We’ll call it the Boris question: a real head scratcher, the kind that’d make him ruffle his blonde thatch and then burble
How can a man who idolises Pericles be the most popular politician of the 21st century?
We’ll call it the Boris question: a real head scratcher, the kind that’d make him ruffle his blonde thatch and then burble.
London faces stiff questions in 2012 – from how to build affordable homes to how to encourage foreign investment – and so it is with considerable surprise that someone as alien to the capital’s populace as Johnson enjoys a 12-point lead.
Indeed, it’s fair to ask whether he’s even up to the mayoralty. This is the man who quit his management consultancy job because he ‘could not look at an overhead projection of a growth profit matrix and stay conscious'.
That’s the remit! He’s responsible for the £14bn spent on police, fire, transport and economic development.
So the fact that Londoners seem willing to elect him implies that either they think that the mayoralty is a sideshow or that Boris is the only non-robot in Westminster.
My bet is the latter, and it’s important to understand the reasoning.
First, he offers the otherworldly appeal of royalty. With a name like Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and an Oxford education, he’s a welcome relief from the mundanities of everyday life.
Second, the Brits love an amateur, and Boris is the ultimate Tim-nice-but-dim character who doesn’t so much run through the corridors of power as bump down their sides.
Taken together, they imply that we like Boris-the-joker but want to believe that he’s an ace underneath.
That’s the only explanation for how he could get away with the 2005 general election quote, ‘I can't remember what my line on drugs is. What's my line on drugs?’
Yet we must credit the thinking man's idiot for two things. He’s cracked the riddle that defeats most politicians – namely how to achieve popularity – by carving a reputation outside Westminster.
And he’s made that sustainable, as when normal politicians do something provocative, it’s excused by saying that they were acting out of character, yet when Boris does, it’s just Boris being Boris.
That makes him politically invincible, and explains why 35 per cent of Londoners say they would rather go for a drink with him than any other mayoral candidate.
But victory is not a given. The enlightened classes have turned on him before – think of the 2006 election for the Rectorship of the University of Edinburgh which sparked an “Anyone but Boris” campaign and saw protesters throw drinks over him before voting him into third place.
Today, anything can happen. The rain is a factor, so is the Tories month-from-hell, so to quote Bojo himself, any predictions would amount to little more than an inverted pyramid of piffle.