Boris put in an appearance on today’s Daily Politics Conference Special this lunchtime on BBC Two, and I caught up with it earlier this evening.
It’s only when you see him subjected to questioning by a ‘proper’ Westminster journalist (Andrew Neil, in this case, who it’s unusual for me to profess any admiration for) that you realise how rare a treat it is.
He got off pretty lightly, though, with Neil failing to join the obvious dots between his early puff for GLA budget cuts and his later stumblings on knife crime-fighting; the logical question to follow this is how police budget cuts will help cut crime. At least this is not likely to be the last we hear of that issue.
Those of us watching in widescreen will have enjoyed occasional glimpses of what appeared to be a nervous Boris minder or two waiting in an area they presumably thought to be off-screen, watching him intently with facial expressions which could hardly have said “Please don’t make a gaffe” much more if it had been written on their foreheads.
Boris stayed on-script for the most part but there were a few revealing moments. One such came in relation to knife crime (an inappropriate topic during which to see the return of The Smirk, but I’m pretty sure I detected a hint of it). Where once this was Boris’s favourite topic – a [sic] ‘number one priority’, no less – it seemed clear in this interview that he’s hardly given it a moment’s thought lately, coming unstuck when faced with the most basic of questions about the current rate of knife crime in the capital. He even tried to change the focus to the country as a whole instead of his own part of it, bizarrely.
He’s never had much of a way with facts and figures, of course, but his way with words deserted him in relation to his administration’s senior departures; either that, or the rumours about Kulveer Ranger’s doubtful future (which made it into the Guardian Diary column last week) are not a secret any more. Challenged about why there had been so many sackings of people he’d appointed, while their chairs were barely warm, Boris’s stuttering response was:
Well, there are plenty more to go!
Oh dear: not quite what he meant, but it’s what you say that counts, Bozza.
Another chunk of the interview was given over to the rivalry between Boris and his party leader, with Neil stirring things up by pointing out that Boris had all the power while the leader had none at the moment:
You can do things, as Mayor of London. Do you think David Cameron’s just a wee bit jealous?
Boris attempted to sidestep the question, but instead fell into the trap his mate Dave had warned the party against – overconfident triumphalism:
We all know that the brutal reality of British politics is that there isn’t going to be a Labour government in two years’ time.
He tried to correct this with a muttered reference to talking ‘without triumphalism’, but it’s pretty hard to take that any other way than with lashings of complacency.
Neil finished the interview with what ought to have been a simple throwaway question:
Are you going to stand for a second term as London mayor?
Rather than a simple ‘yes’, a shock ‘no’, or even a Livingstonesque “I’ll decide in 2010”, Boris rather surprisingly opted to try to dodge the question completely, with a rambling line about working hard over the next few years on Londoners’ problems, etc etc. Pressed for a yes or no answer, a moment’s thought led him to come back with a pretty emphatic ‘maybe’.
Yes, that’s right: the Mayor of London, just a few months into the job, already doesn’t think he’ll necessarily want to continue in it beyond the minimum time he can possibly get away with doing it for. That’s just how deep his dedication to serving London really is.
His response prompted Neil to ask if Boris would rather be Prime Minister. He made a half-hearted attempt to reject the premise of the question but the inference was clear: as has long been suggested, Boris sees the Mayoralty as a stepping stone to his true ambitions in Number 10.
I’ve put the whole thing on YouTube for your ‘enjoyment’. And if you ever doubted my dedication to you, dear Boris-Watchers, when I was scaling, cropping and letterboxing the recording to fit YouTube’s creaking 4:3 limitations, I purposefully chopped material only from the right-hand side of the picture, so you can enjoy the minder’s face popping into view on the left-hand side from time to time in all its glory.
P.S. I also like the way, at about 04:55, it looks like Andrew Neil has got so bored with waiting for Boris to get to the end of his sentence that he decides to check his e-mail on his phone instead. (I think he might actually be getting up a quote to read out to Boris just after that, but it’s a nice initial impression.)
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