Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

It is probably just as well that the Ray Lewis fiasco happened to Boris Johnson as Mayor, because otherwise it might have happened to David Cameron as Prime Minister. As soon as he became Conservative leader, Mr Cameron went round to see Mr Lewis's Eastside Young Leaders Academy. It was a token of his seriousness about healing the 'broken society'. If Mr Lewis had been made captain of the flagship special programme of a new Cameron administration, it would have been embarrassing. It is obviously true that more 'due diligence' (not a phrase once associates with Boris) should have been done on Mr Lewis. But there are some less obvious points as well. One is that the London Mayoralty is unlike anything we in Britain are used to because it is a huge enterprise consisting of only one elected person. The mayor's cohorts do not emerge through the testing of the democratic process. They therefore need to be subjected to other checks. Superstitious about counting their chickens before they were hatched, Boris's campaign team refused to get into the area of appointments, so there was no time to discover that some of the eggs were addled. It might be a good idea to have a transition period between mayoral administrations, rather like that between American presidents. Even more important is the political lesson this should carry for Mr Cameron's modernising Tories.

They are up against deeply political people.

Despite its ideological vicissitudes, Labour has inherited from hard-left habits an understanding of how to entrench power. A key part of this is the power of patronage.

For eight years in London, Ken Livingstone exploited this power to control the city in his political interest. Ken's people believe London is theirs by right and they will not cede it just because Boris happened to win a mere election. By trying to be nice when he took over, Boris has kept too many of these people and their systems and organisations in place. They will make it their main task to destroy him. The Tories want to refresh their teams with businessmen and people like Mr Lewis. In their enthusiasm to get non-politicians involved, they are in danger of forgetting that politics is a game with its own special skills. If you lack them, you get killed.

Another rule of thumb for political appointments is that ex-clergymen, or clergy, like Mr Lewis, no longer in good standing with the ecclesiastical authorities, tend to be people who need a bit of watching.

When Labour invented the term 'fuel poverty', they must have considered it politically astute. One of the great uses of the word 'poverty' in modern political discourse is that, having identified it, you can then claim to have 'lifted millions of people' out of it. Fuel poverty is officially defined as the condition in which a household has to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on fuel to maintain 'a satisfactory heating regime' (a temperature of 21°C in the main living area and 18°C in other rooms). In 2001, which was still the era of cheap oil, a UK Fuel Poverty Strategy was unveiled and soon people were being lifted out of it like anything. The three key factors making people fuel-poor were solemnly identified by experts as 'the energy efficient status of the property', 'the cost of fuel' and 'household income'.

The last two of these three are now getting dramatically worse, so, just as Mr Brown tells us to eat every scrap in our larders, we must expect him soon to urge us to wrap up warm. …

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