Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Boris Johnson Symptom.

In recent years there has not been a more significant symptom of disarray within the Conservative Party than the undiluted veneration of Boris Johnson. This is especially the case with the constant talk of Boris becoming Party Leader and maybe even Prime Minister one day. The Conservative Party must be aware of the fact that they haven’t won a majority government in more than 20 years. It’s hard to picture the traditionalists being massaged into ecstasy by a Prime Minister BJ, perhaps even less so than Prime Minister DC. So it must be about the desperation in the knowledge that the Party seriously needs popular appeal. The right-wing adoration for Boris ranks in high farce. There were those who claimed his re-election in 2012 was down to his strong conservative principles. Toby Young has bet £15,000 with Nigella Lawson that, by 2018, Boris will be Tory leader and, in the imagination of some, a prospective Prime Minister. Then in 2012, that custodian of the sacred foetus, Nadine Dorries came out in standard reactionary flair to berate David Cameron as a ‘sheep in wolf’s clothing’ before fawning over the imaginary prospect of a Boris Cabinet.
The prospect remains a realistic one in the minds of many. Yet we’d do better to examine the Boris phenomenon with more serious eyes. If we assume that Boris is sensible (a risk we may live to regret) then surely the Mayoral office is much more suited to his attributes. It’s not that he is an effective politician due to his strong conservative principles. The efficacy of the Johnson persona is his relatively detached relationship with power which lends great prowess to the anti-political role of a clown. As Mayor Boris enjoys the freedom to rail against the government and not commit to anything. In a higher office Boris would lose this non-committed freedom and be held to rigorous scrutiny within Parliament and in the press. No amount of bluster from foolish reactionaries and eejits will change this obvious flaw in the delusion. It was precisely the anti-political purity of Boris Johnson by comparison with Ken Livingstone that secured the glass testicle for the Conservatives. Boris doesn’t come across as a politician. He’s a combination of the Wodehousian aristo and a political tabula rasa. Behind the blank veneer you find, at best, the incoherence of market liberalism.
Last week Boris put forward a series of proposals for a ’2020 vision of London’ which he claims as his own. Apparently the future will be a ‘golden age’ in transport for Londoners. The programme is exactly what we would expect from the anti-political populist who has run City Hall for five years now. The prospect of 75% automation has the mouths of many commuters watering profusely. Smashing the last of the strong trade unions in this country is a cause endorsed by liberals as well as conservatives. It’s a broad based appeal to the urban poor who don’t want their lives disrupted regularly by strikes (and with good reason); as well as the suburban middle-classes who hope the roads may be less congested if the unwashed hordes are shuffling about underground. The regressive fare hikes are defended as necessary measures in austere times, yet it was Boris who closed the deal with Venezuela for cheap oil – a deal cut by Mr Livingstone to maintain low bus fares. There is no talk of necessity when it comes to slamming the breaks on the congestion charge to rake in petit-bourgeois votes. Simultaneously the £12 billion development of Crossrail 2 no doubt offers prospects for speculators, just as the extension of the Jubilee line cost £3.5 billion while it raised land values for speculators to rake in £13 billion.
Much has been made of the late date at which these proposals have been put forward. It is five years since Boris strode into City Hall on horseback leading a populist cavalry against ‘Red’ Ken and only three years until the next Mayoral election. It’s possible that the plan has been timed so that only a few of the proposals actually come into fruition. The safe bet would be that the transport reforms will pass, but the aim of building 400,000 new homes may not. After all this city is not for the poor, it’s for the wealth-creators in Canary Wharf. The London working-class find themselves battered by such regressive taxes as VAT and the exorbitant travel fares which absorb so much of the wage packet. Meanwhile the housing benefit reforms are likely to force many out of their homes as the question of extreme rents remains unanswered and even unacknowledged.
Take note, the so-called plan to build 400,000 new homes for the next decade amounts to releasing more publicly-owned land to be developed (probably by private companies) combined with greater borrowing for local government to boost building projects and a ‘use it or lose it’ measure to ensure private investment leads to development. The Mayor advocates the devolution of power – particularly over property taxes – to City Hall in order to further facilitate greater investment. All the while Boris Johnson argues that there is nothing to be gained from regulating the financial colossus in the City. It would seem this is more of a plan for profitability than anything else. It’s possible then that the houses may be built, but in what form we can only speculate. We can gauge as much from the fact that City Hall approved the construction of a block of luxury flats in Elephant & Castle as part of a billion-pound gentrification project. Just as we can expect similar efforts in Hammersmith around the Westfield centre where land values have risen. It’s plausible that the local working-class will be pushed out to make way for very nice houses for the more bourgeois.
With all this in mind, it seems there is an uncertain future for the Conservative Party with its shrunken talent pool. It seems probably that Cameron will hold onto his position simply because there isn’t a serious contender to unseat him. That goes for Ed Miliband, who poses little serious opposition to Cameron’s government in terms of policy. We can thank the Labour Party for helping to keep Margaret Thatcher in office for 11 years and we shouldn’t shirk to place the blame where’s its due come 2015. Not that we should really care that the Conservative Party seems a bit short of an effective leader, as it has been since the hag was slain, as what’s really lacking is opposition. The economy is still struggling to drag itself out of this slump, for the ruling-class there aren’t any clear answers at hand. Likewise, there aren’t any obvious ways for the Establishment to circumvent the problems incurred by economic crisis and electoral despair. In short, the signs of disarray within the Conservative Party are to be welcomed as much as the timidity of Labour and Lib Dem is to be despised.

This article was originally posted on the Third Estate on June 15th 2013.

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