Guido’s noted how Ken’s kept his head down recently, since even lefties (Nick Cohen, Mehdi Hasan and Labour Uncut to name three) started attacking him over his hypocritical tax arrangements. He has, however, at last been spotted in public. An indiscreet tweet from Waterstones Uxbridge yesterday revealed that Ken had visited their store to buy a book about Boris…
‘Know your enemy’, they joked. Ken will be hoping that knowing his enemy proves more helpful this time than it did in 2008. Then, he was spotted on the tube engrossed in Andrew Gimson’s biography of Boris…
Of course, the research was entirely futile, as Boris kicked him out of City Hall just a few months later…
Have you seen Labour’s latest attack on Boris? Ken Livingstone’s team have sent Liam Byrne over the top to proclaim that Boris is clearly lazy for having written a book (it’s released on Thursday; available from all good bookstores etc.). The allegation is that Boris is a ‘part-time mayor’ for having found the time to write while in office. As lefties appear to still be joyously revelling in their new attack-line, it might be a good idea to clear a few things up…
Liam Byrne – Before I even get to the crux of the argument, I can’t not mention Liam Byrne. Does Ken Livingstone seriously think the involvement of one of the least likeable people on Labour’s frontbench is going to actually benefit his campaign? He is the man, in case you’d forgotten, who issued an arrogantly angry 11-page memo to his staff reminding them, amongst other things, of when to bring him soup (12.30-1pm, if you were wondering). And he is the man, you won’t have forgotten, who left David Laws a note in which he joked happily about how Labour had ruined the country’s finances. The guy’s truly an utter chump.
The book - Given Boris started writing the book before he even became mayor, and given it’s just 300 pages long, by my calculation he’s written an average of under 10 lines a day. For a seasoned journalist, that will have required truly negligible effort.
Facts - So, to the allegation that Boris is lazy, or a ‘part-time mayor’. Well, it’s rather backfired hasn’t it? Analysis of the official diaries of Ken and Boris’ times as mayor show Ken held an average of 29 meetings a month while Boris has held an average of over 60 a month. Meanwhile Boris has made 544 visits to London boroughs in just three and a half years as mayor; Ken made 255 such visits in eight years.
Sonia Purnell – Indeed, even Sonia Purnell – author of a book packed with publicity-seeking contempt towards Boris – has acknowledged that he’s “a workaholic”.
Churchill - In defending himself against the silly allegations, Boris rightly pointed out that even the great Winston Churchill found time to write a substantial amount while leading the country in World War II. If a man with those responsibilities could find time to write, it’s frankly absurd that a city mayor shouldn’t be able to. Lefties, of course, now claim that Boris was ‘arrogantly comparing himself to Churchill’. No he wasn’t. What’s more, they need to be very careful of getting into a debate on Churchillian comparisons – just a couple of months ago, Ken did compare himself to Churchill and, worse, Boris to Hitler.
I suspect, too, (if we must go down this route) that Churchill would have preferred to be compared to Boris than Ken, given his view that “socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”
Gordon Brown - Of course, Churchill isn’t by any means the only politician to have enjoyed the hobby of writing while in office. Gordon Brown wrote not one but two books (available here and here, if you’re into masochism) whilst Chancellor of the Exchequer. That would be the same Gordon Brown who was Liam Byrne’s boss at the Treasury…
Time off - This idea that modern-day politicians should spend every minute of every day working is both ridiculous and dangerous. As Prime Minister, Gordon Brown is said to have consistently worked 18 hour days, and was interminably grumpy, and made awful decisions, as a result. Indeed, if Ken Livingstone is claiming to have worked similarly long days when mayor, it would explain – but not justify – incidents such as when he angrily compared a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Boris is widely acknowledged to have performed his mayoral duties with a smile on his face, and if that’s thanks to not having let the job overburden him, then long may the writing continue.
