David Cameron

Elvis Presley Challenge No. 48 – Boris Johnson

‘I am CHARLES FOSTER KANE’. Orson Welles stands at the top of the stairs of a modest boarding house and bellows.   His wife who has been given the address of the lover of Kane shakes her head and leaves.  The wife is not the equal of Kane but he has weaknesses and they allow her to have justified contempt.    The defiant words signal the end of the political ambition of a charismatic man.

Today, politicians have paramours and careers and both may prosper.  Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson had an affair with Boris Johnson with Petrella? Petronella Wyatt which involved the two of them supposedly taking ‘passionate’ cab rides around London, whatever that means.   The two of them would insist on the cabbies playing cassettes of girlfriend ‘Petsy’ singing arias from Puccini.  The world has changed.  Gone is the tradition of the discrete Cockney cabbie that called you ‘Guv’nor’.   Absurd as it is, listening to the cassettes may even be defensible.  It cannot be fun having someone whisper Pfeffel in your ear, especially if they have had a few gulps of Bollinger champagne.   My own moments have been limited but occasionally I have heard the odd whispered pleasantry.  I remember that I quite enjoyed it.  One has to be curious about how it would be with an aspiring opera singer.


A young David Cameron

A young David Cameron

The scene in the ‘Citizen Kane’ movie surprises us today.  Similarly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to believe that there was once an era when Tory politicians were capable.  Michael Howard and Michael Hesletine may have had their flaws but compared to the present cabinet they were political giants.  Politicians no longer have careers in which they acquire the ability that enables them to perform their jobs properly.  Now we identify stars and desperately we launch them before they become too old and before their teeth lose their white sheen.  David Cameron was launched into a leadership contest well before he acquired competence.  The same has happened in the Labour Party.   Milliband and Blair are also examples of the obsession with white teeth and unblemished complexions.   Politics has gone pop.

The next political star that has back benchers excited because they believe he has the X factor is the Olympic God, Boris Johnson.   He is popular and he was an easy choice.  Not only is he prone to listening to charming ladies carouse him with Puccini as he crosses the Thames in a cab, he likes to use them for official business, taxis not opera singers.   Between 2008 and 2009 his Mayoral expenditure on taxi fares rose by 540%.  So, if Boris ever does become leader of the Tory party, we can at least console ourselves with the notion that they really did find him in the back of a taxi.

Meanwhile, the British are snobby about thick American Republican politicians.   British TV programme producers often show clips of Sarah Palin and Herman Cain revealing their ignorance.  The interviewer mentions a name of a country outside the States, the faces of the politicians go blank and the British laugh.  But maybe we should pause.  Admittedly, Caine and Palin are small Palin shows off her killminded horrors.  It is also a pity Cain did not spell his name the same as the movie which might have offered some belated consolation to Charles Foster.  There is, though, a naive almost impressive belief at the heart of the American populists that vote for these phonies.  They believe in the potential of the ordinary man and woman and assume that Government can be run by people like themselves and who have common sense.  They think that men who can chop trees and women who can shoot wild animals must have a practical touch that will benefit their Government.  Public administration may look easy to outsiders but those who have had experience know it requires experience and a grasp of detail.  It is dominated by macro-economics and, as Keynes proved, much is counter intuitive.  Common sense is not valuable.  It is actually dangerous.   The populist belief is wrong but it should not be condemned.  It is rooted in self-belief and ambition.  It requires a population that has a strong sense of purpose.  But it also reveals contempt for professionalism.

When the British feel confident to ignore practical skills we pick a different kind of leader.  We are too cowed to have faith in the ordinary man and woman.  Instead, we return to the romance of the Renaissance man, the gifted dilettante who has charm and appeal.   The Americans want men with broad shoulders and middle aged women who have kept their figures.  The British plump for a rotund person called Pfeffel whose ‘Petsy’ has a brother called Percicles.   We want aristocrats.  Perhaps because we all believe Britain has an aristocratic place in the world.    Other people work, we offer disdain and irony.

