Christopher Owens has been reading a book on the likely next British Prime Minister.
By the time you read this, Boris Johnston could very well be the next (and maybe last) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
His success takes in many factors: nostalgia for the British Empire, deference to status, overtures to celebrity culture and actions/comments passed off as Dennis the Menace style mischief to hide the (at times) racist and classist undertones running through his 'gaffes' (who can forget this classic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZd-siQ2fuw).
So commentators have been looking back at his time as Mayor of London to gauge how a man notorious for having a low boredom threshold will cope running a deeply divided nation. Thankfully, Douglas Murphy has given us this magnificent read which mainly shows up Boris in ways you might not have considered.
Being an architecture correspondent and blogger, Murphy spends most of the book examining the various 'follies' involving Boris that were meant to boost London in 2012 to coincide with the Olympics. And what he shows is a man who has little in the way of imagination, but plenty of drive to get what he wants done. Especially if the people involved are friends of his.
If you want a perfect example, look at the front cover.
That's the ArcelorMittal Orbit, rather optimistically described as " London's most exciting attraction" by the Olympic Park website. Not only is it an utter calamity to look at (resembling a decommissioned funfair ride), but it also cost nearly £20 million (partly funded through public spending), and has been losing over £500,000 a year since 2012.
All of this despite Boris proclaiming it as a future example of "the perfect iconic cultural legacy" that London has given the world. Clearly, he's someone who thinks 'iconic' means 'immediate.'
Aside from critiquing the final product, Murphy also explores the history of each proposal. The same names crop up time and time age, showing how Boris is fond of cronyism. What Murphy concludes is that Boris masks 'art' as 'property to let' for various countries and corporations to use and abuse. The end result is an even bleaker terrain than what had been there beforehand, both in terms of visuals and sustainability.
Tellingly, a recent report shows that the post 2012 Olympics boom has utterly deteriorated, with the various areas suffering from greater poverty than in 2009, a lower quality of life and even sporting activities suffering.
So much for ping pong coming home then.
Moving through other projects, some realised and some abandoned, Murphy demonstrates that Boris is little more than an opportunist, both in terms of his need to have been seen to do "something" about the housing crisis in London (regardless of whether it was the best idea) and his deferral to the establishment (witness his constant defence of the Metropolitan Police during the Ian Tomlinson affair, describing the criticism as "an orgy of cop bashing").
While this may be an outlook that makes for a lasting political career, it also leads to vanity projects vandalising the skyline and being funded by the taxpayer. If Boris does become PM, it will be entirely appropriate, and for all the wrong reasons.
Read this, and feel your eyes water at the amount of money spent in the name of ego.
Douglas Murphy, 2017, Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson. Repeater Books ISBN-13: 978-1910924570
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.