what to do about Boris

what to do about Boris

cycling home in my bubble I didn’t think twice about the sign on Townmead road for ‘elf Storage’, in this neck of town, on the edge of Chelsea Harbour, it didn’t strike me as strange, maybe the Russians need somewhere to store their elves.  Nothing surprised me today.  In my little bubble I was busy enjoying the spectacular self-destruction of Boris (autocorrects to virus) – like a shooting star he lit up the sky, skudded across our TV screens, burnt through the front pages of our newspapers.  Now he is breaking up and fizzling out as he returns back down to earth. Probably with the knives of his Tory party peers still planted firmly between his shoulder blades. Bump.

You only had to see Boris in his un-victorious victory press conference, read his muddled article in The Telegraph and note his disappearance from the scene of the crime to know BoJo had lost his mojo. Looking drained, shell shocked, he doesn’t look like he has any appetite left for the fight.

And what a fight we have in store. Roll up, roll up. Buy your tickets now. No one does a nasty leadership contest like the Tories.  Get ready for eye gouging, hair pulling, back stabbing, throat slitting, like an episode of Game of Thrones, except with more bloodshed, gore and shamelessly broken alliances.

Whereas the Labour’s leadership contests are amateurishly tame, laughably ham fisted and guaranteed to select the unelectable (with one recent notable exception: Blair). If Labour was able to elect a new leader that campaigned marginally left of centre, pledged to negotiate a return to the EU top table (on better terms than before – easy now that EU Leaders have realised that they don’t like it up them) and was suitably media savvy then they have the golden ticket to a stunning and unlikely return to No. 10 at an early General Election whilst the Tories stitch their self-inflicted wounds back together.  

Small problem. Do they have that leader? A charismatic man/woman of the people? Someone who can maximise an opportunity, create momentum, generate the popular vote, please a crowd and cast aside their own principles in return for glory.  Boris? Boris where are you? He couldn’t, could he? Jeremy Corbyn would be advised to reject all applications for Labour Party Membership from a Mr B. Johnson.

homage to farage

Inevitable: sun in / rain home. As my cycling shoes fill with water I begin to think that I need to diversify my subconscious cycling thinking away from a) the weather and b) Brexit.  So I consciously think of c) how rubbish my legs are at turning the wheels and how nice it would be to lock my bike to a lamp post and get the train home. I don’t have a lock. So back to the weather: did I mention it’s raining? Not the good summer rain that washes away the sticky, uncomfortable humidity – but the ‘cold, chills your bones’ type of rain – in June (must be time for Wimbledon).

With each cold wet sideways launching gust I’m closer to giving up.  nigel farage didn’t give up.  Whatever your politics you have to admit farage has got stamina, determination and bucket loads of cussedness.  In most walks of life if you successfully dedicate yourself to a cause for over 17 years you get a medal.  Singlehandedly – pretty much, boris and gove jumped on his bandwagon late for their own personal gain – he’s taken the UK out of the Europe Union, incited over 17 million Brits to follow him over the top or off a cliff depending on your view.  Not many people alive can say they’ve achieved or even thought momentarily of achieving such a crazily monumental act.

Duly he got his moment in the sun yesterday.  I bet he wrote his speech to the EU Parliament years ago and rehearsed it in his head a thousand times but if he was honest with himself he probably never thought he’d actually get to deliver it.  How he chastised his MEP colleagues, starting with a triumphant “17 years ago you laughed at me – you’re not laughing now” (I’ve slightly paraphrased here but accuracy has become a casual casualty of late), followed by a stinging “you’re in denial”.

He threatened that the UK wouldn’t be the last member state and that their European project was failing.  There may be truth in his words and haven’t we all wanted to throw rocks at an all powerful establishment at some point in our lives?

But farage couldn’t help himself, in his moment in the sun – he got sun stroke.  He insulted his colleagues with the ‘none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives’ damnation, thus undermining any credibility his speech may have had. Like a gurning bully he swaggered and swung out, but he wasn’t finished, he still had the effrontery to suggest that everyone be “grown up” and promise to be “friends”.  He had done all of this selflessly in the name of “the little people, the ordinary people”.

