i,he day I heard that my old friend Boris was going to run for Mayor of London I leapt into my Model T and zig-zagged through the hawkers and barrow-boys of Fleet Street to my desk at the Daily Sketch, there to hammer out my thoughts on the trusty Remington with a Craven A clamped between my lips. Or so it seems, for as old news goes the Johnson candidature, when it finally became official, had more than the usual whiff of hot metal about it.
This is because, although he has only just declared his intention to dive into the swamp of London politics, Boris has been quietly testing its murky waters for some time, and informal campaigns on his behalf have been springing up all over, many without his agency. The internet facility Facebook, for example, whose "Boris Johnson Appreciation Society" has more members (over 10,000) than its "George Galloway Disappreciation Society", also boasts a "Boris for Mayor" group with numbers growing daily. So there is at least the chassis of a bandwagon already in place; but if you are tempted to object to my mixture of metaphors, which implies that Boris is about to drive a bandwagon into a swamp, I suggest you pause to consider his chances.
Fortunately for him there is unlikely to be anyone of similarly high profile bidding for the Conservative nomination, because otherwise the famous Johnson gaffes, not to mention his sometimes appalling private behaviour, about which he has had to admit publicly lying, might have knocked him out of the shortlist, because traditional Tories don't like that kind of thing.
But once he is — as he assuredly will be — put up in the "Open Primary" that David Cameron has decreed, neither of these seeming disadvantages will hurt him. Londoners are very snobbish about their city, and will have natural affection for someone who has been rude about Liverpool, Portsmouth and Papua New Guinea, for to them these are all provincial places of equal insignificance, deserving of dismissive satire.
The impact of Boris's moral failure, however, is more subtle. Time was when the merest hint of marital infidelity would have been enough to sink a politician for good in this country. But our continental cousins have always taken a different view, and the very notion of the capital having a mayor is deeply European. Say what you will about Boris, he knows his European politics. You can almost see the cogs whirring in his brain. Surely a tiny city like Paris is merely the rehearsal for what could happen in a real one like London... Egad! If some inverted Dick Whittington were to rule the greatest city on earth, the man might then become top banana!
For we should none of us be fooled by the clownish public persona of Boris Johnson. Nature gave him the unruly blond hair, but the rest of him is pure personal ambition. His charm . resides largely in his laziness, whether in speaking brilliantly off the cuff but badly when he is supposed to be prepared, or in sounding off inconveniently because he can't be bothered to remember the party line. And this does not contradict the imputation of ambition: laziness, in this context, is merely an expression of arrogance. When you know that it is your right to rule, and that you're so much better than anyone else, why bother?
Boris the classicist is not likely to admit this any time soon, but I'm sure Coriolanus is his favourite Roman. The difference is that Coriolanus had already earned his arrogance in battle before disdaining the approval of the plebs. In London the silverspooned MP for leafy Henley will have a tough fight against "Our Ken", the poor boy made good. Last Sunday, the day before nominations for Tory London mayoral candidature closed, the Observer gave away a Book of Scandal, a quite amusing compilation of public embarrassments, though leaning heavily to the modem. Boris didn't get a mention. He declared his new ambition the following day, and I can't help but thinktbat not being famous enough for inclusion in that little compendium of disgrace was the clincher in his final decision. I wish him well, but I seem to be in a permanent minority of Londoners who want to see the back of the mountebank Livingstone, who also has always sought fame, for utterly different reasons, but those with which far more Londoners identify. The Johnson bandwagon is heading for the swamp... but at least Boris will still be famous.