English, eccentric and endearing: how Boris wins votes
12 October 2007
Thought for the day. Ah, yes, right, jolly good. We like thoughts, don’t we? No need to go over the top and become a complete and utter swot (thank you Willett, you can go now) but no one in politics should be a downright thicko (and goodnight to you, Prescott). When it comes to appealing to Mr and Mrs Nobody of Nowhere New Town, it is P for Personality that counts.
What they want is jokes, surprises, a funny voice, an interesting hair-style – the kind of celebrity juggler who can keep his balls in the air while talking about policy at the same time. Frankly, that’s not as easy as it looks.
The question is, what thought? Something neat, I imagine, comprehensible to our old friend oi polloi, but not so simple-minded that the sewer-rats of the fourth estate can get their yellow, pestiferous fangs into the Johnson ankle. Bright but not dazzling, intelligent but without any of that highly suspect cove, the egghead – what you call a delicate balance.
I know. Bendy buses! Now that’s what I call a thought for the day. They’re serious, in their own bendy way – they squash cyclists, we’re all meant to be terribly serious about public transport these days – but they are still passably amusing. Say it soft, and a chap looks like he’s in touch with real issues. Say it loud, and the studio audience are wetting their kecks with laughter. Bendy buses adhere to my rule of the three Es of public announcement – they are English, eccentric and endearing.
Is there anyone out there who has mastered the three Es as well as I have? It’s a funny old Unique Selling Point, I grant you, but it seems to work. I just have to appear on Have I Got News For You, say “bendy buses” in my amusing, mad Latin-master way and the votes flood in. Poor old Ken thought he had the three Es cracked when he started banging on about his newts but, frankly, he was out of his depth.
That’s another great thing about bendy buses. They show that while I happen to have attended a certain academy near Slough, and an academic institution in the city of Oxford, I’m still in touch with the strap-hanging classes. As they try to squeeze their noisome frames on to the No 294, they say to themselves, “Good old Boris, bit of a plonker but his heart’s in the right place. He’s one of us.”
I’ve got a hinterland, you see. Boy, have I got a hinterland. Columns, TV shows, novels, a spot of history here, a spot of how’s-your-father there – anyone would think that I was too bored with politics to bother about it, perish the thought.
Which brings me to the question of what my thought about bendy buses should be. The great thing about transport as material for a soundbite is that it’s almost impossible to put your foot in it. You can’t accuse a bus of being “too full of drugs, obesity, underachievement” in the manner of Portsmouth or wallowing in sentimentality, like a Scouser. It’s solid, is a bendy bus, uncontroversial.
Talking of thoughts, I had a wizard one the other day. It suddenly occurred to me that I might just get away with this. No, don’t laugh just for a moment – this wheeze could actually work. While the Government drifts rudderless on Gordon’s Good Ship Lollipop across a sea of good intentions and the Liberal Democrats are sucked into a black hole on nothingy niceness, I just sit here, striking amusingly daft poses. People are so rigidly, terminally bored by what they have been watching for the past few years, that they turn to me. For them, I’m somewhere between Billy Bunter and Hugh Grant. They laugh. They vote. It’s a sort of miracle.
All of which brings me finally to the very important question of the bendy bus. What, no more time? But I could keep going like this for another hour or so, if you want. Just have a word with my agent.