Let's get some quality clowns into politics

`If I were living in London, I would vote Malcolm McLaren for mayor like a shot'

IF YOU ever needed proof that our media are London-oriented, you need only look at the enormous coverage given to the election campaign for the capital's new mayor. The rest of the country was mildly bored by it when it started, and is bored silly now. Yet mayoral news still flows into the national headlines as welcomely as bath water coming through the ceiling from upstairs. (Is there such a word as "welcomely"? If not, there should be.)

Of course, it's obvious from out here in the sticks what the problem is. So far, all the candidates have been produced by the party political system, which is probably why they have all, so far (except perhaps for the Lib Dem candidate), been rogues and charlatans. Why does anyone think a political party should run London? If neither of the two big ones can even run a candidate selection battle without falling on their backside, what chance will they have of running a whole city?

The only sign of hope is the recent entry into the race of the first honest, decent man to show his colours, Malcolm McLaren. Standing as an independent, he promises to legalise brothels, decriminalise cannabis, provide electric trams and put bars in libraries so that people can read Dickens while drinking Guinness. If I were living in London, I would vote for him like a shot. Not only because he has interesting policies but, even more, because he reminds me of the only decent, honest man ever to stand for the presidency of France. Do you remember the late Coluche? He was a comedian who put his name forward for occupancy of the Elysee palace with the resounding slogan: "If you must have a clown in the Elysee, then vote for a real one!" He was way ahead in the polls when he was pressured to withdraw...

Malcolm McLaren's intervention revives a much older French story for me, one which dates back to 1893. The first book I ever got involved with was the translation of a selection of pieces by Alphonse Allais, a great French humourist who lived from 1854 to 1905. One of Allais's books (his "Anthumous Works", as he called them) was entitled Captain Cap: His Life, His Times and His Cocktail Recipes. It's a series of tales about his friend Albert Capron, known as Captain Cap. Most of these stories are very funny and far-fetched and they almost all involve the mention of a cocktail, for which Allais unfailingly gives the recipe (way ahead of his time there).

But the one episode which involves no cocktail and was not far-fetched describes the time that Captain Cap stood for election as deputy for the Montmartre area of Paris, in 1893. Allais preserved for posterity the ringing tones in which the captain opened his election address. "I am a new man on the scene and I come with new ideas," he declares. "I want you to profit from these ideas, and that is why I offer myself to you. And, if you elect me, you will be sending an honest man to the Palais Bourbon! Need I say more?"

(Echoes of Coluche's "If you want a clown in the Elysee...")

"I have been abroad for 20 years, travelling at sea and in the Far West, and when I come back to my native land at last, alas, what do I find?" asks Cap. "I find lying, cheating, slander, hypocrisy, treachery, nepotism, fraud and corruption! And what is the source of these evils? I will tell you! It is the poisonous microbe of bureaucracy! Yes, the microbe of bureaucracy! Well, one does not pass laws against microbes! One KILLS them!"

As his campaign accelerated, he took to describing himself as the anti- European and anti-bureaucratic candidate, which I think has a certain resonance today, especially if Christopher Booker happens to be reading this. But, much like Mr McLaren, the captain had good and unusual policies on a local level. At a public meeting, he was asked what he intended to do about the unusual and inconvenient height of Montmartre Hill - la Butte de Montmartre.

"I will have it flattened to the level of the rest of Paris!" promised Captain Cap. "Won't that cost a lot of money?" someone asked. "If it turns out to be too expensive, I will have the rest of Paris raised to the level of Montmartre!" pledged the captain.

More about this forgotten political hero next time.

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