Anyone fancy a calypso with Frank Dobson?
Monday 08 November 1999
One thing that the cat-fight over the post of London's mayor has done is to return a lot of tomfoolery to the political stage. No one has yet promised availability of a recording studio on production of an under- 16 travelcard, or guaranteed space on the city's buses for struggling stand-up comedians (and what's wrong with that?), but things may be about to change. The outlines of a battle over London's culture - surely to be pronounced "kow-chaa" - are faintly discernible.
The simple presence of Ken Livingstone is one factor; he is as firmly wedded to the politics of twin towns and same-sex urban lidos as to his Keynesian principles. And, maybe in preparation for Ken's decisive entry into the race, Jeffrey Archer has staged a pre-emptive claim to cultural frippery to go with the mayoralty, creating a heartwarming picture of a London in which black women dress far better than they used to, you know. Perhaps he'll give them a grant-in-aid for funky gear?
In truth, all the aspirant candidates must be sweating cobs over their cultural platforms. In keeping with her image of sour-faced self-righteousness, Glenda Jackson (which no number of appearances on Have I Got News for You will rectify) would no doubt twin London with Grozny. Frank Dobson, meanwhile, would be well advised to go for something altogether more cuddly, turning to his advantage the fact that he looks like one of those faux town-criers they now have at Heathrow and the smaller home counties market towns. "Oyez, oyez!" he should cry. "I shall twin London with Eccles, on account of their exceedingly good cakes!"
Well, he is from up there, somewhere, anyway.
Tea dances at the Wigmore Hall and weekly tug-of-war contests would inevitably follow.
Tony Banks's possible re-entry threatens a cultural boredom that would be utterly stifling. There are few more yawn-inducing capital stereotypes than the football bore; the drawbacks of reciprocal municipal arrangements with AC Milan and an annual "wear your kit to work" day hardly need mentioning. No - even the stranger-than-fiction pot-pourri of hubris, sentimentalism and bumbling inanity offered by Jeffrey Archer would be preferable.
Under Archcreep, London would be twinned with New York - "because, just like them, we are the capital of the world!" Airships in the shape of black cabs would hover over the Thames. Successful asylum-seekers wearing Union Jack turbans would sell chicken tikka masala - with half rice, half chips. All official literature would contain both English and rhyming slang translations (a bit like Wales or Belgium).
As for Ken, whichever banner he marches under, the cultural agenda would surely be a welcome return to the halcyon days of the mid-Eighties. Vast billboards proclaiming "Not a GM crop from Ruislip to Hainault"; Billy Bragg will take up residence in an outdoor installation, belting out Woody Guthrie songs backed by visiting Caribbeans.
My own hope is that Ken Livingstone gets the Labour nomination. Last week Frank Dobson reluctantly said that if the unthinkable happened, he would have to support Ken. So, just imagine: Ken's victory celebrations, the socialist calypso ringing from the South Bank, and Dobbo shimmying along like the bastard offspring of Bill Maynard and Boris Yeltsin.
Could life in London get any better?
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