Fancy that! Boris Johnson and beeswax

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So after having failed to convince ex-PM John Major, the Tories now propose Boris Johnson (full name: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson) as Ken Livingstone‘s challenger for the 2008 London Mayoral elections! A brilliant journalist he may be – as was Winston Churchill before entering politics – but Ken Livingstone has the track record of solid delivery and successful engagement.

Under Ken’s leadership and vision, London today celebrates its cosmopolitan feel and rich diversity. Mayor Ken has empowered communities, streamlined the city’s services and is poised to lead it to the 2012 Olympic Games.

And What is Boris Johnson’s track record? It is a bit like Simba trying to take the place of Mufasa the Lion King. Wait till June 2012 Simba! Elected as Tory MP for Henley (taking up Michael Haseltine’s seat) in 2001, Boris Johnson has lurched from one scandal to another and will have difficulty shaking off a playboy image. His parliamentary interventions reflect little interest in London affairs or the minutiae of local government. It is easy for those embedded in the Daily Telegraph or The Spectator to take swipes,but Boris has no track record of ever managing a public institution. His record as a journalist and novelist (author of a political novel Seventy Two virgins) are not confidence-inspiring credentials. In another book ‘The Dream of Rome’, Boris Johnson proposes that every child in the EU should be required to read Aeneid by the time of their 16 birthday!

During the debates in Parliament on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill (June 2005) Boris Johnson was an ardent opponent of a law to ban incitement to religious hatred. He belonged to the camp which saw this as an attack on free speech. He also was dismissive about Muslim concerns for Islamophobia:

“I oppose the Bill because I think it could amount to an almost medieval repression of free speech. I speak as a politician and a journalist who is accustomed to saying things that some people find inflammatory and offensive. I have been accused of offending whole cities in this country. I hope that that will prove to have been a chastening experience. I also hope that if I say anything inflammatory this evening, I will secure some protection from the fact that I am the first Member of Parliament for Henley whose paternal grandfather was a Muslim, or at least born a Muslim. How about that? I bet hon. Members did not know that. It is hard to know where to begin my condemnation of the Bill, but I will begin with the motives behind it. We have heard that it is intended to combat the scourge of Islamophobia and the attacks on Muslims mentioned by Labour Members, which are said to have increased since 11 September 2001. The problem was taken so seriously by the European Commission that it commissioned a report. It discovered that in the four months following 11 September, there had been 12 serious attacks on British Muslims. Of course that is 12 attacks too many, but in the words of the excellent Asian-British journalist Kenan Malik, it does not in itself amount to a climate of vicious Islamophobia. (House of Commons debate, 21st June 2005)

The result of the actions of Boris Johnson and fellow travelers was that the law relating to criminalising incitement to racial hatred is different from the one criminalising incitement to religious hatred. So abusing and insulting behaviour to say Jews and Sikhs is an offence; the same threshold of the law does not apply to Muslims. Thank you Boris.

In the Commons debate, Boris Johnson also put forward the line of argument that incitement to racial hatred better deserved criminalization because a person could not avoid their ethnicity – but not incitement to religious hatred because faith adherence was a matter of choice:

It is obvious that there is a category difference between one’s race, which is a question of nature, and one’s religion, which is a matter of choice, conscience and belief. If a religion is worth believing in, it ought to be strong enough to withstand the most scurrilous and monstrous attacks“.

What would he have to say of sociologist Tariq Modood’s analysis: “..the idea that religion is about belief that can be voluntarily renounced , but race is about one’s immutable biology, is also too simplistic. As in Northern Ireland, the South Asian I am from is contoured by communal religious identities…in such a context, religion can be less a matter of individual choice than social structure” ?(Multicultural Politics, 2005, p.16).

A journalist like Boris Johnson would be well-aware of the Balkan tragedy – where Southern Slavs were butchered not on the grounds of an ethic difference but their Muslim religious and cultural affiliation.

