It is probably just as well that the Ray Lewis fiasco happened to Boris Johnson as Mayor, because otherwise it might have happened to David Cameron as Prime Minister. As soon as he became Conservative leader, Mr Cameron went round to see Mr Lewis’s Eastside Young Leaders Academy. It was a token of his seriousness about healing the ‘broken society’. If Mr Lewis had been made captain of the flagship special programme of a new Cameron administration, it would have been embarrassing. It is obviously true that more ‘due diligence’ (not a phrase once associates with Boris) should have been done on Mr Lewis. But there are some less obvious points as well. One is that the London Mayoralty is unlike anything we in Britain are used to because it is a huge enterprise consisting of only one elected person. The mayor’s cohorts do not emerge through the testing of the democratic process. They therefore need to be subjected to other checks. Superstitious about counting their chickens before they were hatched, Boris’s campaign team refused to get into the area of appointments, so there was no time to discover that some of the eggs were addled. It might be a good idea to have a transition period between mayoral administrations, rather like that between American presidents. Even more important is the political lesson this should carry for Mr Cameron’s modernising Tories. They are up against deeply political people. Despite its ideological vicissitudes, Labour has inherited from hard-left habits an understanding of how to entrench power. A key part of this is the power of patronage. For eight years in London, Ken Livingstone exploited this power to control the city in his political interest. Ken’s people believe London is theirs by right and they will not cede it just because Boris happened to win a mere election. By trying to be nice when he took over, Boris has kept too many of these people and their systems and organisations in place. They will make it their main task to destroy him. The Tories want to refresh their teams with businessmen and people like Mr Lewis. In their enthusiasm to get non-politicians involved, they are in danger of forgetting that politics is a game with its own special skills. If you lack them, you get killed.
Another rule of thumb for political appointments is that ex-clergymen, or clergy, like Mr Lewis, no longer in good standing with the ecclesiastical authorities, tend to be people who need a bit of watching.
When Labour invented the term ‘fuel poverty’, they must have considered it politically astute. One of the great uses of the word ‘poverty’ in modern political discourse is that, having identified it, you can then claim to have ‘lifted millions of people’ out of it. Fuel poverty is officially defined as the condition in which a household has to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on fuel to maintain ‘a satisfactory heating regime’ (a temperature of 21°C in the main living area and 18°C in other rooms). In 2001, which was still the era of cheap oil, a UK Fuel Poverty Strategy was unveiled and soon people were being lifted out of it like anything. The three key factors making people fuel-poor were solemnly identified by experts as ‘the energy efficient status of the property’, ‘the cost of fuel’ and ‘household income’. The last two of these three are now getting dramatically worse, so, just as Mr Brown tells us to eat every scrap in our larders, we must expect him soon to urge us to wrap up warm. He could also introduce heating regime change and reduce the level of ‘satisfactory’ to 1947-style bracingness. Then he could claim that he was saving the planet, and avoid the otherwise inevitable dragging down into fuel poverty of the millions he previously ‘lifted up’.
One feels a bit inhibited about being a spoilsport, but I am getting more and more depressed by the thought that London will be the host of the Olympic Games in 2012. In the days of really good television pictures, is there really much advantage in having the Games in one’s own country? It is inevitable that the costs will overrun (they already have), that they will exceed the return, and that they will suck up (as they are already doing) Lottery money for clearly good causes such as building new village halls. The accompanying Cultural Olympiad is dire, and the sought-after ‘legacy’, except, perhaps, for a terrifyingly enormous mosque, will not materialise. Terrorist threats, traffic jams and political stunts will. How long ago it seems since we were all invited to go wild in Trafalgar Square because Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone had ‘won’ the Olympics for London, beating Paris. All political leaders, including Mayor Boris, who surely does not really think it, have to say they are in favour of the London Olympics because of the vested interests now involved. But we, the people, are not thus constrained. Let’s spend the next four years thinking of clever ways to stop them.
Reporting from the David Davis by-election last week in the Guardian, Ian Jack noted two schools of thought contending: ‘On the one hand, an argument that says the state is becoming too powerful. On the other, a fear that it is increasingly weak.’ What about another possibility — that both are true? We have achieved an amazing double in which the state arrogates more power to itself but, despite this (or because of it?) gets weaker. A shocking picture in Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph showed an innocent, unarmed man being made to lie down on the platform of Bournemouth station by armed police, with their vile, yobbish baseball hats, pointing guns at his head. It was a case of mistaken identity, apparently. It is appalling how readily the police can now use guns, and how restricted private citizens are in our freedom to own them. On the other hand, we learn from a recent survey of police sergeants that they are too frightened of accusations of bullying to dare to tell their juniors to tuck their shirts in.
This column has strongly supported Max Mosley in his court fight against the News of the World. Mr Mosley alleges that the ‘Nazi’ element in the allegations about his sado-masochistic habits was made up in order to get a better story (Mr Mosley being the son of Sir Oswald). If a newspaper is up to the old trick of using a small foundation of truth to construct a larger edifice of lies, he will do well to expose it. What is puzzling about Mr Mosley, though, is the way he characterises his hobby of sado-masochism. ‘The level of violence is minimal’, he says, and ‘the pain involved... is very modest’. I find this surprising. Surely the point of the thing is that it hurts? Like clergy who do not believe in God or New Labour people who wanted to get rid of Clause Four, Mr Mosley seems to be such a modernising moderate that he threatens to undermine the fundamentals of his own creed. Doesn’t he risk a backlash, literally?