And Boris can be funny.  His honesty and self-effacement are often appealing and always disarming.   Some time ago he said, ‘my Boris Johnsonchances of being PM are about as good as finding Elvis on Mars or being reincarnated as an olive.’  Today, Tory columnists are predicting he will be the next Tory leader so maybe Elvis is alive after all.   Mars is difficult to credit but we have had American rock and roll stars turn up in council houses in the oddest places.   On my last visit to London, Boris passed me on his bike.  He looked wary rather than comfortable.  I did not respond with instant dislike.    The man has a gift for connecting with people.  He was presumably joking when he said that, ‘voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chance of driving a BMW 3’.   We know Boris is no empiricist.   He failed as a management consultant.  ‘Try as I might, I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth chart and stay conscious.’   Those who struggle through the wild unfounded generalisations of the Spectator, the magazine he used to edit, know the feeling.

We cannot be superior because Boris is right.   Britain is full of people who want wives with bigger breasts and who want to increase their chance of driving a BMW 3.  Most of them probably vote Tory and there is nothing more dispiriting than a failed attempt to convince these characters that they would improve their lives if they could only find alternative urges.   Perhaps this will

Maybe Elvis is on Mars...

Maybe Elvis is on Mars…

be the Tory winning ticket, Johnson as leader and Clarkson as his deputy.  Nobody will have any idea of what to do but their fans will like the jokes.   Those who fear Johnson, and that clause alone makes his presence in British politics sinister, assume that the national stage will expose his weaknesses.  Being Mayor of London means you have a modest budget and little choice as to how it will be spent.  The British economy with its workforce of aspiring aristocrats and artists, what a group of Tories has recently called the ‘worst idlers in the world’, will expose the limited concentration of Boris, the man who falls asleep when exposed to a growth chart.   After the last two years, the next stop after Cameron is not likely to be anywhere near Mars.   Johnson, the man who compares himself to Elvis, sounds a likely destination on the ‘Way Down’.


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Elvis Presley Challenge No. 40 – Jimmy Carr

Well, as the great Jack Benny used to say, poor Jimmy Carr.  Eddy Anderson, the sidekick of Benny, might protest as he did every show, ‘Oh, boss, come now.’

The funniest line Carr ever made was probably his defence of his tax avoidance.  ‘I pay what I have to pay and not a penny more.’  So, the 1% that he pays on his £3.3m fortune is begrudged.  But we should notJack Benny expect morality from stand-up comedians.    This is the man who cracked the joke, ‘The male gypsy moth can smell the female moth up to seven miles away – and that fact also works if you remove the word moth.’  The offensive remark led to a BBC apology.  Carr, the sensitive chap that he is, still persists with it on stage.  It is no more elegantly phrased today than when he first told it.   During the Second World War, Jack Benny was keen to stress how all races and nationalities within America were contributing to war effort.  Eddie Anderson was black.   Jack Benny toned down the racial humour after the War and after he became aware of the Holocaust.  Today Jimmy Carr thinks it funny to laugh at gypsies.   Jack Benny was affected by the inhumanity of man that existed in his era.  Jimmy Carr merely wants to be with the inhuman counting his unpaid tax.

In his radio show which was broadcast on March 28 1948, there is a scene where Benny is stopped by a thief.  ‘Don’t make a move,’ says the thief.  ‘This is a stick up.  Now come on.  Your money or your life.’  The radio is silent for an agonising eight seconds but the huge American audience knows how mean Benny is with money.  They stay listening and even laugh during the ridiculously long pause.  ‘Look bud,’ says the exasperated thief eventually.  ‘Your money or your life.’  This time Benny replies quickly.  ‘I’m thinking it over,’ says Benny.   American families explode into laughter and there is a coast to coast crack across the American skies.

Now we have Jimmy Carr and this.   ‘Why are they called Sunshine Variety Coaches when all the kids on them look the same?’  Well, as Jack used to say, if you are going to sneer at gypsies it is only fair that you include the disabled.  Presumably, this is what David Cameron meant by the Big Society.  We will endeavour to be hostile to everyone that is different.  The same ethos applies to his welfare reforms.  There are 17 proposals and the intention is clear.  We punish everyone.  Oddly, Cameron has singled out Jimmy Carr for not paying his taxes, the only person Cameron has criticised.  Carr has a downbeat look and Cameron, a man who specialises in flab of all kinds, is perhaps wary of people with muscle, either physical or intellectual.

