So much of our political debate nowadays is viewed through a London filter. Housing shortages, fears about knife crime, worrying about decent secondary schools; they are all are legitimate concerns for people in every part of the country – but they are mega-issues in London.
They are steroid-pumped by experience in the capital and assumed to equally apply to the rest of the country. London opinion, it is casually assumed, is shorthand for British public opinion.
Only it isn’t.
Nowhere is this ill-informed belief more evident than in the persistent chatter that London Mayor Boris Johnson is ‘on manoeuvres’ in his bid to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader and PM.
The obvious explanation for this headlong lurch into surrealism is that Thames Water is putting hallucinogenic compounds into its pipes. What else could generate and sustain such a fantastical suggestion?
Silly season speculation of the most ludicrous kind? This was my initial explanation for this humorous mass delusion; however it shows no sign of abating. The man himself this week proclaimed he has no interest “at the moment” in being Prime Minister; ensuring, of course, that the speculation that he really wants to will drone on for longer than one of Homer’s poems.
But even those for whom Boris is a refreshing antidote to the pallid automatons of British politics will stop short of passing the ringmaster’s hat to the chief clown. Moreover, this rejection will multiply the further from London you care to venture. The Tories already face an electoral desert in northern England and struggle to gain traction in most large cities.
A recent YouGov survey asked the public which other leading Tory should replace David Cameron if he were to step down. Out in front was Boris with 24% of the vote; however this figure was actually 29% in London but just 23% across the north of England, dropping to 18% in Scotland.
With large parts of the north and midlands, not to mention Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the economic deep freeze, the idea that this comedy sketch character could make it to Number Ten in order to make things even worse is greeted with something less than alacrity by millions of us north of the Watford gap.
The same poll asked if people thought their financial circumstances would improve or get worse over the next 12 months. 46% of Londoners thought they would get worse, rising to 55% of Northeners and 58% cent of Scots.
Boris is an in-joke, a metropolitan folly, an indulgence for those who like their politics amusing and irrelevant. Here in the real world, we know we can’t afford him.
Granted, a few more mavericks in British politics would be welcome – and there’s certainly public support for that; but strip away the bravado and all you are left with in Boris’s case is a neo-Lawsonite champion of financial deregulation and the City’s venal interests who, we learn, is now cosying up to Rupert Murdoch while squatting in the remnants of Ken Livingstone’s legacy.
As Bradley Wiggins would put it, Boris is the political equivalent of a celebrity famous for, well, nothing, apart from being themselves. Like Russell Brand, another luxuriously-barneted irritant who uses elongated sentences and abstract metaphors, Boris has as much substance as hydrogen.
The idea that this shambling, incoherent man with no discernible achievements in office is fit to lead a political party, never mind the country, is , as he might put it himself, an inverted pyramid of piffle.
Clearly the role of London Mayor is unlike any other job in British politics; being two parts showbiz to one part public administration. It’s important, but, whisper it, not that critical.
If great issues of our time amount to whether there should be bendy buses or double-decker Routemasters then it is hardly comparable with being Prime Minister. Like being Secretary of State for Defra, it is perfectly conceivable to imagine the world muddling through mayor or no mayor.
Boris may moisten like one of his infamous otters at the prospect of replacing his Bullingdon Club co-diner as Premier, but he is hopelessly, historically, hilariously ill-suited to the job.
And the farther you live from the Westminster bubble, the less you appreciate the prospect.