They say that Boris Johnson is a bungler and a boob. Poppycock. You don't win a scholarship to Eton and get a degree in Classics from Oxford if you are a bungler and a boob. Nor for that matter do you become the host of Have I Got New For You. You might, of course, get elected mayor of London, but it is by no means certain.
Much of what you have read about Boris is rubbish, and I know it is rubbish because I was his deputy at the Spectator from 1999 to 2005. He can be a bit of a loose cannon, it is true, and he has one or two character defects, not least a taste for woolly hats. Sometimes he tries the patience of his friends and colleagues. Once, when he had again delivered his copy late, his former editor at the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, said despairingly that you could always rely on Bozza to let you down.
As it happens, I'd trust the new mayor of London with my life and even, on a good day, with my dirty secrets (supposing I had any) but David Cameron is less trusting than I am and did not feel he could leave Boris alone with the Tory party in London.
That's why the Leader handcuffed him to Aussie minders during the mayoral campaign and gave him a script. But the minders did not win it for Boris, except perhaps in the suburbs. Boris won it for Boris.
If he'd come from nowhere and campaigned simply as a blond in a suit with a bunch of squeaky-clean policies, he would not have taken the Cockney vote from Ken Livingstone to win the highest office in the land. It was a fabulous victory, and, appropriately enough, was noted in L'Osservatore Romano, where Boris was described as "the first citizen of London". .
Readers of this newspaper may be interested in something the Vatican's newspaper of record did not mention: that Boris is a Roman Catholic. I am not here suggesting that Boris is a devout RC, of course: he was brought up as an Anglican and likes hymns and accommodating common sense. For the sake of future generations, however, I think it should be recorded that, like the Pope and Danny La Rue, Boris was baptised a Catholic.
He is also an American citizen, because he was born in New York. He takes his citizenship seriously, and you can see why. A couple of years ago he was told that he could not enter the United States because he had not packed an American passport. American citizens are not allowed back into the US if they're not carrying a US passport. A British passport won't do, whatever Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State may request and require.
Boris reacted to the insult by announcing that he was going to give up his citizenship, but in the end didn't: the bureaucracy of it all was just too tiresome. The good news is that, since he was born in the United States, he can stand for the presidency. That will have to wait until at least 2116. however, when Barack Obama is coming to the end of his second term (as we hope). For the time being Boris has his work cut out in London. It remains to be seen whether he will be greatly helped by the arrival in the capital this week of the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. The idea, according to the Guardian, is that Bloomberg "will set the seal on the Tories' most remarkable week in more than a decade" and will give Boris "credibility".
Oh. get out of here! London has replaced New York as the world's fmancial capital, and Boris doesn't need a pat on the head from an out-of-towner like Bloomberg. Let's have a bit of dignity.
And a bit of scepticism. One of Boris's most admirable virtues is scepticism. He is a libertarian Thatcherite by inclination, but he sees the absurdity of Thatcherism, especially in its Poujadiste manifestations, and looks for ways to subvert the message.
During the last general election, for example, he was looking out of the window of his office one afternoon and wondering how to get the Tory message across to the voters of Henley. There had to be a catchy (and subversive) slogan to match William Hague's absurd and rather chippy message in 2001: "You've paid your taxes, so where are the police?" Then Boris got it: "You've paid your taxes, so where are the tennis courts?" His jokes are sometimes a little less subversive, however, when it comes to his own fortunes, his own hopes and fears. He can and does make uproarious fun of himself. but I seem to remember an occasion when he looked a bit hurt, a bit wistful, when some of us were tactless enough to laugh, in his presence, at the idea of his ever becoming prime minister. Well we are not laughing now.
The years I spent with Boris at the Spectator were hilarious and sometimes hysterical. What I remember most clearly, and what I am most grateful for, is that he applied the full force of his scepticism to the greatest disaster of the age: the war on terror.
Though Boris the Tory MP voted for the invasion of Iraq, Boris the editor quickly saw that it was not going to be a cake walk, and for two and a half years the Spectator was often as critical of Bush and Blair as the New Statesman and the Guardian.
It was good counter-intuitive journalism, of course, but there was nothing frivolous in Boris's approach, any more t an there had been in his sympathy for the Serbs when Tony Blair and Bill Clinton launched their war of humanitarian intervention in 1999.
So, not a war-mongering neocon, then. That should make Londoners sleep more soundly in their beds at night. Boris won't send his new squadrons of soupedup community support officers to arrest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But what will he do? Polly Toynbee, sobbing into her port wine but now reconciled to the Will of the People, believes that Boris will do as he is told by the Cameroons. Maybe. but I am not convinced. At any rate if it comes down to a choice between the gaffeprone Old Etonian (the so-called clown) and the classless Tory party apparatchik (the clone), I say bring it on, send in the clown. Any old fool can be a clone.