The Sketch: Boris doesn't joke about knife crime

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The Independent Online

During Boris's appearance in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, my mind wandered back to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That was, if you remember, a right-wing, anti-Semitic forgery purporting to be the secret minutes of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. The left aren't above that sort of thing. In the run-up to the mayoral elections The Guardian published articles that might be called The Protocols of the Elders of Eton.

Boris was portrayed in these protocols as a foaming racist with a secret plan to crush the faces of the ethnic poor into their own waste and feed their babies to the BNP. Only the most pathologically political animals were able to believe that. Because the single most obvious thing about Boris is that he is an extremely nice person. Numberless flaws, I dare say, but I've never heard him say a nasty word about anyone. Not even about Bruce Anderson. Take a moment to reflect on that. For all his Conservative instincts – with a natural gallery of enemies – his most obvious characteristic is good nature.

And then his second most obvious characteristic: the way he speaks. More established politicians talk about "a strategic outreach partnership of stakeholders to devolve power from the centre". The public blocks its ears and goes "La la la!" instead of taking notes.

Boris refers to classical authors, and people press forward to catch what he's saying. Educated people, uneducated people, television potatoes, everybody wants to hear what Boris has to say. Thus, on knife crime he said he wants gang fighting to be demystified. "This is not the death of Mercutio we're talking about," he said. Martin Salter, playing the barrow boy, jumped in with: "Who's that? Your education cost more than mine."

I bet a dozen fruit and veg that Martin knows who Mercutio is. Boris wouldn't be drawn. "It comes from a play," he said, "that is readily available," pause, "in all good outlets." And he recommended it to the committee. They felt this to be facetious, but they were mistaken. New Boris no longer aspires to the joke; when jokes occur they are casual by-products of a proper point. "The play," he said, "talks about the bogus atmosphere of glamour and the strong, sentimental feel that can accrue to gang violence."

Some may say Mercutio's death is the most glamorous gang death in literature. But it is possible that the intense study of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet would do as much for gang violence as all the strategic outreach partnerships tried so far.