it’s personal, but not in a good way

Anyway, so Tom “Boris Watch” Barry was having at the Grauniad’s Nicholas “He Said” Watt over thinking that Boris Johnson really is a frightfully nice chap. I responded, recapping a point I’ve made earlier, which is that Johnson skates because the national press doesn’t report London politics and the locals focus on their borough councils:

Tom responded:

I responded:

And then I had an idea. The feminist doctrine that the personal is the political applies here. For someone like Watt, there is a public, political city, centred on Westminster but with outlying colonies, where politics happens. There is also a private, personal city, called London, where the rest of his life happens to occur.

But the two are kept apart by a wall, or perhaps they manage to co-exist in the same space without interacting, as in China Mieville’s book. Boris Johnson, as a vaguely amusing television celebrity, falls into category 2, even though consensus geography puts his house within a few hundred metres of the paper’s offices.

Of course, the point of firewalling off the personal from the political is to avoid having to behave in private with the virtues you are expected to display in public. The point is to avoid the sort of scrutiny that is expected in the political, public world.

Now, thinking of Mieville, and also Peter Schneider’s classic Die Mauerspringer, another point comes up. Draw a border and you create a smuggler, someone who manages to operate on both sides or somehow in between. Boris Johnson, by placing his character and identity in category 2 and his ambitions in category 1, manages to escape and triumphantly wobble on his folding bike over the Glienicke Bridge.

But the trick is only feasible because others are willing to accept it.

4 Comments on "it’s personal, but not in a good way"

  1. Doesn’t Boris do national politics? I think what happens to Heathrow (for instance) does have a national knock-on effect.

    I think you’re saying that whether Boris is competent or not is not properly examined in the media. And that’s probably right, because whether politicians in general are competent or not, isn’t. (See Justine Greening, etc.)

    What Boris does do, as Nick Watt’s colleague on the Andrew Neil Show (Isobel someone, sorry can’t remember her name) said, is that he is wonderfully indiscreet on occasions, and he comes across as much more ‘human’ much less scripted than, say, Cameron or Miliband.

    What I don’t get is why Nadine Dorries think Cameron (Eton, Oxford) is posh and that Johnson (also Eton and Oxford) isn’t.


    1. He does do national politics. He wants to be prime minister. But so long as he’s mayor of London, he’s not at Westminster.


  2. “the trick is only feasible because others are willing to accept it”

    seems to sum up Boris’ entire career in and out of politics (and indeed, one suspects, his whole life) rather well.


  3. Whats the comparison with ken?
    The London mayor is new so were only able to talk about how these two political figures have made use of it. My immediate thought is that Ken was effectively over as a potential threat to the Labour leadership by the time he won the mayoralty .
    So despite being able to run against his own govt just as Boris does – all that popularity and profile building never reached a point where he would be a serious challenge to Blair/Brown.
    previous to that I cant think of any positions in uk politics outside of the cabinet that would allow you to buld up a following/profile in the same way as the Londaon mayor does.

    Maybe Boris is the first to really test out london mayor as a route to No 10. I think theres something about it as a position that demands a populist personna and structurally provides the incumbent with a sort of ‘power without blame’ aura. Ideal for getting you to the leadership semi final – not sure about if it helps/hinders happens when you get there.


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