A CAM­PAIGNER WHOSE AP­PEAL DE­FIES GRAV­ITY

Scottish Daily Mail - - The Brexmas Election - by Stephen Robin­son FOR­MER JOUR­NAL­IST COL­LEAGUE OF BORIS JOHNSON

EVEN af­ter ten years, I still re­mem­ber the day I spent on the road with Boris Johnson, who was then not long into his eight-year ten­ure as mayor of Lon­don.

Bri­tain’s most ob­du­rate trade union, the RMT, had de­cided to shut down the cap­i­tal’s Tube net­work, and I had been in­vited to ac­com­pany the mayor to an event in the Isle of Dogs to show that it was busi­ness as usual. The snag was that in the ab­sence of any Tube trains run­ning, we both had to cy­cle, and following Boris on a bike is a very danger­ous un­der­tak­ing in­deed.

When traf­fic is grid­locked, Boris shim­mies along the in­side lane, pro­pel­ling him­self with his left foot along the kerb. He crosses red lights, he cuts up the largest lor­ries.

One driver of a white van started honk­ing de­ment­edly at the mayor who had swerved in front of him, un­til the driver recog­nised the blond mop. And then the two men en­gaged in a lengthy and ge­nial dis­cus­sion about what they would like to do with strik­ing train driv­ers.

I was frankly scared following him, par­tic­u­larly when we briefly (and il­le­gally) di­verted on to the A13. I asked his earnest young Amer­i­can aide, who gamely joined us in her Ly­cra leg­gings astride her sports bike, why Boris was not wear­ing a hel­met. She looked pity­ingly at me as though I re­ally knew noth­ing: ‘Then there would be a much greater dan­ger that he would not be recog­nised’.

Boris is a po­lit­i­cal cam­paigner like no other.

There is an af­fa­bil­ity about him that ‘ordinary peo­ple’ warm to. We stopped en route at Em­bank­ment Tube sta­tion where ‘scab’ driv­ers were squar­ing off against a picket line. Boris marched be­tween them, en­gag­ing both sides without any ap­par­ent ran­cour to­wards him.

When we got to the event about Waste Man­age­ment in the new Mil­len­nium, Boris de­liv­ered an in­sult­ingly un­pre­pared speech of as­ton­ish­ing ba­nal­ity.

But the au­di­ence howled with laugh­ter through­out his de­liv­ery, as though they were lis­ten­ing to Peter Cook and Dud­ley Moore. Boris is blessed by that in­de­fin­able qual­ity that al­lows him to make peo­ple laugh without re­ally be­ing funny at all.

I have known Boris for more than 30 years, mostly as a jour­nal­is­tic col­league. He is fear­somely clever – the key point about Boris’ ed­u­ca­tion is not that he went to Eton, but that he was a scholar there, which set him apart and above the likes of those who re­sent him, in­clud­ing an­other Old Eto­nian who was not schol­ar­ship ma­te­rial, David Cameron.

Boris can re­cite by heart more po­etry than most journalist­s and politi­cians have ever read.

He plays up the plummy voice, though Boris is not a toff, rather a scion of the shabby, faintly bo­hemian up­per-mid­dle classes, who have to fight to keep their place.

HE did not, like Cameron, come from money and marry a baronet’s daugh­ter; he wor­ries end­lessly about money, as any man would with his sex­ual ap­petite.

He has a gen­uine cu­rios­ity about life – some would say nosi­ness – that also helps make him a fear­some cam­paigner. It is ex­tra­or­di­nary to see him work a street mar­ket or shop­ping cen­tre, be­cause he does ac­tu­ally want to know about the price of fish, and he will di­rectly en­gage with the men and women selling them.

When David Cameron de­spaired of find­ing a role for him and anointed him Tory may­oral can­di­date in Lon­don in 2007, it seemed the ul­ti­mate hos­pi­tal pass – kill him off with an un­winnable chal­lenge. But Boris didn’t just win against the odds, he was re-elected four years later.

He was not a great mayor, but he emerged un­scathed, ready for his next chal­lenge. It is im­pos­si­ble to point to any cur­rent Con­ser­va­tive politi­cian who might in the fu­ture come close to be­ing ca­pa­ble of win­ning the may­oralty of Lon­don, an in­stinc­tively Left-lean­ing city.

There is an­other qual­ity to him that of­ten goes un­re­marked. What­ever the Labour front­bench say about him, he is not Right-wing, ide­o­log­i­cal, or in­tol­er­ant.

Part Turk­ish by de­scent, Amer­i­can by birth, and com­fort­able in Euro­pean lan­guages and cul­ture, he is a far more cos­mopoli­tan fig­ure than those who ac­cuse him of xeno­pho­bia. By con­trast, Jeremy Cor­byn is the ul­ti­mate Lit­tle Eng­lan­der, the so­cial­ism-in-one-coun­try dog­ma­tist.

BORIS’ es­sen­tial per­sonal reck­less­ness, or courage, af­fords him a po­lit­i­cal suit of ar­mour. On this com­ing campaign trail he will com­mit what the me­dia will call ‘gaffes’ – and groups on so­cial me­dia will whip them up into a Twit­ter storm.

But Boris thinks five steps ahead of the rest of us. I’d bet he saw this out­come of a Gen­eral Elec­tion months be­fore he en­tered Num­ber 10.

While the dis­af­fected cre­ate hash­tags of dis­ap­proval over his throw­away lines, Boris will be out there en­gag­ing and pro­vok­ing with loose words, but with a clear end in sight.

Whether it is get­ting caught on a zip wire or fall­ing over in a river, Boris can get away with vis­ual gaffes be­cause he has the air of a man without ap­par­ent self-im­por­tance who un­der­stands the ab­sur­dity of the hu­man condition.

Un­like poor Ed Miliband, he can eat a ba­con sand­wich any which way he chooses, be­cause he would look like he re­ally fan­cied one, rather than do­ing so for a photo op­por­tu­nity.

A De­cem­ber Gen­eral Elec­tion is cer­tainly a huge po­lit­i­cal gam­ble. There is no guar­an­tee it will not blow up in Boris’ face. It is con­ceiv­able, just about, that Jeremy Cor­byn will raise his game, and that his sulky back­benchers will rally be­hind him.

But one thing is cer­tain: Boris will not put in an ab­ject, en­er­vat­ing reprise of Theresa May in 2017.

He will fight hard, and I would guess win well. But even if he loses, it will be a tremen­dous and en­er­getic spec­ta­cle.

Hang tough: Stuck up high in 2012

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