Friday Ephemera
A Firm Hand

The Horror

I wasn’t going to comment on Boris Johnson becoming the next mayor of London, but I couldn’t resist airing a few reactions to that prospect from the pages of a certain newspaper.

A breathless Zoe Williams writes

God alone knows what this moneyed creep would get up to… He despises gays and he despises provincials… and he despises Africans. He despises them, and he despises those of us who would hold such judgments to be bigoted and inhuman.


He despises people who are not of his class because he is a snob.

An ironic statement, one might think, coming from a Guardian columnist, especially one whose own elitist affectations have entertained us so. This denunciation of snobbery is almost immediately followed by,

We know what London is. Boris is not London.

So no snobbery there.

Williams’ piece concludes with some quotes from notable Londoners. The actress Arabella Weir, daughter of former British ambassador Sir Michael Weir, offers this:

How do we trust a guy who says he knows about London, when he’s just taken three of his kids out of state school and put them into private schools?

Then there’s this, from fashion designer Vivienne Westwood:

Boris as mayor? Unthinkable. It just exposes democracy as a sham, especially if people don’t vote for Ken.

Ms Westwood appears to have difficulty grasping the concept of democracy, which generally entails the possibility that other people – perhaps a great many of them – will have preferences that differ from one’s own. Still, there’s an almost charming megalomania to the implication that a system which allows people to vote on those preferences must be a “sham” when the people doing the voting disagree with Vivienne Westwood.

It’s a safe bet that the Guardian’s imperious dowager in residence, Polly Toynbee, won’t be too chuffed either. Toynbee famously said of Johnson,

Perhaps because he was not born to great wealth… he revels in everything elite - intellectual, social or monied.

Unlike Polly - a member of the rather grand Toynbee family and descendant of the Earls of Carlisle - who was born into wealth. As Guardian readers will know, Polly’s peeves include private education and other people’s money:

He earned more than £400,000 last year in journalism and after-dinner speaking on top of his MP’s salary.

Oddly, while Toynbee makes a point of announcing the earnings of others, supposedly on principal, she refuses to disclose the details of her own salary and extracurricular income; though one might assume her Guardian salary alone is comfortably within six figures. And it’s worth noting that Johnson earned less than Polly’s employer at the Guardian, the privately educated Alan Rusbridger, who last year was paid £520,000.

Johnson’s reply to Toynbee is worth reading in full, but here’s a taste:

She joins the usual Labour snarling against fee-paying education, and selective education of all kinds. In reality, of course, she is the beneficiary of a highly selective education and also sent her own offspring to one of the most expensive public schools in the country, an establishment way beyond the means of most people. Of course there will be those who accuse her of monstrous hypocrisy, and wonder… how on earth she can insist on imposing a one-size-fits-all comprehensive system on the rest of the country, and close down the opportunities of so many poor but bright kids, when she has so ruthlessly maximised the opportunities of her own children…

Then there will be those who complain that it is hypocritical of Polly to have her lovely second home in Italy, to which she doubtless repairs on so many cheapo flights that she has personally quilted the earth in a tea-cosy of CO2; to which I say, yes, it probably is wrong of Polly to keep calling for higher taxes when that would put such opportunities - for air travel to second homes - beyond the reach of millions slightly less fortunate than her. But never mind the hypocrisy: look at the fundamental Tory behaviour. At least she's renting the villa out at pretty keen rates.

For that alone, I’m quite pleased Boris is London’s new mayor. And besides, what could possibly go wrong?


mr shifter

reading that list of notable "celebs" is almost an endorsement in itself to support Boris.
I mean...Will Self, Bonnie Greer, Charlie Brooker, Kwame Kwei Armah, Vivienne Westwood, Inayat Bunglawala... et al.
Even blindfolded, it would be a safe bet to just point 180º and head off in the opposite direction to such media elitist progressives and passive-aggressive islamofascists.


