Boris Johnson can be a funny guy.
People aren’t remotely interested in how much tax these characters pay. That does nothing to palliate their primary offence, which is to be so stonkingly and in their view emetically rich.
Emetically, for those who (like me) haven’t run across it before, means vomit inducing.
He loves stirring things up, saying the unsayable, tweaking friends and opponents. By all accounts, he rides easily over his own stumbles and idiocies, an irrepressible, privileged, well educated, scruffy and oversized urchin.
Last week, he gave the Margaret Thatcher Lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies.
Somewhat careless comments about the uses of greed and the distribution of IQ in “our species” got most of the critical attention. Still, alongside this, and his boosterism for Britain, and his unabashed enthusiasm for free markets and meritocracy, worries about rising inequality dotted the speech. I rather liked his summary of the dilemma.
It seems to me therefore that though it would be wrong to persecute the rich, and madness to try and stifle wealth creation, and futile to try to stamp out inequality, that we should only tolerate this wealth gap on two conditions: one, that we help those who genuinely cannot compete; and, two, that we provide opportunity for those who can.
Those two conditions can of course be interpreted in many different ways, from the painfully minimalist to the arguably overdeveloped versions found in Scandinavia.
Beyond this speech (and the odd report of his latest outrage), I know nothing of Johnson. Perhaps he is the callow egotist and opportunist many perceive. Still, his apparent openness and Burkean warmth and passion stand out in today’s grey and constipated politics. I’ll reserve judgement for now. In the meantime, here’s his take on Britain in 2050.
By the middle of this century we will still have a crown, we will still have a union, we will have a dynamic, diverse, globalised economy and we will have dealt eupeptically and by the normal romantic human processes with the recent period of mass immigration so that our cities are not just proudly British but also boast a vast mongrel energy.
Even if that turns out to be so, there’s probably an abyss between here and there. Nevertheless, it’s an easy vision to love. “Vast mongrel energy” indeed.