THE LAST WORD

This week we've had yet another twist in the seemingly never-ending saga of who will be the Mayor of London. Well, not actually that saga but one of its sub-sagas: who will be eligible to be the Conservative candidate to run for the post. And what a battle of Titans it is: Steve Norris, who as far as anyone knows has never done a thing, and Jeffrey Archer, who has done quite enough, thank you. A second-hand car salesman and a second-hand story salesman - what a pair.

If you're not up on the latest brouhaha, Norris has said the sort of thing people say about Archer every ten minutes and the silly bugger "forgot" that there was a radio crew following him around taping his every utterance, so it got on the news. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

What does this tell us? First that Norris is either far stupider or far cleverer than any of us had ever suspected. My money's on the latter - Mister Mistress is clearly capable of sustaining one of the most complex (and unlikely) love lives of modern political times - so you can't believe for a moment that he "forgot" about the radio crew. And as for "Lord" Archer - has anyone actually checked up on this peerage, or is this another embellishment? - is he really the best the capital can expect? Or is it Lurking Ken Livingstone? Or good old Glenda? (Does being on Morecambe and Wise truly befit a mayoral candidate?)

Of course, the smoke surrounding the people running for mayor means that the actual question of whether we really do need a mayor in some ghastly glass building in London has got pushed to one side. Of course we do, we're told; who could possibly vote "against" democracy? More democracy, democracy everywhere, we're all in favour of that, aren't we? After all, it was a central plank of the Government's manifesto; though, if we're honest, they could have put anything in that manifesto and we'd have voted for them.

Anyway, when it comes to being in favour of democracy, maybe I'm not. I spent August in Edinburgh and it was just dawning on an apparently stunned public that the Scots Parliament was in fact going to be peopled by a whole fresh intake of politicians. That's right, politicians, the least respected creatures in the universe. And folks were acting like they had been tricked by one bunch of politicians into voting in a whole lot of other politicians. Er, well yes. The 2p-in-the-pound-not-that-we'll-use- it-but-we-might-well-ban-smoking-in-public-places- Parliament means that there are lots of flats springing up on the Holyrood Road, lovely new hotels, cab companies lining up for the contracts the talking shop will be handing out. Fantastic. It might not have any powers but it's good for business - especially the business of politics. Lucky old Scotland.

But don't worry, we're going to get ours, too. That's right, we're promised a whole host of Regional Representative Bodies which will doubtless mean more po-faced made-up "traditions" - some East Anglian Assembly perhaps, with the Speaker dressed up as a whicker man. Or something. But what we get is another tier of local government. Mention that to most people and how do they react? Not with the hand-wringing enthusiasm that the Prime Minister shows for all things regional. And what are these assemblies going to do? The council does the bins, between clamping my car and fining me for my dog shitting on the pavement, so the mayor's office or the South- east Assembly or Home Counties Chamber will have to think up something else to do.

Of course, Steve and Jeff sum up the whole thing rather neatly - local government sucks up small timers like this, so really the Tories couldn't have plumped for two more ideal candidates. They rather make my point for me. And if this does go ahead and Jeff wins the Big One, the Government will get what it wants and, coincidentally, deserves - and one of its first visible achievements really will be Lord Archer as Mayor of London. And how could anyone vote against that?

`Al Murray - The Pub Landlord' is on national tour and will be at the New Ambassadors Theatre every Sunday from 26 September to 12 December.

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