Saturday, July 21, 2007
It's been a bad few weeks for the Tories with the combination of the Brown bounce and his subsequent face-stamping proving remarkably effective in making Cameron look like yet another failed leader prototype. The by-election results were so bad that they might reasonably have raised expectations that Conservative fortunes had bottomed out and, now, things could only get better. But then The Spectator hit the streets. On the front cover is a cartoon of Boris Johnson dressed as a pearly king. The main headline is 'King Boris of London'. The subsidiary headline is 'Are Fat People Allowed to Have Fun?' On closer inspection this latter does not, despite the clear impression given by the layout, refer to Boris. Inside Boris is covered by a leader, a reference in the Diary of a Notting Hill Nobody, a long article by Toby Young, who is 'to cover the campaign in these pages and online', and a slightly shorter article by Stanley, Boris's dad. Naturally, The Spectator is backing its former editor. He is, after all, as the leader headline says, 'One of Us.' The reasons given are various but, in the end, they boil down to the fact that Boris is 'a character'. I have commented on this lamentable combination of sentimentality, misconception and delusion previously, so here I shall just draw your attention to one point in the leader. Boris, runs the argument, is accused of debasing politics, but: 'The absurd implication of this is that politics cannot and should not be entertaining. In fact, the humourlessness of modern politics is one of many reasons that it so conspicuously fails to engage the interest or sympathies of so many people.' Where to start? Okay, for the last thirteen years British politics has been covered as pure soap opera and/or comedy. Political journalism has become light entertainment, an aspect, like Boris, of celebrity culture. If people are disaffected, then it is surely because they see the Westminster comedy routine as a singularly heartless spectacle in the light of the abject failure of this government to reform the police, the NHS or the education system. In fact, I suspect the public no longer bothers to make any connection at all between the interminable installments of the political soap opera and what actually happens in their lives. Yet The Spectator, once a great intellectual weekly, seems to think we don't have enough political entertainment, that a B list celeb is the answer to our prayers. Toby Young, meanwhile, rebuts Ken Livingstone's charge that Boris has no experience of practical management with a point so absurd that I can only think he must be joking. Boris, he says, 'successfully ran Britain's leading political weekly for five years.' Oh come on, Toby, both you and I could put The Spectator together in a day - and, er, it's a lot smaller than London. If The Spectator is any indicator of Tory fortunes, then Brown might as well go ahead and do what he secretly wants to do anyway - suspend elections and declare himself leader for life.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 4:48 am