Yes, there’s something a little surreal about an array of well-heeled media celebrities, literary darlings and children of quasi-aristocracy airing their egalitarian credentials. And Bianca Jagger should be shaken by the hair.


From the Polly Toynbee clip:
RL: "Do you think about global warming when you fly to your villa in Italy?"
PT: "My… I'm… I'm… Listen… I…"

mr shifter

its a shame this blog is no longer updated...


I'm going to treasure that YouTube clip of Littlejohn laying the smackdown on Polly for a looooong time.. :)


Toynbee probably has medals in chutzpah and hypocritical condescension - though in fairness those skills are pretty much a condition of employment as a Guardian columnist. Rusbridger’s interview, linked above, sets the tone quite nicely.


"It just exposes democracy as a sham, especially if people don’t vote for Ken."

Interesting, a record turnout, particularly from the outer part of London, basically means (a) Boris is in, and (b) minor parties are out (apart from BNP).

2000 Ken wins 39% of vote with 43% turnout
2004 Ken wins 35% of vote with 36% turnout
2008 Boris wins 42% of vote with 45%+ turnout

So this what exposes democracy as a sham, more people voting, more people voting for Boris ?

The Thin Man

Ahhh - So Posh Nosh

was not a satire, but a documentary......


I scanned a few left-leaning blogs this evening and was struck by how many readers’ comments were variations of the same bewildered point:

“I don’t know anyone who didn’t vote for Ken.”
“ALL of the under thirties I know were vehemently pro-Ken and anti-Boris.”
“How did this happen? HOW?!”

It seems quite telling that so many commenters struggle to imagine that anything could exist beyond their own fairly narrow consensus and that other voters might actually have different points of view. Hence Vivienne Westwood’s belief that if democracy doesn’t lead to the result *she* would like, then there must be something wrong with democracy.


I was struck especially by the comment by Will Self where, in the one sentence, he accused Johnson of racism, and then of not even being a proper 'Londoner'. The ability to contradict yourself like that is certainly quite impressive.

Í've often noted in reading through British media that the tone of the commenters often relies heavily on a set of assumptions about social and economic class, and I do wonder especially about that comment by Self, and how it is redolent with this kind of elitism. I'm not exactly sure how it should be read: when he says Boris isn't a proper Londoner, is he being ironic? Sincere? Is he dismissing Boris as a kind of low-class upstart who wants to inveigle his way into London society, or a high-class toff who should go back to where he came from?

As an Australian, I'm not sure how to take these kind of elitist dismissals of Johnson by the Guardian writers/readers. I suspect something is lost in the interpretation. Can someone help?

wayne fontes

Without any knowledge of what Boris Johnson's politics are after viewing just a couple of the available youtube videos I would gladly trade him for my local mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick. I'll throw in Kid Rock and the Detroit Lions. Any takers?


Tim T,

Well, I don’t doubt there are good reasons to view Johnson with at least one eyebrow raised, and the idea of him actually being London’s mayor still seems improbable. But many of the views expressed in the Guardian piece display an imperviousness to contradiction. Ms Weir, for instance, says: “He’s everything that’s wrong with the upper classes at their worst.” So the Socialist credentials are displayed pretty much straight away, despite the fact Ms Weir’s own background is… well, hardly proletarian. Ditto Bonnie Greer, who seems to object to Boris because he’s slightly less pompous than she is, while suggesting he’s the snob. The ludicrous and vaguely sinister Inayat Bungawala takes umbrage because Boris dared to say Islam is “the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers” – which is evidently true, if apparently unmentionable.

But then the Guardian attracts dishonesty like a magnet. Polly Toynbee - she of the spare Villa in Italy - famously insisted that “money doesn’t make us happier.” She then called on “us” to “throw open the books so that we can see what everyone earns.” Yet she, in typical fashion, has declined to set an example, despite several invitations. Perhaps Toynbee dimly registers that doing so could undermine her righteous stance and reveal her to be one of the “them” she whines about, rather than one of the “us” she pretends to be.