Hey wait a minute. Since when was ‘little’ good? When did ordinary become good enough? What happened to being extraordinary?  This feels like our Star Wars moment. The small and the ordinary have had their sway, led by the Dark Side.  Those that aspire to be big, larger than life, extraordinary need to find their opposite of the Dark Side. The trouble is we don’t even know what that’s called let alone what it looks like or who it is.

Newsflash: It’s not boris.

keep cycling, nothing to see here

The sun is shining. The rain clouds have moved on. For now. That’s the decision made: blue sky through the sky light / cycle to work. Non-negotiable. My head agrees. My body is protesting. Still protesting from being hauled to Brighton on Friday evening. Three days of lazy recovery isn’t enough anymore.  After performing some half-hearted and medically unproven stretches I creak out the door, blinking into the still bright morning sunlight. Often it’s started raining in the time from 1st sight of blue sky to eventual departure.

It’s my 1st time cycling past Westminster since the EU Referendum result. The Media gantries in Abingdon Street Gardens are empty, with the BBCs standing grandest – I assume it’s the BBC’s as it’s the one where Laura Kuenssberg and Co. have been camped out since Thursday. The smallest one, a cheap ‘purchased at Homebase’ gazebo, squeezed in at the back, is labelled ‘BBC Radio Scotland’, like an afterthought. I’m disappointed, I had expected crowds, protest marches, maybe even riots, at least some milling around. Instead, all quiet, for now, perhaps politicians and protesters don’t get out of bed this early. Even when the future of our nation is at stake.

The road outside the Houses of Parliament is pockmarked with potholes and canyons in the tarmac, circumnavigating Parliament Square requires concentration. The makeshift memorial to Jo Cox has been hidden away, shunted to the back of Parliament Square Gardens, between Ghandi and some other bloke in a gown, I can’t tell who it is as I’m busy concentrating on following the new designed for cyclists cycle path, whilst not being mown down by a juggernaut in the process. The newly constructed cycle paths are meant to make cycling safer and easier, a grand plan that sounded better in Boris’s Mayoral sound bites than it works in real life. Wait a minute…

it’s not democracy (when you lose)

it’s not democracy (when you lose)

I looked at my phone in disbelief, looked at it again, decided that 6am was too early to contemplate what Great Britain had just done. It’s a dream right? It wasn’t. It isn’t. Life goes on. Those strange bedfellows Farage, Boris and Gove can’t stop me riding my bike (yet…). So I rode from London to Brighton with the Bicycle Moaning Collective and let the pedal strokes and banter with my mates order my thoughts.

I started angry. Navigating London rush hour traffic was tiresome, difficult, dangerous. Like life from now on. It wasn’t fair. London had voted overwhelmingly (60:40) to stay in the EU and as the paymaster of the UK is going to have work even harder to subsidise a people so out of step with its collective belief.  The Young voted overwhelmingly to stay (70:30) and it’s their future that’s been hijacked.  That made me angry. And sad.

Clapham Common to Tooting Bec by bike was jaw grindingly slow. Much gnashing of teeth. As my anger simmered on Cycle Super Highway 7 I thought of the heavily EU subsidised areas of the UK that had just shot themselves in the foot, cut their noses off to spite their faces and because…because? I couldn’t answer the question because it just didn’t make sense. It could only be that they had brought into the negative, small minded, intolerant, scaremongering dangerously preached by the Out campaign. A negative nasty message had won out.  That doesn’t make a positive message in anyone’s language.

The going wasn’t getting any better, Brighton ever distant, we’d not even dissected the M25 in 2 hours. I was becoming disillusioned.  My suspicion is that the Outers had taken a leaf out George W Bush’s Iraq War approach to planning: Shock & Awe and wing-it.  Then helpless, not in control of my destiny, feeling cheated by democracy. Yes, I had a vote, I’d used it, expressed it and lost. Like democracy the blue tarmac was letting me down, falsely promising a smooth ride but interrupted, cut up and blocked by buses, pedestrians, traffic lights.

