Only Clown Boris Offers Hope For Disillusioned Voters

As is often the case, the most interesting speech delivered by a politician this year was also the most under-reported.

This was all the remarkable given the politician in question was Boris Johnson and his address was to the City of London. What Johnson offered was something so rare in our modern political discourse that it may need a preservation order: hope.

The London Mayor started his speech with an almost Miliband-esque critique of the problems facing the country, though his analysis was delivered in characteristically more florid language. People are worried that “all this growth is really for the benefit of someone else: rootless cosmopolitan bankers, buy-to leave oligarchs,” he said.Johnson is almost alone in being able to inject into politics a sense of optimismIn a cute piece of positioning, Johnson then announced he rejected the “pseudo-nostalgia of the left and the right” before setting out his vision of what the country, and obviously London, could become. This would be a “united and self-confident kingdom”, he declared, happy with its multi-culturalism and unafraid of progress.

There is another occasion for auditing his time in City Hall, not least his hiking of bus fares for the poorest and the lamentable record on house building, but you cannot deny Johnson is almost alone in being able to inject into politics a sense of optimism.

For the Tories, David Cameron appears to have a sealed a pact with the Australian Faust Lynton Crosby which has seen him surrender the compassionate Conservatism of pre 2010 for a ruthless, calculated prospectus devoid of idealism and based on the lowest of margins.

And in doing so, a Prime Minister who has always been at ease with the showmanship side of politics and who is as comfortable on the daytime TV sofa as at the Despatch Box, has shown glimpses of his less engaging side - a curtness and condescension. Yes, he demonstrates leadership, particularly when compared with Ed Miliband, but by pressing that advantage he demonstrates the crueller elements in his personality.

Convincing people he is a Prime Minister in waiting, still remains Mr Miliband’s greatest challenge. Though such is his self belief, he may be the last person to recognise this. Given his limitations, the shaping of Labour’s message becomes even more important.

One shadow Cabinet minister, who could not be described as a Blairite, was in despair last week at the incessant attack on business. It was, he said, a disaster that could cost Labour votes in marginal seats such as Swindon and Crawley which are needed if his party, as the polls predict, suffers a Tartan trouncing from the SNP.By peddling largely negative messages Tories and Labour alienate further voters already disengaged with politicsPerhaps this voice was heard as Mr Miliband recalibrated his message in Monday’s speech at Jaguar Land Rover when he almost broke the gear box by trying to sing the praises of responsible capitalism.

Despite this belated conversion, the impression remains that Labour is happier bashing bankers than extolling entrepreneurship. Labour insiders tell me one of the reasons Mr Miliband went so aggressively after Lord Fink and the Boots boss Stefano Pessina was it motivates the grassroots.

Similarly, the Tories know that being tough on welfare energises their supporters, which is why Iain Duncan Smith remained at Work and Pensions in the reshuffle that removed Michael Gove from Education.

Both parties will deny they are pursuing a core vote strategy but they privately accept they have little choice when the political concertina is being pulled to its full extent by the Greens on one hand and UKIP on the other.

Many will welcome the purity which comes with polarisation after two decades of Blairite triangulation but the irony at the heart of this is that by playing to their respective galleries and peddling largely negative messages they alienate further voters already disengaged with politics.

In previous elections, the Lib Dems have tried to provide the antidote. This time round Nick Clegg’s message is a dismal capitulation where his strongest - and apparently only - line is the Lib Dems are neither spendthrift Labour nor heartless Tories. By defining yourself against the others, you automatically demote the uniqueness of your policy agenda.

The answer to anti-politics is grown-up politics, where you treat voters as intelligent, compassionate and aspirational. It may seem a strange conclusion to draw but Boris Johnson, the clown of City Hall, appears to have grasped this more readily that the rest of his class.

Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror

More about the author

About the author

Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror. He has worked in Westminster for 15 years including spells on the Birmingham Post, Scotsman and the London Evening Standard. A hispanophile, he has also written for El Mundo and has a deep interest in Spanish and Catalan history, culture and food.

Follow Jason on Twitter.

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