Jimmy CarrThe years of Jack Benny were not perfect but there was will and vision after the end of the Second World War, an understanding that we had to help the victims.  America invested huge amounts of money in war damaged Europe and established markets and demand that enabled them to create their high standard of living.   Now we have Jimmy Carr paying 1% tax and Cameron saying that as his Government has absolutely no idea how to create economic growth and jobs it is only sensible to attack the already perilous living standards of the poor.   Thatcher was an unpleasant Tory but she understood that if employers were to benefit (unfortunate choice of word probably) from high unemployment and enjoy a buyers’ market for labour then somebody would have to pay the unemployed to keep quiet.   The rich soon accustomed themselves to the idea of high unemployment but now they do not even want the unemployed to be paid.   It’s trite to say so, but this neo-conservative greed has to stop.

Neo-conservatism digs in best in isolated societies, islands like Great Britain and Australia and the self-contained land mass of America.   It forms roots where the people know as little as possible about the social and economic success of their neighbours, the countries where prejudice, anecdote and sneering operate as substitutes for analysis and thought.  Welcome to Britain in the 21st Century, oh, and Jimmy Carr.  £3.3m is a lot of cash.  Somewhere in that fortune Carr must have concluded he had economic security.  Most people would have considered themselves safe after the first million but it is possible that Carr is an insecure man and two million is required to help him sleep at night.  But we are talking about £3.3m and 1%.  As Eddie Anderson used to say, ‘Oh, boss, come now.’

The Taxpayers Alliance has been quiet about Mister Carr.  The Taxpayers Alliance is the bourgeois equivalent of marijuana smokers who only ever talk about legalising pot.  Two groups united by an absence ofTaxpayers Alliance bag imagination.   If the Alliance has said nothing, strange people with the usual Jeremy Hunt type accents have been appearing on the radio and the television.  The argument of these Taxpayers Alliance members travelling incognito is simple.  1% of £3.3m is £33,000 which is £25,000 more than the tax paid by the average British citizen.  You know the type, they work in pubs and shops and empty bins and so forth.  What Jimmy pays is more than justifiable and our Jimmy is making a fair contribution.   This is how people think in the neo-conservative jungle, well, as Jack used to say, those that own it.  The most sinister aspect of this defence is how it reveals the ultimate neo-conservative ambition.  The tax system will only be fair when multimillionaires like Jimmy Carr are paying £8,000 like everybody else.  Actually, I am not even sure that would keep them happy.  None of the plans that they have implemented in the last thirty years has done anything to weaken their grievances.  Each time they stand for election they complain about Britain as if it was created by someone other than them.  Maybe we should excuse the rich from people paying taxes completely.   Otherwise they will moan into eternity.  That provokes a thought.   Perhaps there is a parallel universe where the rich love paying taxes.  ‘Oh, boss, come now,’ as Eddie used to say.  ‘I know,’ Jack may have said, ‘but there is a lot of infinity.’

Benny belonged to an American generation that signed up to the Marshall Aid Plan and tax rates that involved rich people paying 90% tax.  The money that was collected created infrastructure and jobs and demand and a nation became rich.  It is called basic economics.  Now we have masters who believe affluence should be confined to just a few who can use their influence to encourage us to sneer at the disabled and gypsies.  Let’s face it, they say to a big laugh, none of us like losers.  Jimmy Carr may get indignant about holocausts but he has no qualms about economic corrals for the millions of people who are not in his income group.  This blog has made this point before but Elvis paid 90% tax and avoided tax shelters.  The view of his critics is that it happened because he was a bit thick.  But there is a website that quotes the Will of Elvis as a textbook example.  This suggests that Elvis had decent values.  He was not obsessed with money but he was concerned about the future of his family.  This makes him human, a man who emerged from more civilised times.  Others can think about a suitable term for Jimmy Carr.

‘Well?’ says Jack.

‘Oh, boss, come now,’ says Eddie.

‘I’m thinking it over,’ says Jack.

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