How Long Before the Boris-Cameron split?
I love London. Its appeal is that of a city state with a vast history bound up in such a comparatively small space. The more I am around it, though, the more convinced I am that it is at least as different from the rest of England as Scotland or Wales. Its values, rhythms and the requirements of governance here are intimately linked to the people.
The people are of course in no way, shape or form representative of the United Kingdom. Fifty Seven per cent of Londoners are of 'ethnic' or immigrant background, more if you consider the London Irish. The white working class of London, almost airbrushed out of some council provisions and policies, is distinctive, and the politics of the capital spin around an odd mixture of ethnic collectivism and individual selfishness (which I suppose I represent in part) that is distinct from the rest of the country.
It is therefore increasingly obvious that, even with the coming economic storms and turbulence, this continental urban island ought to be effectively distinct and autonomous from the rest of the UK, in the same fashion as Scotland. In practical terms, however, there is an almost certain inevitability about the coming clash between an English Tory Party on the cusp of 'recovery'--that is, of winning more than the 22% of the electorate the government won last time--and Boris Johnson.
Johnson strikes me as an independent with a brain, and a very ambitious man. I think he will strain therefore not to break with the national obsessions of his party but there will come some urban issue when, like the Liberal Republicans whose default state is the mayoralty of New York, or any given Mayor of Paris, he will have to stand up to his own side. He's no John Lindsay, or Rudy Giuliani, of course, and nowhere near a LaGuardia; but he may be forced by events to imitate them.
The second reason that he will be forced into confrontation is that Johnson also strikes me as quietly proud. The Conservative Party, like any political organisation but in an enhanced way, is a snakepit at the best of times. The people who have attached their fortunes to the present Tory Leader are going to have to find some way to make Johnson bow down or to humiliate him once the public see beyond the faux-buffoonery that hangs around the Mayor. They are that nasty and they are going to need to do it psychologically.
Johnson is going to be as serious a counterweight in the public mind to David Cameron as Mo Mowlam was to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but unlike her his job is insulated from Westminster promotions. So they will have to pick some issue concerning London, transport, or the urban environment. I'd bet that Johnson, in any such confrontation, would either turn it around with that comedy technique he has or refuse to back down.
It follows that we're in for an interesting time in London. As the Americans say, I have no dog in the fight so can just sit back and enjoy it. Of course, it would be ideal if they started pretending to out-do each other by competing for the reputation of being the most fiscally responsible, efficient, or compassionate. The problem is that the last time I looked over London's demographics, I didn't note any flying pigs, whose presence would be essential if that were to happen. In the middle of frozen hell.