Did you think Boris Johnson sucked? Try Ivan Massow, doyen of hipster Toryism (he was the nice version of Michael Portillo before Michael Portillo was the nice version of Michael Portillo) and prospective candidate for mayor of London.
Somehow, the mayoralty has become a strange attractor for people who combine vacuous celebrity and a particular kind of dilettante obsession with pet projects. You take the guy from the pub who has a dossier on reviving TSR-2 and merge in Him Off The Telly. Johnson is exhibit A, but Labour offered Alan Sugar at one point. Ken Livingstone had a distinct celebrity twat side. The Lib Dems had Brian the Amazing Pot-Smoking Copper. Those were the serious options.
The Blairite project to create directly elected mayors was interesting, looking back. A big idea of theirs was that political participation was an end in itself. The public had to be encouraged to take part. Another, bigger idea of theirs was that the public should be kept away from anything important.
A prospective mayor of London wasn’t meant to be able to control the railways or the schools or the police, for example, although this changed in practice. The two propositions – the public should participate, but their choices should be restricted – are of course conflicting. Why participate, if there’s nothing in it?
Mayors were meant to fix this by increasing the horse-race element of local politics and by attracting a different kind of candidate. Big celebrity personalities would battle it out, thus getting attention and also sidelining the structures of real political participation. Councillors are rarely celebrities.
The first winner was a proper politician, Ken Livingstone, but this was driven by historical reasons, and after all you weren’t meant to be allowed to vote for him. Once the new system bedded in, it seems to have worked in the opposite sense to that intended. Rather than driving participation, the first real celebrity mayor has won largely because he has reduced it. It’s a form of negative marketing – if Boris Johnson is in it, it can’t be serious. But, of course, it is.
So Massow. Like Boris, he’s a slightly shocking Tory but a Tory all the same. Like Boris, he has a pet project involving massive state-funded construction in the Thames Estuary. He’s commissioned architectural drawings to coo over, today’s easy buy-in to the appearance of seriousness.
This time, though, it’s worse. Boris Johnson wanted an airport; J.G. Ballard would have said, a shrine to the limitless possibilities only the sky can offer. Massow wants: a prison. A super-Titan prison on an island, with special river boats ferrying to the courts. Johnson’s project has the optimism of grandiosity; Massow’s is a massive monument to meanspiritedness.
Of course, the island jail is because the Americans have them, rather like the mayors. The river boats are interesting too, though. It’s a classic Tory pet project – Boris promised more of them back in the day, and all sorts of people like to propose it, but nobody who has studied it in any detail thinks it will ever be a serious transport solution.
But why, why do we need a giant prison in the estuary? Simple; yer man wants to bulldoze the others and give the sites to property developers. This will apparently solve the housing crisis. He knows this because a nick in Oxford has been turned into:
wonderful housing, funky bars and a huge shopping mall
This is, of course, the aim of all urban life, especially the mall bit. It turns out that there is no housing in the development:
Wait a moment, though, this sounds familiar. A prison turned into a posh hotel? Hadn’t I heard of something like that before, in Germany? The worst of this isn’t that it’s shameless hipster urbanism, it’s that it’s not even hip, it’s dated, obvious, and suiviste.
Pushing on, yer man has also apparently read a book about the General Strike of 1926 and wants a reserve of volunteer tube drivers to kill the RMT.
What gets me here is the triple-point, the apex, between the utter shallowness of the thinking, the vicious aggression (monster prisons, comedy GB75), and the desperate haste to press your money on horrible property sharks.
It’s also the representativeness of it. Massow’s putative mayoralty, hell, Massow himself, is a fine example of what this guy calls Fucking London, a collection of clichéd icons and mini-oligarch investment properties, boasting about a tolerance extended only to the rich, desperate to eliminate anything like a civic life, soaking in PR bullshit. And of course, it’s not just the Tories.
Let’s kill this before it lays eggs. I note that among other awful himoff options and borough nutters, Sol Campbell wants to be Tory candidate. I far prefer him – he’s a bloke from Tottenham who made enough money to drive a different Maserati every day and that’s basically it. He has about as many principles as a man who played for both Spurs and Arsenal would have, but at least he doesn’t want to build a prison island in the Thames and name it after himself. Perhaps there’s a crack for a spoiler campaign here. Labour for Sol. An asymmetric, nonlinear threat demands such a response.
Although. Apparently he has some “ideas”.