Monday, May 19, 2008

Boris Johnson: The good and the bad

Paul Walter of Liberal Burblings has a couple of postings on the new Mayor of London.

The first concerns Boris Johnson's call for new legislation preventing the Mayor of London from serving more than two terms.

This seems to me entirely sensible. In a perfect world all local councillors would be limited to two terms. When you are elected you fully intend to represent the people in the council chamber. Unless you are very careful, after a few years you find yourself representing the council officers in your ward.

The trouble that all parties have finding council candidates means that this will never happen, but it is certainly possible when it comes to the Mayor of London. I suspect that a widespread feeling that he had outstayed his welcome was one of the reasons for Ken Livingstone's defeat this time.

I cannot agree with Paul that it is a "bizarre" time for Boris Johnson to make this call. I can think of no better time for him to make it than when he has just been elected for the first time.

Paul's second story concerns Boris's intention to continue writing his Daily Telegraph column while serving as Mayor.

Why is he doing it? Because the Telegraph is paying him £250,000 a year to do it, that's why. As Eddie Murphy replied when asked why he had made one turkey: "The door opened and four men walked in carrying a large cheque."

But this decision also shows Boris's weakness - an unwillingness to choose between being a politician and being a journalist. This unresolved dilemma has held his career back until now. It looked as though his victory in London had resolved it for him. But apparently not.

In many ways Boris Johnson reminds me of Alan Clark. Although most of the publicity for his diaries concerned the drunkenness and womanising, behind that they were rather a sad document. Clark feared he had left it too late in life to take himself seriously and have a substantial political career.

As things turned out, he had. Alan Clark was never a cabinet minister and Boris should beware of meeting the same fate.

I suspect the 10-year-old Boris wanted to be prime minister and editor of The Times - as well as opening the batting for England and being an astronaut. No doubt this was endearing, even if he did resemble a Midwich cuckoo "run to seed".

But an ability to make choices and accept their consequences is part of being an adult. And it is time Boris grew up.


Pithy Writer said...

I see no conflict between the two 'careers'. After all, we can, by reading his jottings, see what the man is thinking. Surely, every politician should be doing this?

Paul Walter said...

Excellent post. Being a newspaper columnist is actually a full time job for many people. It is not the same as scrawling a few "jottings".

Matthew Huntbach said...

I did three terms as a councillor, and for me that was enough.

There is a tendency after you have done the job for a while to realise that some of your idealistic assumptions when you started were unrealistic, and with greater knowledge on how things work in practice you better appreciate why things are as they are. I can see how that can become "representing the council officers in your ward".

On the other hand, with greater experience of how things work comes greater ability to sniff things out and know the awkward questions to ask. I felt it took one whole term as a councillor to learn to know what stones to turn over, and when the officers were pulling a fast one. I felt I was best in my second term, and in the third feeling a little tired and jaded and resenting the time it took out of other things.

However, I did feel that some of the long-standing councillors (not LibDems - I was the longest standing LibDem) made effective use of their experience and I wouldn't want to see that entirely ruled out. I actually think a council consisting entirely of one and two term councillors would be a lot more easy for the officers to manage than one with its scattering of old lags.