvania – charming though most of them may be – from trying to pitch camp at Marble Arch", which manages to project him as both closet racist and humanitarian in the space of ten words.  

In common with every public utterance he makes Boris's speech is very much a scattergun affair and full of holes and contradictions, the continual growth of London at the expense of the rest of the country is only touched on fleetingly and then only as an afterthought in relation to the population explosion. London is very much the centre of his world, all roads (or indeed all CrossRail's and Margaret Thatcher Airports) lead to London, life beyond the M25 is something he might see only on TV or on one of his visits 'up north' to insult the natives.

I suspect that having read the full text of his speech many people, not least those on 'the true right' will be as excited and confused by his speech as those on the left are appalled by it. Boris manages to talk the talk whilst confusing and confounding in equal measures, his views on self-fulfilment and attainment excite whilst those on the ever growing London and open doors policy to immigration alarm, his views on the old Empire seem quaint and old worldly whilst his setting of challenges for the future invigorating and thought provoking.

Boris Johnson has the ears of the country because for most of us he has no power or direct influence over our lives. He is the mop haired politico who rides a bike, has a fairly tasty sister, likes Talking Heads and appears on Have I Got News For You from time to time but he can say more about the thinking of the 'Westminster Village' in one night than David Cameron or Nick Clegg can say in a month, whether or not that makes him a good thing or a bad thing is down to personal taste but if we didn't have him around the world (or at least the world within the M25) would be a poorer place.


A Northern Bloke said...

You know what, Paul, you should have a column in a decent newspaper. So many of your posts put some paid journalists to shame.

Span Ows said...

Indeed Shy, he has missed his calling!

Thanks for the link Paul and by coincidence I posted the Spectator link and the speech on my FB page where funnily enough a friend says Boris is a Liberal (maybe Whig ;-)!)

Also my comments in that thread highlight the journo silliness of the title because the speech has f**k all to do with greed (I 'told Guido' the same thing).

Your point though is correct, he can say what he likes as apart from London he has no say or sway. In fact I hope he never gets to become leader of the Conservatives because you just know the media have a million and one sleaze stories just waiting to be published.

Paul said...

Thanks Shy, welcome back and that's a very nice thing to say.

No problem Span - I liked your comments on the Spectator page. I think some of the things Boris says should be said by some of those who do have power beyond London because they aren't all mad.

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