It took Eddie Mair precisely three minutes and 12 seconds to join Humpo and Paxo on the top plinth of the interviewing pantheon when he chatted with Boris Johnson on BBC1 yesterday. Standing in for Andrew Marr, the lethally mordant Mair pre-empted tonight’s Michael Cockerell documentary with as clinical a dissection as a British politician has endured. The invented quote that cost Boris the Times job, the offer to help Darius Guppy beat up a hack (“You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?” Mair enquired), the reported lies to Michael Howard about an affair... As Mair went line by line through the integrity form-book, Boris did well to hold his temper and not reprise the John Nott flounce-out.
He had every right to feel unfairly ambushed. On the eve of the documentary in which his father Stanley moots a rule change to fast-track him into No 10, he naturally assumed he was there solely to discuss London housing policy. Instead, this high-minded man to whom personal ambition is anathema was subjected to leadership speculation beneath his dignity. Still, we now know who will play him in the biopic. Check out the scene in Scent Of A Woman in which Boris doppleganger Philip Seymour Hoffman, a pupil at New England’s version of Eton, squirms pitiably under interrogation from a caustic headmaster. Uncanny.
A lonely furrow awaits his plough
Meanwhile, Boris flails about for the perfect reference point for his indifference to power. One minute he foresees himself as Cincinnatus, summoned from the plough to become Rome’s dictator at his countrymen’s desperate bidding. The next, he anticipates getting the top job only “if the ball comes loose from the scrum”.
Hard as it is to choose between Farmer Boris and Rugger Bugger Boris, on balance he’d do best to buy a Lincolnshire smallholding and till the soil until Sir Peter Tapsell’s delegation drags him reluctantly back to town. Boris may appear more cavalier than roundhead. But the eastern England agricultural scenario has a pleasingly Cromwellian flavour. We could use a Lord Protector right now. In the name of God, go ... go to your plough, Boris, and await the summons there.
Backbenchers cut through the verbiage
Two frontrunners emerge for the title of Most Hypercerebral Backbencher. Singapore syndicate money brings the Tory Philip Davies and Labour’s Jim Sheridan in to 100-30 joint favourites. While Mr Sheridan called for a parliament ban on impertinent, “parasitic” sketch writers, Mr Davies lacerated Hacked Off for representing “the Hugh Grants of this world”. A beautifully tailored rebuke to such hypocritical Hollywood types as the parents of Millie Dowler and Madeleine McCann. While many of us dread where the Royal Charter will lead, it takes a mind of unusual quality to avoid reducing the complexities to banal cliché, and Mr Davies certainly has one of those.
Stumbling around in the dark
As for the way the Charter was hurriedly agreed in Big Ed Miliband’s office, I am saddened to find the PM’s special envoy under attack for sleepily wandering into a trap. The last recorded instance of Oliver Letwin being roused from his bed famously saw him opening the front door at 5am to a man who said he was desperate for a pee, and then burgled him. The analogy speaks for itself, and if No 10 could find no one more worldly to do its bidding – where was the Downing Street cat? – they should at least have pumped the poor sap full of Pro Plus.
Mysteries in the Mail archives
Any form of press censorship is a grievous thing, as the Daily Mail leads the way in reminding us. Meanwhile, a Richard Littlejohn item from December recently vanished from the Mail website. This concerned Lucy Meadows, the transgender teacher who died, seemingly by her own hand, last week.
Richard’s mingling of general sympathy for transgender people with specific alarmism about the “devastating effect” the change in their teacher would have on Ms Meadows’s students would no doubt appear even more poignant now.
Over the moon at humanity’s heights
In a rare foray into the public eye, J.M. Coetzee outs himself as a fan of Roger Federer. A Federer cross-court backhand volley, he writes, leaves him “exalted at the revelation of what a human being – a human being like oneself – can do.” Not bad, but Coetzee is no Simon Barnes, the determinedly unpretentious Times sportswriter who described the Swiss as “every bit as myriad-minded as Shakespeare”.