Matt M

Boris Johnson as the most powerful Conservative in the UK? Should be interesting. :-)

The media and blog reaction to his election has been way over-the-top. I may doubt his competence as a politician (although this is simply because I know him more as a TV personality - I actually hope to be proven wrong about this) but, while as human as the rest of us, he seems a fairly decent person. The accusations of bigotry reflect far more on the accuser than the accused from what I've seen.



“The accusations of bigotry reflect far more on the accuser than the accused from what I've seen.”

Well, quite. It’s the hyperbole of the criticism that’s amusing. There’s so much apocalyptic hair-tearing. At one blog, I forget which, someone couldn’t believe Boris hadn’t been beaten by Paddick because “at least he’s gay” – as if being gay were a mayoral credential of some kind.

Right. I’m off to see Iron Man.


My background isn't aristocratic by any means: I was born in Lambeth. I just don't care for racists and homophobes, especially in government. People here don't seem to mind, though. Ain't democracy grand?

("Watermelon smiles," forsooth. Colonel Blimp redivivus. You can have him.)

(PS: David, OT, but did you get the Sid Caesar clip I sent you or did it get caught in your spam filter?)


Dr Dawg,

Long time, no see. I didn’t receive the clip you mention. My spam filter is sometimes a little overzealous. Try again?

“I just don’t care for racists and homophobes, especially in government.”

Well, I’m not inordinately keen on racists and homophobes when I meet them personally, though that isn’t at all my impression of Johnson. But, more than that, I don’t care for an ideology, embodied by Livingstone, in which the policing of language and attitude is simply assumed as an entitlement. The ideology to which Livingstone subscribes is much more unpleasant, and indeed dangerous, than Johnson ever could be.


"I just don't care for racists and homophobes, especially in government. "

Londoners don't care for them either - that's why they finally ditched Ken 'al-Qaradawi is ok by me!' Livingstone.

As for the 'watermelon smiles' quote, try reading the original article it came from; it's pretty clear Johnson was ridiculing someone but it may not be the target you assume it to be...


David, how was Iron Man? I'm seeing it on Wednesday (on the Orange twofer ticket) so don't give too much away....



“Don’t give too much away.”

Fun was had.



Link re-sent!


Dr Dawg,

Ta. Very amusing, and live too.

By the way, to clarify the above… My point is that Livingstone and many of his admirers seem to believe that they, and the state, have a right to determine what can be said and what can be asked. Livingstone’s favoured approach to dissent has been to immediately dismiss his critics as “racists”, “Islamophobes”, “NeoCons”, etc, often ludicrously, rather than engage with the particulars of their actual criticism. He, like many others, is keen to inhibit the range of discussions that can be had and the ideas that can be tested. It’s an evasion he’s been keen to propagate. If Johnson were actually as bigoted as you seem to imagine, that still wouldn’t make him anywhere near as insidious as Livingstone and his groupies, whose activities are partly detailed in the link below. They, not Johnson, wish to curtail free debate and inhibit certain lines of thought. They, not he, pose a threat to the principles of a free society.


Even the comparatively moderate Harry's Place displays much of the incomprehension and strangled horror at the prospect of Mayor Boris. And I do hope that Pollyanna gets stuck with the soubriquet Polly "Two Villas" Toynbee. That should quieten the sanctimonious prig up a bit.

Pepper Potts

"Fun was had."

Wow. Terse.



I suppose a lot of the disbelief-cum-trauma hinges on an acceptance of the tribal communitarian thinking that Livingstone propagated, and which elevates notional group rights over individual rights. It’s remarkable (to me) just how readily and widely this way of thinking has been accepted, despite its obvious, and quite serious, flaws. But then it’s also remarkable (to me) that London had a mayor with such a fanciful view of history. For instance, the Cold War was, according to Livingstone, entirely the fault of the West and nothing whatsoever to do with Stalin, Communist expansion and the invasion of much of Europe by the USSR. But it’s his tendency to argue in bad faith and stifle dissent that most irks. If you want to expose and combat false and noxious ideas, it’s rather important that ideas can be aired and tested publicly. That’s generally how progress happens. Livingstone’s track record on that front isn’t terribly impressive.


