Stuart Reid Charterhouse
Hasn't Boris played a blinder this past week? His magnificent performance at the closing ceremony of the Olympics — achieved, I am assured, without the help of performanc,e-enhancing drugs — was preceded by an equally magnificent showing against David Cameron in the Tory leadership egg-and-spoon race.
The Tory thing first. David Cameron's latest big idea is that Britain is a "broken society". He obviously believes it will sew up the Daily Mail vote. It's the party line and all party hacks are supposed to toe it.
But not all do, and last week, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, the Mayor of London dismissed the idea as "piffle".
He was right. It is piffle, at any rate looked at from a secular perspective. Spiritually, of course, we are a broken society: decadent, pagan, liable to vote New Tory. That problem goes back at least as fax as the Renaissance, but in terms of nuts and bolts it can be traced to the permissive legislationof the 1960s, which the Tories supported, and continue to support.
It is certainly not the result of 10 years of Labour misrule, and nothing the Tories now propose — least of all the tax breaks for married couples — will make any measurable difference. No one is going to get married just to pick up 20 quid a week from the government.
Boris would not, of course, deny that we have serious social problems. He said as much in the "clarification" he issued after his article appeared. He also said that he was not attacking Cameron, but he would say that, wouldn't he? What he clearly still objects to. though, is the mean-spiritedness of the Tories and the tabloids towards young people.
Here's how Boris mounted his piffle charge: "If you believe the British press, the youth of today is aimless, feckless and hopeless..."
Furthermore: "If you believe the politicians, we have a broken society, in which the courage and morals of young people have been sapped by welfarism and political correctness. And if you look at what is happening at the Beijing Olympics, you can see what piffle that is."
Boris was talking principally about the Games, but let me elaborate a bit. The messages from hacks of all stripes these days is that things are bad, so let's be miserable. let's be angry. The truth is, however, that from a secular perspective we've never had it so good: and we have reason to be proud of ourselves.
Not only did our athletes do astonishingly well in the Olympics, but it seems to me our young people are more balanced and comfortable in themselves than my 1960s generation ever was, and they are often brave, kind, cheerful, courteous and hard working. No doubt there are a fair number of fat, promiscuous. drunken slobs among them, but that's hardly their fault. They did not create the culture they live in. Films. television and the newspapers did that. Even if not all our young people are perfect, moreover, most of them do not carry guns or knives. Home Office stats show a drop in crime, including violent crime. The Home Office may monkey with the figures, it is true, but no mom than the tabloids and the Tories. London, let us be clear, is not a dangerous city.
So there are reasons to be cheerful. Recession? Maybe the Big One is corning. Yet the frenzied coverage of the tabloids does not always ring true. You'd think, reading some newspapers, that the credit crunch was a wheeze cooked up by Gordon Brown to vex the middle classes. On Friday night, when the front page of the Evening Standard shouted "ECONOMY AT STANDSTILL", Canary Wharf was far from standing still.
The joint was jumping. The pubs and wine bars were overflowing.
Boris's London does not seem to be feeling the pain yet, and the Mayor insists on walking on the sunny side of the street, to the great delight of almost everyone.
What he must do now, though, and without delay, is to have a full and frank discussion with the people responsible for the British "entertainment" at the end. of the Games — the brolly dance with the bus, followed by Leona Lewis and Jimmy Page. It went down like a lead zeppelin. If that was a Whole Lotta Love, give me continence and chastity — now. Boris had done his bit. He walked into the Olympic stadium with an unbuttoned jacket, a sheepish grin and a Prince Charles wave, and left with his hands. which he obviously doesn't know what to do with, stuck in his sidepockets. His speech afterwards — "ping pong is coming home" — was one of the best stand-up routines I have ever seen. The package was perfect.
But Boris was let down by that cheesy performance. It was all so unsettling that my cat was sick on the sofa.
If London can't do better than that in 2012 — cripes. guys, hire Cliff Richard if you have to — Boris will have no choice but to look for another job, like Prime Minister maybe. Could he do it? Anything is possible.
He might even take a stab at the throne, now that. thanks to the researchers on Who Do You Think You Are?, he knows he is a Hanoverian.
In fact, he made a pretty explicit bid for No 10 at the weekend. Just before he did his number at the Olympics closing ceremony, he was asked whether he would like to be Prime Minister. "I wish I could think of a way of encouraging that kind of speculation," he said, "but I can't."
Then he thought for a moment, and added: "Were I to be pulled like Cincinnatus from my plough. then obviously it would be a great privilege."
Boris is on a roll. His support is extraordinarily widespread. He is very popular among High Catholics — in spite of his unsound views on some matters — but equally popular among Old Labourites.
I know a woman in Brighton, a Geordie, who describes herself as a lifelong socialist but has given up on British politics and wants to live in France because, she says, people there do not shout into their mobile telephones. About the only thing that would keep her here is Boris.
"I love a well-educated toff,she sighs.