Ken’s whisky – Finally, even if Ken Livingstone did work greater hours than Boris does (and the above figures suggest the opposite to be the case), how much of that time was spent setting up dodgy oil deals with Hugo Chavez, maintaining his comradeship with the Islamic cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and enjoying 10am whisky-drinking sessions?
It was Theodore Roosevelt who said “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.” I’ve long thought that one of the biggest scandals in this country is how poorly we treat our servicemen and women after they retire. You only need to look at the suicide rate of ex-troops to see how much help we should be giving them to deal with both physical and psychological issues after they return to civilian life. That’s why ‘Help for Heroes‘ is my charity of choice, and why I’m so keen to help the likes of the Chelsea Pensioners whenever I can.
So I was delighted to receive, as a Christmas present, ‘A Salute to Cooking’ – a recipe book sold in aid of the Chelsea Pensioners, containing recipes submitted by various celebrities. It really is a cracking book (you can buy it here). The contributed recipes include David Cameron’s smoked mackerel pate, Tony Blair’s fish pie, Frederick Forsyth’s pigeon pie, Katherine Jenkins’ ratatouille, Sir James Dyson’s butternut squash goulash and Stephen Fry’s honey buns. Boris’s contribution is both colourful and efficient…
I was pleased to see the government announce, last week, that funding would be withdrawn from the Booktrust charity’s reading schemes (such as Bookstart) that provide free books to children in England. I’m now irritated to hear that Michael Gove has performed yet another U-turn and decided that the funding will continue.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a keen reader, and a big supporter of child literacy. Reading should be encouraged at every stage of life, if we’re not to turn into a bunch of illiterate delinquents. But the schemes strike me as perfect examples of the kind of wasteful governmental expenditure that we’re trying to get rid of. As with their clothes, children ‘grow out’ of books at an incredible speed. A book that a child receives from the state in January – paid for by tax-payers, poor as well as rich – will sit redundant by the December.
Advocates of the schemes argue that poor children would be disadvantaged by their parents’ inability to buy them books. Rubbish. My parents were never rich and they certainly couldn’t afford to buy books at the rate that their bookworm son got through them! But they took me to the public library – for free – every week, where I borrowed – for free – as many books as I could carry. The habit of reading and the wonder of literature has stuck with me to this day. Every child in this country could benefit in the same way, without the state trying to play the role of the parent.
Of course, the other thing that irritates me about the schemes are their universality. In hardened times, I find the concept of universal benefits to be quite appalling. That millionaire’s children have books paid for by – amongst others – the poorest taxpayers in the country, is truly an abominable state of affairs.
Amongst my Christmas presents yesterday were a few old books about Boris which weren’t yet in my collection. One of them was the brilliant ‘The Little Book of Boris’, compiled by Iain Dale. It’s just a small book, packed with some of Boris’ best quotes. I’d read most of them before, but some were new to me. I enjoyed, for example, his description of Polly Toynbee as:
“the defender and friend of everyone whose non-job has ever been advertised in the Guardian appointments page, every gay and lesbian outreach worker, every clipboard-toter and pen-pusher and form-filler whose function has been generated by mindless regulation. Polly is the high priestess of our paranoid, mollycoddled, risk-averse, airbagged, booster-seated culture of political correctness and ‘elf ‘n’ safety fascism.”
The one I enjoyed the most – and one that I’m surprised not to have come across before – was the extract from his application in 2007 to be the Tories’ London mayoral candidate. One of the sections asked applicants to “give 3 examples of challenges you have faced and the outcome”. Boris’ scrawled reply was as follows:
1. Trying to help raise 4 children in inner London. Outcome: Too early to call, but looking promising.
2. Taking on Blair and Campbell in the battle of Black Rod’s Memorandum on the Queen Mother’s lying-in-state. Outcome: Total victory.
3. Negotiating Hyde Park Corner by bicycle. Outcome: Survival.
The apparent disregard he had for the serious questions – in an application submitted at the last minute, on the day of the closing deadline – makes it all the more amazing that he was not only selected as the Tories’ candidate and elected as mayor just 10 months later, but has gone on to take the job so seriously.