Sunday blessed the people of London with a lovely Spring morning : bright sunshine, beautiful blossom, more daffodils that you could count, a gentle breeze and everywhere in a certain park the sounds of Spring … and “the gasping sobs of middle-aged men as they tried to retrieve the high-speed cross-court passing shots of their younger, fitter wives”.
Yes, the doughty tennis player was Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who, in this week’s article for The Daily Telegraph, tells of losing another point — he neglects to tell us the score — and looking up to see the familiar figure of the new Alastair Campbell : Tom Baldwin, Labour’s official spokesman, accompanied by two glossy-coated dogs and looking for all the World like an advertisement for some magical Scandinavian yoghurt.
Mr. Baldwin, it seems, was engaged in a conversation on his mobile telephone ; Boris naturally assumed he’d be calling to remind Mrs. Baldwin of the key ingredients he’d need for the afternoon’s barbecue. At this point the number-one seed — or Mrs. Johnson as usually known — buried another ball on the far side of the court and Boris went puffing to retrieve it from the corner of the court.
The Mayor is at pains to point out that he had had no intention of eavesdropping on the private conversation of Labour’s spin-doctor-in-chief but just happened to be right by the path along which Mr. Baldwin was walking.
“O.K., O.K., the line is …” — Boris tensed, fumbling on the ground for the ball. The LINE !
So, not his wife at all. Well, it was a quarter to nine on a Sunday morning and of course, the daily war of the airwaves about to begin, he was briefing some junior member of his team, waiting pen — or keyboard — poised to record the thoughts of Labour’s great guru.
The great man would pronounce and, within minutes, it would appear on feeds across the World and on the B.B.C. web-site : the LINE ! (Strictly in accordance with the rules of balance and impartiality, of course.) Boris tried to look more like a shrub. His own words. How much more ? No, that’s unkind. In any event he regretted the choice of floral red-and-white Bermuda shorts.
“From our point of view,” — Boris was all ears and bated breath — “the key message to-day has got to be …” — he was about to learn the key to Labour’s attacks on Her Majesty’s Government — “… that it’s all a complete mess.”
That was it — as Tom Baldwin and his dogs disappeared along the path and his voice was swallowed up by the sounds of the park and its happy inhabitants, Boris exhaled, picked up the ball and tried to recall the score — that was it ?
What, thought Boris, was a complete mess ? Not our actions in Libya, for which Mr. Baldwin’s party had voted ; not the economy, surely, for that was already a complete mess when Labour left office. Then it dawned upon him that the explanation was far more straightforward. In opposition that is your constitutional function : to argue that everything is a complete mess. “It is the tragic reality of Tom Baldwin’s life,” he writes, “that he has to begin every day – no matter how beautiful – by telling the World that it is all a complete mess.”
That’s it : that’s the line — all day and every day — it’s all a complete mess. No matter how good the news : a fall in crime, safer parks, more policemen patrolling London’s streets next year than three years ago.
The fact that the proportion of the World’s population living in poverty went from 52 per cent. to 26 per cent. between 1981 and 2005 ; that life expectancy is increasing by about three months every year, with infant mortality across the planet about a third the rate of the 1950s.
That, whilst the Worlds population has grown by 70 per cent. in the last thirty years, agricultural output has doubled. The list goes on and on but, no matter what you say to an Opposition spokesman, he will respond dutifully, “It’s all a complete mess.” Even when walking his loving hounds through a beautiful park on a splendid day — blathering on a mobile telephone that thirty years ago had not even been invented — his duty is to spread gloom in the midst of sunshine.
Pity the man his lot, thought Boris.
Boris writes for The Daily Telegraph on Mondays.