05 May 2008
Why did Boris Johnson win the London election?
It is rather nice to see the way that the liberal comentariat is complaining at Boris Johnson's victory in the London mayoral elections. As the sour grapes begin to be consumed, it's worth looking at a couple of reasons for this success.
The first is that Labour made a very big mistake in writing Boris off as an upper-class buffoon. He is not actually all that upper-class, having won a scholarship to Eton, and the air of buffoonery has always struck me as a carefully constructed edifice that the younger Alexander Johnson created as part of a process of personal reinvention that began at Eton and terminated at Oxford.
Thinking back to Oxford, there would always be someone who was genuinely a part of the English upper-class who would delight in pointing out that Alex was not really English, since his origins on his grandfather's side are Turkish, and he was born in New York. Jibes like that must have hurt the young Johnson, and I have always believed that this is why he dropped the name Alexander and started calling himself Boris - along with the adoption of the more English than the English persona of Woosterish buffoonery.
That aside, the fact remains that Boris was never the fool that his enemies believed. Fools don't win Eton scholarships, nor do they stroll through a degree in classics at Baliol College, Oxford. Boris Johnson was the sharpest knife in the drawer back in those days and time has only made his edge all the keener. Underestimating their opponent was New-Labour's first big mistake.
The second mistake that they made was in assuming that what is important to them is also important to everyone else. Consider this plea from the heart of a Nu-Labourette that was published in the Guardian on election day. The whole argument that this authoress presented was that Boris was nasty to poofs, blacks and scousers. I suspect that the bit about Liverpool was added as an afterthought because most of the piece is actually taken up with slagging off Boris for his views on the other two.
Now in a world in which the two main parties are interchangeable in terms of economic policy, their social policies matter rather more than would otherwise be the case. Leading on from that is the point that whereas North London chatterwankers may worry about the plight of minorities, a sizeable chunk of Labour's traditional vote is either indifferent or downright hostile to them. The people to whom London is home, who were born there and who walk the streets that their ancestors walked before them, now look around and see that, in the words of a Londoner, "London isn't England any more".
Finally, Boris campaigned hard on the theme of the County Hall parasites who infest the place thanks to Ken Livingstone. Everyone knew what he meant; the race relations advisers, equal opportunities bods and the general coterie of lifestyle types, none of whom produce anything of worth and all of whom draw fat salaries.
Put everything together and add to it the general sense that the government has lost its way economically, and the wonder is not that Boris won, but that he won by such a relatively small margin.