(If you don’t know what the title means, use Google Translate. To help you out, ‘landica‘ was one of the most offensive swear words in Latin.)
Anyway, what can you say about the Mayor of London that others haven’t already said, and with forceful eloquence? Well, it appears that Boris has possibly jumped the shark, or rather vaulted it on a nuclear-powered rocket cycle, if reports of a speech he gave yesterday, are to be in any way believed, ironically enough The Margaret Thatcher Lecture. Perhaps this was the day when the mask of Boris the chummy, bumbling, capering numpty slipped down just that little bit too far and we all got to see the grasping, venal, carelessly superior man he really is.
The speech makes an number of points, so let’s talk about some of them, one by one, shall we?
“I stress – I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”
This overlooks a simple, and indeed to coin a phrase, an inconvenient truth, which is it’s exactly that spirit of Keeping Up with The Joneses which has landed us in the mess we are in. Consumerism relies on envy and greed, pushed along on a wave of consumer spending and house price inflation. It’s like the last five years, or indeed the thirty before them just didn’t happen, and he has learned nothing. Nada. Not a fucking sausage. For someone of his intellect (or at least IQ, but more of that in a second), that can only be described as monumentally stupid. Or stubborn. Either way, it’s pretty depressing. The economic model he is rushing to embrace is very, very broken and it is consuming resources at an alarming rate, doing probably irreversible damage in the process. We don’t need to guess at that, we have seen the evidence, and he is exhorting some of the very people who helped it to happen to behave in a similar way again.
- Ah yes, IQ. Here’s some of what Boris said about that:
“Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85 while about 2% …”
Now, leaving aside the academic debates about the measurement of IQ and his interpretation of populations within the spectrum of the tests, summarised briefly by the dear old Grauinad again, it misses the fundamental point. The only thing that IQ tests demonstrate (I know, I’m reasonably good at them, so actually fall comfortably inside that top 2% if you believe the results) is how good you are at IQ tests. That is all. There’s nothing there about your ability to problem solve complex problems, or how you interact with people, or do it under real pressure, or a whole bunch of other things. The importance he attaches to the use of the IQ as a measure of anything meaningful is, frankly, a bit worrying. But perhaps it’s not surprising, given that many of my (and his) generation were convinced that the rather instrumentalist use of such techniques is some sort of universal panacea. Once again, we revisit the tyranny of the metric. His (for want of a better word) faith in their meaning is rather frighteningly naïve, or possibly suspiciously sophist.
“I hope there is no return to the spirit of loadsamoney heartlessness – figuratively riffling banknotes under the noses of the homeless – and I hope that this time the Gordon Gekkos of London are conspicuous not just for their greed, valid motivator though greed may be for economic progress, as for what they give and do for the rest of the population, many of whom have experienced real falls in their incomes over the last five years.”
He hopes. He HOPES? This is, supposedly, one of the most powerful men in England. He is the mayor of its capital city. One would hope he could do a sight more than hope. If there is one lesson that we should have learned, it’s that this is, in a word, horseshit. Boris is almost looking for a return to a model of Victorian philanthropy, with the use of the trickle-down largesse as its major instrument. But experience has shown us without any real doubt that it does not work. He has already moaned that the wealthiest are almost like a persecuted minority, seeing as the top 1% pay 30% of the income tax take. He fails to mention that income tax is not the only game in town, and that (according to the ONS – via Wikipedia) for the year 2011-12, the wealthiest 20% paid around 6 times more tax than the poorest 20%, but that as a proportion of their actual incomes, they paid a roughly equal share of their income in all direct and indirect taxes.
“It seems to me that though it would be wrong to persecute the rich, and madness to try and stifle wealth creation, and futile to stamp out inequality, we should only tolerate this wealth gap on two conditions. One, that we help those who genuinely cannot compete; and two, that we provide opportunity for those who can.”
The idea that the rich are being “persecuted” is almost as offensive as it is risible. In fact, wealth inequality is even more marked because of London’s presence. It distorts the whole wealth map of England. No wonder Boris is keen not to annoy the very wealthiest: the very people who are more likely to vote for him. Worse yet, the distribution of wealth is enough to induce anger in all but the most one-eyed. The top 10% own about half of the country’s wealth. The richest 1% own about 21.8%
But no, Boris thinks that the very wealthiest are hard done-to.
“The harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.”
Or, alternatively, this made me think of the words of the diarist, Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon (whose son Paul became a fairly undistinguished Cabinet minister), to paraphrase: the cream are so-called because they are generally rich, thick and float around near the top of society. There is some sense of an argument about social mobility to be had here, but our Trustafarian Bullingdon-reared chum Boris is not the man to advance it.
When discussion of social mobility comes up, there is always an assumption of the mobility being “upward”, so all of the poor proles can take their place with the plebeians (thee is no chance of dining at the patrician table, of course). There is a constant assumption that to be a member of the working class is to wear some badge of innate inferiority, and that anyone with any sense would want to get out immediately. Notice how the bigger cornflakes don’t get shuffled down, do they?
But actually, especially after the second world war, to be working class (and not one of the non-working poor) had lots of great advantages that people had fought hard to win: disposable incomes, improved living conditions, access to education (at least in theory, though we know the tripartite system was flawed), strong community values and a sense of shared purpose and identity. To be educated and working class is, I think, a good thing to be, but you will struggle to hear anyone say that in the media, for example.
It continually rankles with me that the assumption of the superiority of the middle-class is taken almost as axiomatic by too many in wider society when they bandy words like “social mobility” around with abandon.
“London can do nothing to stop the ‘entire population of Transylvania’ from pitching their tents in Marble Arch.”
Not, on the whole, entirely likely. Judging by the Romanians I have spoken to (students mainly), Britain is not necessarily the land of milk and honey some people think it is. They are not in a hurry to stay after finishing their studies. Still, perhaps we could offset some of these incomers with the huge number of British ex-pats living in Spain, and being much more of a welfare drain that most of the incomers here. We could ship some more out. That doesn’t sell copies of the Daily Mail though, does it?
- Calling for his pet project, a new airport in the Thames Estuary, to be named the Margaret Thatcher International Airport.An open invitation for the Scots to send back the nukes from Faslane back early. By the direct route. And one I would wholeheartedly endorse.
- And finally, this little gem:
“We may not have many gunboats any more, but we hardly need them, because we are already fulfilling our destiny as the soft power capital of the world – and that is thanks to a woman who knew all about soft power and the deep Freudian terror that every man has for the inner recesses of a handbag.”
Yes, Boris’s chum, George Osborne is quite fixated on maintaining that “soft power” Pretty much every manoeuvre has been designed to prevent any kind of serous restraint of the abuses that occurred to cause the current economic problems. Osborne is intent on preserving the privilege and power of those institutions. After all, his post-government directorships aren’t going to appear from nowhere now, are they?
And perhaps Boris could ruminate for a few moments on that “deep Freudian terror”, mostly experienced by a bunch of public schoolboys for whom the merest smell of a woman was an experience designed to evoke the confusion of the nursery or the matron’s office. For the rest of us, Thatcher was exactly the kind of horrendous woman who’d never let us have our ball back when we were kids; the kind of humourless, dour martinet whose attitude inspired not terror, but a profound and lasting contempt and hatred.
Boris has nailed his colours to the mast. And what a tawdry, ill-looking set of colours they are. One can only hope the scales gave been peeled back from so many eyes, and he can be seen for what he actually is.