“Wow. Terse.”

My satisfaction levels hovered consistently around 80%. There are some imperfections in the alloy, as it were, due mainly to the needs of setting up a franchise, and the final showdown is a little too brief; but it’s a sound prototype - visually impressive, faithful in tone, and - despite some fudging - refreshingly un-PC. The dispatching of the quasi-Taliban terrorists is particularly satisfying. Downey is very good indeed and the film is funnier than I expected. And it’s worth noting that the reviewers’ objections in, say, the Guardian and Independent were as much political as cinematic. Our hero frets, rightly, that his technology has fallen into the wrong hands. One reviewer, I forget which, grumbled about the assumption that there are any “right hands” for such impressive weaponry. Which suggests a strange belief that even free societies shouldn’t be able to defend themselves against less accommodating ones.


Ah, Inyat Bungawala as one of the toffs aggrieved by Boris Johnson's insolence. That name seemed familiar.

Commenter Richard Landes mischaracterizes Mr. Bungawala as a 'journalist,' but the summaries and the links are still worthwhile reminders of how Inyat was burnishing his resume in 2006. Landes also had the integrity to correct his error without erasing the record. Clearly, he has much to learn. A pity, with such an eminent teacher so close to hand.



Bungawala is an absurd yet vaguely sinister figure. Specifically, he’s a passive-aggressive fantasist with Mawdudist (i.e. totalitarian) sympathies and an instinct for dissembling so prodigious it makes his every utterance suspect. (Note that while Bungawala takes exception to Johnson’s statement of the obvious, he doesn’t try to refute it; he simply thinks certain facts shouldn’t be stated.) For several years he edited and wrote for a magazine called “Trends”, which ran adverts glorifying homicidal ‘martyrdom’ by Hamas, whose co-founder he claimed to admire. In early 2001, prior to the September 11 attacks, Bungawala was busily distributing the incoherent screeds of Osama bin Laden, whom he called a “freedom fighter”. Such is the public face of the supposedly “moderate” Muslim Council of Britain. If you trawl the Harry’s Place archives, I’m sure you’ll find more on this oily little stain of a man.


Saw Iron Man yesterday. Damn its cool. Love the way he blew that tank. Everything looks so much better on a wide screen on the front row of cinema. more please.


Run, Pepper, run!


Yes, it was fun. There’s a debate raging over at Ace regarding the film’s politics, such as they are:

So far as I remember, the politics are deliberately fuzzy in order not to alienate parts of the audience, and you’d have to be trying quite hard in order to be offended. Not that it’s stopped some people seeing it – bizarrely - as pacifist or - equally bizarrely - as a eulogy to the “military-industrial complex”. The Guardian’s latest whiny and pretentious objection is to the product placement.

Dear God, the hero’s driving an Audi. Now he’s eating a cheeseburger. Somebody think of the children!

I hesitate to say this, but I’m slightly intrigued by Gwyneth Paltrow’s shoes. I don’t mean that in a secret-desire-for-silk kind of way. I’m just amazed she could run like that in 6” heels. Kudos, madam.


Thank God Boris won!

Now London can deal with it's local, ethno-political problems without that huckster, Livingstone, screwing things up.

Imagine real "Asian"-British reconciliation without Britain's equivalent of Al Sharpton "sharking" every post modern grievance in the big city.

I recall that, after the terrorist attacks on 911, New York City's out-going Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, returned a $10 million check, payable to the city, back home to its Saudi sender. Here's hoping Boris has what it takes to be "Britain's Mayor," too.

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