i Editor's Letter: Damned if they are and damned if they're not


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The Independent Online

During the last London mayoral contest, I spoke to Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone frequently.

Both are what we euphemistically term "characters" – for which read the rare politician who might go off-message or do or say a newsworthy thing, beyond scripted platitudes that so benight what public figures really believe. They are like that in private too. Each can be witty and charming; both can be boorish too.

You don't get to be known among Joe Public by Christian name alone by blending with the pack – although, in fairness, there are not too many Borises in British public life. George Galloway might do it, but dropping the "Galloway" is at the expense of acquiring a "Gorgeous".

Amid the kerfuffle about Boris calling Ken "a f***ing liar" in the lift (p6) after their radio debate, a big opportunity for real debate on their policies has been lost. Again. It's a danger inherent in any single-post election, as the rest of the UK will discover when city mayor and other electoral races become a national sport. Look for huge interest in Humberside's police commissioner elections if Prezza stands in November.

Most of us would say that elected officials should speak for and be themselves, and not adhere to a script. But the reality is that poor Francis Maude WAS being himself, as he plunged us into the fuel crisis. He has been replaced as the spokesman on this crisis by the non-Oxbridge Mike Penning – safer, but less fun.

In Britain, our leaders are damned if they are too polished and slick (Blair, Cameron) but also damned if they're not (Ed Miliband, Brown). Neither Boris nor Ken are slick, but both are more skillful than their occasional buffoonery suggests. Are they both conviction mavericks or simply self-serving opportunists? They have til 3 May to persuade us.