Boris Johnson

Mayor-elect Johnson has just given his victory speech, and a graceful one it was too. Like many people in Britain with my background, I could never bring myself to vote Conservative. My prejudice is borne of dispositional attribution. I grew up in the midlands, and the steel town where I was formed was practically destroyed by Conservatives in a rather heartless manner. They are now running a celebrity candidate there, Louise Bagshawe, whose solution to Corby's problems is to offer people who can take their eyes from drugs, violence, agency work and the suffocation of the remains of industrial community a place in a page of her new novel. At least Marie Antoinette, much more practical, wanted those she considered scum to eat cake.

My prejudice is an acidulous way of dragging what was my acknowledgment of Johnson's classy discipline down, however. As I pointed out some time ago on the blog, Johnson is a clever man who has been painted as a buffoon by a London establishment which is deeply suspicious of people whom it cannot pigeonhole.

He is also quite mischievous in his words, but wrote a very good book on Rome a few years ago which came from his very deep love of the classics. A year ago, for instance, he made dons swoon--not that hard if you have a reputation since many of them are frustrated groupies--with an unpretentious talk on the Latin and Greek heritage of Rome in Oxford. You can have a read of it here.

There is an interesting thread to the discussion in the link above which represents a sort of residual protestantism in the anglo psyche, I think. It notes from Hobbes that a fascination with Rome and Roman authors is sometimes associated with the decline and dissolution of commonwealths, though another author quickly points out that this didn't stop Hobbes from translating Thucydides.

London is coming to resemble, as all cities do eventually, a version of Rome. Vast disparities of income, the holiday-camp flavour of the contentions of the elite, and the separation of the city-state from the world around it are probably what gives rise to the idea, much more than the sense that the barbarians are within the walls. Perhaps this is most of all what appeals to Johnson's Byzantine Turkish heart.

I could congratulate myself by saying that at least we don't have Rome's disgusting public violence on the part of the state, one of the many things Christianity swept away. London and British cities, though, tolerate in what passes for civil society a level of threat, mugging and aggression that makes city life deeply disturbing for many citizens. On most housing estates, the effective police toleration of ghettoised violence, because the poor including the white working class, south asians and blacks have been concentrated and trapped, is more of less the equivalent of state violence I think, in terms of the fear it injects into life.

This is a city state full of people born here (Johnson is actually a New Yorker, by provenance) or assimilated to all appearances who nevertheless maintain quite serious intellectual romances in their heads about places elsewhere. Those places tend to be, unlike hybrid American ethnicities, not nations but cities or regions which are in some sort of ethnic contention in the world, be they Donegal-Derry, Waziristan, Israel, or Accra.

These romances sometimes mean that Londoners look way beyond the confines of secular western Europe but fail to have any knowledge or interest in England. They tend to view it as a backwater full of racist yokels, a sort of grey sausage version of a flattened Austria. The people of the said England, in a London discussion are 'out there' and fodder for whatever fantasy or fear passes the time, a bit like the shebogans outside the Citadel of Gallifrey.

The exile made a reasonable point about this the other day, noting that the 'London left' was made up of ambitious minorities who didn't really care for the English working class or indeed for anyone outside of London. I tend to agree with that, but my solution would be to acknowledge that, if Scotland and Wales can be self governing, so should London, since it is much bigger and more distinctive.

England would be much happier with a capital or administration elsewhere, I think. England and London would then be able to explore their very different but existing radical traditions, and develop their differing economies, as well as their post-Imperial identities, without so much mutual incomprehension and resentment.

In any event, these are thoughts from past midnight. I just wanted to record a rather disappointed congratulations to a former Balliol man, and a rather disappointed farewell to Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was a competent social democrat marbled with post-Calvinist stagey leftiness. He did the city a great deal of good, though I think hugging mad islamists and big business close probably lost him the election.

At the end of the Greater London Council, which Margaret Thatcher abolished years ago largely because of a tyrannical dislike of Ken Livingstone, the band played Nimrod, the ninth of the Enigma variations by Elgar. Elgar dedicated it to his close circle of acquaintances. The ninth was dedicated to his best friend August Jaeger, and to the memory of a long slow nighttime walk when they discussed Beethoven by starlight. Jaeger was the chief sponsor of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the 'African Mahler' from Holborn who is exactly the sort of Londoner I was talking about earlier.

It is called Nimrod because he was the 'mighty hunter before the lord' (Jaeger means Hunter) who was associated with the foundation of Babel after the flood, and the accompanying tower and international language, despite Jaeger's Dusseldorf exile take on London. It is a lovely melody and I thought that I would post it here. The picture at the top of the blog is of course of Worzel Gummidge, contemplating a new dignified statesperson head in place of his straw-topped turnip.


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