It’s time for Boris to show us the Statesman
His Grace isn’t prone to jumping on bandwagons: in fact, were he to spy one, he would be more likely to throw himself under it than associate himself with anything that smacks of undiscerning tribalism or the populist mob mentality. But the chorus of demands for our political leaders to curtail their holidays and return to fix the latest instalment of ‘Broken Britain’ was rightly judged. Nick Clegg, sadly, has been invisible and ineffectual; and Theresa May too dispassionate and hopelessly scripted. Some will want to hear today what David Cameron has to say, but His Grace can safely predict it will be nothing more than a phlegmatic, formulaic statement of the blindingly obvious: condemnation of the criminals, support for the victims, and praise for the police.
Only Boris appears to have any politically-daring spontaneity about him. Of all our senior politicians, only he possesses the capacity to splutter anger or express authentic indignation and disgust. And only he appears to possess the humanity to reach out with genuine sympathy and compassion to London’s shopkeepers, workers and residents who have had their property destroyed and their worlds torn apart. To Londoners, he is just Boris – the Mayor with mojo; the bloke with the common touch; the geezer who says it like it is, innit.
As civil strife smoulders beneath the blazing buildings, we’ve reached a point of national crisis in need of a leader of calibre. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was with New York on September 11th 2001; George W Bush was too long absent from New Orleans after Katrina in 2005; and Her Majesty the Queen too far from London after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. The presence is often only symbolic, but invariably politically potent. In an age where seeming is all, the leader must be seen.
It is, frankly, quite incredible that the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Chancellor, Home Secretary, and the Mayor of London should have all scheduled their holidays to coincide. But it is nowhere near as incredible as having to watch London burning with scarcely a fire-fighter to be seen; and shops and business being looted while the police just stand by and watch. It is the sort of impotence and inaction that provokes deep anger and dismay. The law permits a man to use reasonable force to defend his property: it is a cause of great shame that the law enforcer cannot apparently be bothered to intervene to defend either the victim or his property, let alone attempt to restore order. It’s as though our emergency services have been bludgeoned and paralysed by reams of Health & Safety legislation, and so they do nothing. Such contempt for right and abdication of responsibility is the foundation of extra-judicial punishment and vigilantism.
But His Grace wishes to emphasise – in case one should be swayed by the unrelenting 24/7 media focus (remember Egypt? Syria? Libya? Eurogeddon? Chris Huhne?) – that these riots are not the stuff of civil war or revolution: they have neither strategy nor cohesive purpose; they are random, spontaneous, anarchic and nihilistic. This is not the Blitz: we must keep a sense of proportion.
It has been suggested that Boris made a mistake in his determination to carrying on camping in Canada while his city burned. Mike Smithson pointed out that Boris doesn’t seem to care if he wins or loses next year. Tottenham Conservatives said his refusal to return immediately will count against him. And James Kirkup thinks Boris may have ‘blown his mayoral re-election’.
A mistake? Yes, quite possibly. But Boris is like Teflon, and by 2012 this will all be largely forgotten and he will be forgiven. It's what he does from this day forward that’s important. While the media focus appears to be on what David Cameron must do or say, His Grace would like to point Mayor Boris in just one direction:
This heart-breaking photograph is of Mr Aaron Biber. He is 89 years old, and has had his barber’s shop in Tottenham for 41 years. It has been ransacked, smashed and looted: thieves stole Mr Biber's haircutting equipment, and even the kettle he used to make tea. He can no longer work, has no income, and faces ruin.
While other politicians pontificate and patronise, only you, Boris, are capable of expressing sincere empathy with Londoners like Mr Biber. Only you are capable of restoring communion and relationship; of inculcating balance and harmony; of inspiring mutuality and solidarity; of putting an arm of your ineffable charisma around the downtrodden and oppressed; of lifting the spirits of the people of Tottenham, Enfield, Brixton, Hackney, Haringey, Wood Green, Croydon, Ealing, Peckham, Camden, Colliers Wood, Notting Hill, Lewisham…
They won’t all welcome you, of course. But Mr Biber probably will, so please go and see him. Here’s his shop at 22 Scotland Green, Tottenham:
Oh, and buy the old chap a kettle, would you? His Grace would be happy to pay for it, for it is the Christian, compassionate and conservative thing to do.
A number of readers and communicants have been asking how they may assist Mr Biber. His Grace knows of no direct fund, but is pleased to announce that his Collection Plate (up right, just beneath Twitter feed) is now dedicated to the cause. All monies received will be forwarded to Mr Biber to help replace his stolen equipment (with no deductions for administrative or distributive purposes). Please give as much as you are able (Mt 25: 31-40; Lk 21:1-4).