St Boris of England

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
19 April 2009

Anthony Barnett (London, OK):  I have always said that one of the singular qualities of Boris Johnson is that he could be the First Minister of England. It would tale another post to explain why the same could be said of Livingstone in his prime but not of Cameron and Oborne or of the Miliband brothers while David Davis has what it takes on this score. Clegg, no; Huhne, ys? It is more than a game. I'm not saying Boris would prefer it to heading the UK. But he could say, 'why not' and make a fist of it.  Today he's proved it in his manifesto on St George and the genius of English in the Mail on Sunday. The Mayor applauds the strong approval shown for his decision to celebrate St George's day. Then he meditates on how "when politicians try to analyse the particular genius of England, they notoriously come unstuck". His solution is to set out a witty summary of the hilarious efforts of various leaders from Baldwin to Major to present themselves into the voice of the timeless national spirit and comes through with his own answer - it's the English language itself we can be patriotic about, he being no mean master of its use.

Here is the key passage;

I got a sense of pent-up longing, of people who were yearning to reclaim the English flag from the extremists.

They didn’t want anything to do with the far Right. They deeply disliked the BNP.

They didn’t want to cock a snook at the Scots, and they didn’t have any particular resentment of the Welsh or the Irish.

They certainly didn’t have any hostility towards St Patrick’s Day, or Diwali or any of the other high days and holy days we mark in the great multi-ethnic metropolis.

They just felt that London was not only the capital of Britain, and of the United Kingdom, but also the capital of England.

After decades of watching ceremonies and festivals in honour of just about everyone, they wanted to celebrate the genius of England on the day of England’s patron saint.

In a simple, joyful and unthreatening way – in a way that included all the communities that live here – they wanted a day to announce their pride in this country and all the things it has given the world.


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