Johnson was also much riled by the NATO air bombing of Serb forces in Kosovo in 1999 –  he considered it a scatter gun weapon. Writing in the Daily Telegraph at the time he noted, ‘The Yugoslav economy has been smashed by NATO bombardment to the kind of primitive conditions that existed at the end of the Second World War, according to official figures released in Belgrade.’ (5th June 1999).

However he equivocates when it comes to Israel’s use of aerial bombardment in Lebanon and Palestine: It’s much more difficult for people like me to defend Israel if the whole world can see Israel blowing up roads that are being used by refugees.

In another recent blog he added:

If I were an Israeli, I would be astounded that any member of the British Government or Opposition felt able to criticise Israel at all. This is a country responding, however incompetently, to direct aggression against its own people from a neighbouring failed state. It was only three years ago that we, the goody-goody British, invaded a sovereign country thousands of miles away that presented absolutely no direct threat whatever.The real problem in the region is not Israel, but what it represents to the Islamicists who surround it. The difference between Israel and her neighbours is that Israel is a capitalist democracy, with all the freedom and tawdriness that entails. They don’t give a monkey’s in Teheran about the fate of the poor Palestinians. Israel incarnates everything the mullahs hate, not least the spectacle of liberated womanhood that they find so appalling and so shamingly tempting. (3rd August 2006,

Ken Livingstone, on the other hand, is clear in his stand on issues such as Islamophobia and justice in Palestine. In November 2006, at the launch of GLAís Muslims in London report he noted,

Over recent weeks we have seen a demonisation of Muslims only comparable to the demonisation of Jews from the end of the 19th century. As at that time, the attack on Muslims in reality threatens freedoms for all of us, which took hundreds of years to win – freedom of conscience and freedom of cultural expression. Every person who values their right to follow the religion of their choice or none should stand with the Muslim communities today.” Moreover he is equally forthright in condemnation of Israel’s practices of ethnic cleansing.

Who ought to be Mayor? The man with the vision who says:

I am proud of London’s reputation as the most diverse city in the world where the contribution all communities is celebrated and people’s freedom of religious expression is respected as it is one of the most essential of our civil liberties. Attacks on the rights of Muslim people to express their faith as they choose are ultimately a threat to everybody’s rights to freedom of religious and cultural expression. It should be the right of every individual to be able live their life as they wish, so long as it does not do harm to any other individual. This ability to be who you are and live as you choose is what has made London a magnet for people bringing their ideas and energy to make this the successful and dynamic city that it is. (Ken Livingstone, June 2007)

Or the right wing toff who believes,

The disaster is that we no longer make any real demands of loyalty upon those who are immigrants or the children of immigrants. There are many culprits, and foremost among them is Enoch Powell. As Bill Deedes has pointed out over the years, the problem was not so much his catastrophic 1968 tirade against immigration, but the way he made it impossible for any serious politician to discuss the consequences of immigration, and how a multiracial society ought to work. In the wake of Powell’s racist foray, no one had the guts to talk about Britishness, or whether it was a good thing to insist – as the Americans do so successfully – on the basic loyalty of immigrants to the country of immigration. So we have drifted on over the intervening decades, and created a multi-cultural society that has many beauties and attractions, but in which too many Britons have absolutely no sense of allegiance to this country or its institutions. It is a cultural calamity that will take decades to reverse, and we must begin now with what I call in this morning’s Spectator the re-Britannification of Britain. That means insisting, in a way that is cheery and polite, on certain values that we identify as British. If that means the end of spouting hate in mosques, and treating women as second-class citizens, then so be it. We need to acculturate the second-generation Muslim communities to our way of life, and end the obvious alienation that they feel. That means the imams will have to change their tune, and it is no use the Muslim Council of Great Britain endlessly saying that “the problem is not Islam”, when it is blindingly obvious that in far too many mosques you can find sermons of hate, and literature glorifying 9/11 and vilifying Jew. (Boris Johnson, July 2005,

Boris’s grandfather may have had a monopoly for beeswax in Istanbul, but there is little chance of London’s Muslims taking a shine to him.