Seven and a half years ago, when Londoners were given their first chance to elect a mayor (one whose duties extended beyond parading their bling outside the Royal Courts of Justice), it seemed a bit like choosing between well, between Berlusconi and Prodi or Chirac and Le Pen or Mbeki and Zuma. Did you go for the lizard-lipped left-wing maverick, champion of the poor and the scaly, or the jowly right-wing maverick, lover of liberty and ladies? The Labour fall-guy, like that nice young man who's just been elected leader of something or other this week, just wasn't an option.
As we all know, Ken won. (It must have been those "100 per cent Zulu boy" T-shirts, or am I getting confused?) And, in spite of declaring that he wouldn't run again, he won again in 2004. In his seven years in power, he's done some good things, some bad things and some nutty things. He's got Londoners off their bums and on to their feet by swapping Routemasters, where you can sit comfortably and gaze out of the window, for bendy buses, where you can gaze at your neighbour's dandruff and strengthen your calf muscles while listening to the comforting splat of a cyclist under the wheels.
He's put on an awful lot of parties in an awful lot of parks. Name a religion and he'll bring out the bongos and the steel pans. He's made oil deals with Latin American presidents in order to get cheap bus passes for low-wage Londoners. He's cut congestion. And he's raised the quality of the national political debate by distributing a marvellous free newspaper, The Londoner in a template he could also, surely, sell on to Chavez, or perhaps Putin.
What you can't say about Livingstone, however, (unless you're Jewish and can't greet a light-hearted quip about a concentration camp guard with appropriate levity) is that he's racist. Boy has Ken been working hard to keep us all happy. You put your left leg in, left leg out, in, out, in, out, shake it all about, do the hokey cokey and you turn around and before you know it you've got funds for your "celebrating diversity" community project/online training programme/ film/rap/poetry jamboree.
Well, actually, if recent reports are to be believed, that would be excessively energetic. You can write a funding proposal if you like, but why not just recycle the last one? And you don't, obviously, have to do any of the stuff you've said you'll do on the form. That would be exhausting. If you play your cards right, you can even claim rent for premises you get for free or, in contemporary funding terms, money for old rope. If, that is, you're a mate of the Mayor's Senior Policy Advisor on Equalities, Lee Jasper.
Yesterday, it was announced that Brixton Base, an organisation run by a close friend of Jasper's, and funded by the London Development Agency, has closed down. The organisation, which aims to connect "Talents to Opportunity and Enterprise", and which occupied an LDA-owned building for a year rent-free, received 535,000 to run three short training courses (one of which, apparently, was funded largely out of the course-leader's own pocket). It is, according to allegations in the Evening Standard, one of 11 organisations run by friends or associates of Mr Jasper to have received a total of at least 2.5m from City Hall in return for little or nothing. Opportunity and Enterprise indeed.
Maybe this is all a horrible misunderstanding. Maybe it's the best investment of Londoners' money ever made. But if it isn't, the Mayor is to be congratulated for his services to race relations. With friends like that, who needs the BNP?
Dance to the music of changing times
Speaking of the BNP, a new dynasty may be afoot. It's such a romantic story. Gorgeously Aryan English National Ballet dancer Simone Clarke hit the headlines in March when it was revealed that she was a card-carrying member of the BNP. For some reason, her Cuban-Chinese partner Yat-Sen Chang took umbrage, but consolation arrived, with a bouquet of red roses and white lilies, in the form of the BNP's handsomely Aryan mayoral candidate, Richard Barnbrook. Love blossomed and now the couple are engaged. There's just one potential fly in the ointment: Simone's mixed-race daughter, Olivia, who is Chang's daughter.
Barnbrook has claimed that mixed-race children are "washing out the identity" of Britain's "indigenous people". He is, however, prepared to overlook his fiance's past indiscretion. Love conquers all, etc.
I love posh hotels. Not to stay in, obviously, but I love swanning around in their bars. Which is why I felt a little stab of regret when I contemplated the closure for refurbishment of the Savoy this week.
For years I've been meeting friends for a wee snifter or two in the "Thames foyer". For the price of a glass of house white, you can enter the halls of the rich and famous and gaze upon a vista of English elegance and American swank. And, to the rippling soundtrack of a grand piano, you can stuff your face with salted almonds, and tasty home-made crisps. And when the nibbles tray is, embarrassingly, empty, the waiter will whisk it away and replace it. Without a word or a sneer.
I'm not absolutely sure that this was the top priority for Monet and Whistler and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles, but they were clearly not immune to the Savoy's chintzy charms. Sometimes, the best things in life are, indeed, free. And just a little bit camp.Reuse content