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Boris Johnson: Still a 'Nasty Piece of Work'?

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The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is not - despite his carefully cultivated Bumble the Clown image - a stupid man. So we must assume that he knew exactly what he was doing when he delivered his typically rumbustious "greed is good" speech in memory of Margaret Thatcher a couple of nights ago.

And what he was doing was giving the Conservative party - the party of which he is a leading member and was once an MP - a great big almighty shove towards electoral defeat in two years' time.

"Vote Conservative, the party of the greedy Gordon Gekkos." The Labour party posters write themselves, don't they? I hope Ed Miliband has written him a thank you note.

But why, pray, would Boris Johnson, the man who so desperately, so painfully, wants to be the next Conservative party leader, try to ensure that his fellow Tories are voted out of office in 2015?

The answer, dear friends, is in the question. The only hope - I repeat, the only hope - that Mr Johnson has of taking over from David Cameron is if the Tories lose next time round. Because if they win, Mr Cameron goes on and on, and his faithful lieutenant George Osborne is in pole position to inherit the crown when the time comes.

Cynical, moi? Guilty as charged. Ambition makes monsters of men, and Boris has ambition by the bucketload. For him to win the prize he covets, Cameron must lose. That's how politics works.

The word that springs to mind - and not only because this week marked the start of the Jewish Hannukah festival - is chutzpah. It means cheek, audacity, sheer bloody effrontery. Mr Johnson has it in spades.

Not just because he happily stabs the prime minister in the front, but because he somehow thinks it's all right to heap praise on the hedge fund managers and other City types who live their lives motivated by greed - without once, not once, not even in a throwaway line, mentioning the responsibility they bear for the melt-down of 2008-9 and the misery they inflicted, and are still inflicting, on millions of their fellow citizens.

I read about Boris Johnson's speech in yesterday morning's newspapers. I also read this, in The Guardian: "Local council funding for 'quality of life' services such as leisure centres, libraries and playgrounds will largely disappear in the next three years as authorities focus their depleted resources on crisis interventions for the poorest people, a study says:

"Only a rump of services used predominantly by the poorest and most vulnerable residents, such as child protection and elderly care, will remain, warns the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report ... Children's centres, youth services, arts and culture activities, neighbourhood wardens and street cleaning are already being cut back, while social care services for elderly people are being restricted to those with the most critical needs, it says."

What's the connection? Well, as you may remember, when the banks went belly-up, due in large part to an excess of Johnson-approved greed, the government bailed them out. It cost, to coin a phrase, loadsamoney. Public spending was slashed, and that included what the Treasury hands over to local authorities. We were all in this together. Remember?

So, not to put too fine a point on it, good old Johnsonian greed in the City is magically transmogrified into shut down leisure centres, libraries and drop-in centres.

The Boris vision is that what local councils can no longer afford, mega-rich business tycoons will pick up the tab for, in a spirit of what he calls "prodigious philanthropy". To quote the man himself: "I hope that ... the Gordon Gekkos of London are conspicuous not just for their greed - valid motivator though greed may be for economic progress - as for what they give and do for the rest of the population, many of whom have experienced real falls in their incomes over the last five years."

So it's not that he doesn't realise that the "rest of the population" have taken a hit; it's simply that he thinks we're not greedy enough. Or, given that he also thinks that inequality is a fact of life, predicated at least in part on the widely discredited notion of IQ, just not bright enough.

I'm reminded of my former colleague Eddie Mair's challenge to him on TV a few months back: "You're a nasty piece of work, aren't you?"

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