The roads opened up, the traffic was getting faster as we got closer to the edge of town, we were on dual carriageway, with roundabouts to navigate and fast moving traffic coming at us from right to left. It was scary. I’m scared that we history is repeating itself, are we in the 1930s again? Where acceptance and of racial scaremongering and intolerance was capable of gripping hold of a nation and causing mass evil.  We hadn’t just turned the clock back that far, had we?

When you reach How Lane, a climb that says goodbye and shakes the City out of your legs and High Road descent that ducks under the M25 and the ride is on, the country side lit by a setting sun beckons. Why the long face?  Maybe today was our era’s defining political back lash, the people striking out at the establishment and giving them a bloody nose that they hadn’t anticipated, that just might’ve knocked the political class of their pedestal and now what next? Had Out foreseen Scotland voting overwhelming to remain in the EU and now threatening to leave the United Kingdom?  Was their vision of Out really England alone?  The UK now looks like a fragile House of Cards.

Politics in freefall, like me on my bike on Coopers Hill. Feeling like a kid again at 60kmph. Youth had lost out today – but maybe this is the catalysts for mobilisation and engagement of the young and open minded.  They won’t make the same mistake again of not making the effort to get to the polling station if they don’t want their parents’ to f#ck them up again.

As the minutes ticked by, the headwind had still not given up, I was tiring, yearning for the end.  There wasn’t much talk in the peloton. The ‘enraged of London’ chat had subsided.  Our own journeys were all that mattered now. With the freedom of a post-work Friday night ride in a setting sun, lighting up the South Downs in a golden glow. I didn’t feel so angry, frustrated, worried.

Maybe it’s about time we backed away from the World stage, for too long we’ve hung on to our imperialistic past (viewed through rose-tinted glasses), harboured ideas above our station and believed our own hype that we’re a ‘special’ nation deserving of a place at the table of the Global Elite. James Bond isn’t reality.  As former partners laugh at our impotence and we can no longer afford to take on the self-appointed role of policeman to the World, life might be simpler, safer.

It could be exciting. The last global disruption to our lives was the Financial Crisis in 2008, at the time that seemed cataclysmic but largely due to the Central Banks creating benign economies through interventionist monetary policy resulting in a low interest rate environment. Even the bitter pill of austerity has been easier to swallow as we’ve all been able to keep paying our mortgages. Crisis what crisis? Move on nothing to see. But this time who knows what is going to happen?

Who knows? Who cares? I’m too busy struggling up Ditchling Beacon, no record time tonight. It’s taking everything just got to get to the top and then enjoy the long fast descent down into Brighton.  Enjoy myself.  Besides we can just leave it to the politicians that created the mess to sort it out. We’ve not left yet. There’s a lot of stuff that has to happen for it to happen.  Our soon to be former EU partners might yet muck things up by following the UK with their own referendum and precipitating the collapse or re-design of the EU project

Ultimately I arrived in Brighton convinced that the journey has actually just begun and that no one knows where it will end.  I suspect that the architects of Out may not get the result that they imagined or desired.  Their promise of short term pain for long term gain may actually translate into short term political instability leading to a transfer of political momentum to a younger, more flexible, more global, more tolerant, more engaged electorate thus turning full cycle, negativity to positivity. I’m In.

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Footnote: On the rider tonight – a few Brits, some Aussie’s, Irish of course, Namibians, 1 Slovak and a Greek. I hope that doesn’t stop.

election fever

London has seemingly been in the grip of ‘election fever’ for the entirety of 2016. That’s not ‘fever’ in the context of a good thing I.e. sales fever, football fever, festival fever. No. More like a long running, irritating cold that won’t go away kind of fever. The kind of fever that various products and remedies promise to solve but invariably don’t. Sound familiar. For lozenge swap in opportunistic politicians.

