Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Boris Johnson kisses babies, poses for selfies - and quotes Sappho


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Indy Politics

The Mayor of London was in a stationer’s shop in New Malden discussing Sappho. As you do.

A customer revealed – to everyone’s surprise – that he had been “listening” to her poetry. And added – as if this was bound to appeal to his famous visitor – that the verses had been about “beautiful women”. But he couldn’t recite a Sapphic line. Boris, of course, could. In Greek. “Mit emoi meli miti melissa,” he declaimed to his bemused audience. (Neither honey nor bee for me.)

Whatever qualifications he lacks, Johnson will, if he ever makes it, be the first classicist PM since Harold Macmillan. And his progress through south-west London was reassuringly old-fashioned. In that he engaged with voters, unlike most top Coalition politicians in the campaign so far.

He co-operated in dozens of selfies. He survived the friendly, if overbearing, attentions of an elderly Korean homelessness activist. He discussed urban regeneration with shopkeepers. And he was lethally quick off the mark.

 A recently widowed Lebanese woman named Marie Abouaked, who is anxious to bring her mother over to Britain to help her cope with the bereavement, said she had had no answer from the local Lib Dem MP Ed Davey. “Your luck is in, he told her. “You’ve got a whole bunch of politicians here who need votes.” 

When the Kingston Tory candidate James Berry told local mother Julie Cully, agitated at the High Street’s run-down, that at least there was a new Nando’s, Johnson paused for a split second, suggesting he may not be a habitué. “Nando’s. Fantatstic,” he said, gamely recovering. “James has single-handedly brought Nando’s here”. 

And they mostly loved it. The driver of a 263 bus hooted his greetings. A group of teenage Muslim girls in headscarves squealed with delight at getting into a picture with him. Brittany Stewart, a 16-year-old schoolgirl said after the inevitable joint selfie: “He’s great. I don’t know much about governmental things, But he gives really good vibes.”

Whether this stardust translates into victory over the Lib Dems here is uncertain. In Sutton, retired bus driver Sadiq Mohammed,78, warmly thanked him for “all you have done for transport”. But on voting intentions admitted: “I don’t know.” Barbara Sanders advanced on him, shaking with anger. “Why are you selling London off to money launderers, leaving people homeless? I hope you never become Prime Minister.”

But you have to hand it to Boris. Suddenly it seemed finally as if a real – rather than a virtual – election was under way.

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