John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue, has resisted the siren call of the Tories and come out as an independent candidate for the 2008 Mayoral elections. I’m delighted. And delighted, too, that he’s standing at all. The London electorate desperately need some fresh blood on the local political scene, and most especially a challenger to the newt-fancying incumbent, who’s beginning to take on the mantle of an Estuarine Fidel Castro, such is his unopposed longevity in office.
I never seriously thought Bird would take up the Conservative candidacy. He may have some Essex Man, knee-jerk opinions, but the policies he limned out in his interview in yesterday’s Standard warrant serious consideration. He’s right to stress the vital need to break down the ghettoisation that fosters crime, and he’s right to insist on more social housing. He’s right, also, that the clone high streets are making London unliveable, and he’s put a lot of effort into his Wedge card, designed to promote local shops.
Particularly canny was Bird’s full audit for the congestion charge, and a commitment to ask its critics what they would put in its place – if anything. But most significant was his claim that he has many backers in the City. Make no bones about it, while Livingstone may have got the popular vote, his ability to make any policy while Mayor has been contingent on wooing the Square Mile.
Increasingly, the City is London’s biggest employer, and the international financial mavens the paymasters for civic investment. It’s always been the Tories’ desire to find a candidate who can yoke big business to the ballot box, but ever since “Two Shags” Norris was rubbed out by a smear of lubricity, no one has come forward to fit the bill.
In a way, the Tories should stop looking for a businessman-hipster like Branson to be their candidate. I doubt the wisdom of this. While we Londoners may accept the reality of our economy, we don’t want it shoved in our faces by having a multimillionaire mayor. There’s no reason why the City can’t be encouraged to practise inward investment by a maverick like Bird.
If I were Cameron and his Notting Hill pseuds, I’d be worried by Bird’s campaign. Londoners may have given Ken the crown in part to cock a snook at the Thatcherites – and their Blairite heirs – who hobbled city government for so long. But the wind is changing now. Bird says a non-partisan mayor would be a good thing for the capital and I agree. Let him be our own, noble Mercutio, and cry out: “A pox on both their houses!”
A social whirl for us pariahs
Lounging outside a central London restaurant the other night having a fag, I was musing on how this was the shape of things to come, when I fell into conversation with a fellow pariah. He’d just been on a speed-dating evening and was still wearing his sticker.
Had it gone well? I asked, and he launched into an explanation of the whole process, followed by some witty and self-deprecating remarks on his love life. Soon enough, he’d flicked his own butt and returned inside, but I was left with the impression that I’d had a worthwhile – even intimate – encounter, and all in less than four minutes.
Could this speed socialising also be the shape of things to come?
I’ve long contended that most dinner parties could usefully be over within quarter of an hour, while even full-scale balls needn’t top the hour mark. It seems unfair that following the new ban it should only be us diehard smokers who benefit from such glancing, yet profound, encounters. I look forward to a time when everyone lounges in the street, only popping inside occasionally to earnestly debate global warming, or trade the latest gossip.
Classy Cate is no Iron Lady
The news that Cate Blanchett is being considered for the role of the young Baroness Thatcher in The Iron Lady, a film of 17 days in the run-up to the Falklands War, fills me with a deep gloom. As a schoolboy in Finchley I met Thatcher, our local MP, on several occasions, and I have to say I always found the idea that she radiated a deep – and even sexual – charisma to be unfathomable. Only screwed-up old Tory men, with dominatrix nanny complexes, could possibly have been aroused by her steely coif and mean features.
Blanchett, on the other hand, is bright, beautiful and unaffected. I know every actor worth her salt wants to increase her range but I beg of you, Cate, don’t do it, lest the Thatcher sourness rubs off on you.