First the election of the London Mayor. Now the UK’s EU in/out Referendum.  It was impossible to cycle through London and not be bombarded by Sadiq Kahn’s beaming face or Goldsmith’s reluctant ‘I really don’t want to be here face’ on buses or billboards. Then we voted our 3rd London Mayor even if I guess most Londoner’s have no clear idea what the purpose of London Mayor is.

You can forgive Sadiq Khan for his new job’s ambiguity as he began his term resplendent in a huge grin, giddy with joy at his clear win, like a lottery winner. Unlike his predecessors, Ken and Boris, who whilst contrasting in policy (I think) were united in a love of the limelight and their perma-smug demeanour that revealed how thoroughly convinced they were in themselves that they deserved the role because of who they were. They were already self-promoted political celebrities.

Khan Seemed to come from nowhere. Maybe he was just a politician rather than a celebrity who dipped into politics when their media commitments allowed.  I hope Sadiq’s priorities are more focused on delivering the housing and schools that London needs.  Not naming modes of transport after himself.  I like the story his dad was a bus driver; my dad was a postman.

How many days has he been Mayor now? Other than a public spat with Donald Trump nothing cataclysmic has happened.  Whereas tomorrow. If the UK has voted to leave the EU, things will happen. The financial markets will go into meltdown; billions will be wiped off pensions (not the gold plated final salary pensions of the little middle Englanders that will have voted Leave) but the companies who have to fund those pensions will find it harder to meet their liabilities. Going cycling on the continent will be harder too. Waking up to Brexit will be a bitter pill to follow and the fever will deteriorate into something far worse and potentially terminal.

a dangerous world

It’s easy to forget where you are. I’m cycling along the Embankment, past some of London’s – no, some of the world’s most iconic landmarks. The London Eye to my right. Check. Whitehall on my left. Check. Don’t forget the River Thames. The Houses of Parliament are up ahead, near submerged under crowds of tourists, I barely notice the grand, ornate palace. On semi-auto pilot I charge pass Westminster Cathedral on my way home, trying not to snag a selfie taking tourist. I have to remind myself: I’m fortunate, privileged to be riding these roads.

OK. Not as fortunate or privileged as the Lords and Ladies and Right Honourables inside the Houses of Parliament, as I head home they are probably heading to their heavily subsidised bar. David Cameron probably wouldn’t mind heading home too (and not coming back). He’s said this is his final term but he increasingly looks like someone who wouldn’t mind calling time early. If he’s not being accused of doing something beastly with a pigs head he’s being shamed as tax dodging hypocrite, his dead father’s name dragged through the mud to add to his mire. He gives the impression of a man waiting to cash in his pension and put his feet up (on a private jet whilst touring the lucrative US lecture circuit like his illustrious predecessor: A. Blair).

Dave seemed to lose his mojo when five years after telling us that we should all hug a hoodie it all kicked off during the UK riots in 2011. What he saw during the riots appeared to truly confound him. He couldn’t reconcile the images of the anarchy on the streets with his closeted perception of an honest, decent, patriotic, Victorian-esque society. His sheltered idealism was shattered along with shop windows, his naïve idealism burnt to ashes on the streets.

His privileged forbears would have told him that of course the peasants are revolting. From then on, disillusioned he just seemed to give up, merely going through the motions ever since. Invisible even as his would be successors, George and Boris jostle for the limelight. Even when gifted with Miliband and then Corbyn he’s still not performed. Perhaps he needed a strong rival to shake out his competitive side, a strong rival to motivate him. He’s no Ali but he never faced a Frazier or a Foreman either.

He looks tired. Clock watching. Except sometimes, something stirs, the mask slips, revealing a Tom Brown’s School Day’s Flashman-esque bully, snide, tetchy. Ironically this attitude might have served him better from day one, given him a bit of edge, roughened up his posh blandness, ruffled a few feathers and earned him some respect from the average man on the street who thinks he’s a cartoon cut out bland toff.

Instead, we’ve got a lame duck Prime Minister, like a second term US President. Actually America has one of those too. Significant World Leaders, limply shuffling to the stage exit. It’s dangerous times for the world and dangerous for me as inch across the roundabout at Lambeth Bridge.