Come on David – say what you really think!
David Aaronovitch: ‘Boris Johnson cannot run a whelk stall’
Vote for Ken, dump Boris, and Tom Conti is a ‘bloody nuisance’, says columnist David Aaronovitch. Matthew Lewin was at Burgh House to hear the fun
KEN Livingstone might be a weasely mouthed politician, but he has been a pretty good mayor of London, Times columnist and TV presenter David Aaronovitch told an audience at Burgh House in Hampstead on Thursday.
“I didn’t like him before because I hate all the infantile Leftism that he and some of his associates indulge in,” he said.
“But the congestion charge was an absolutely essential thing for London. Can you imagine where we would be in terms of congestion if he hadn’t brought in the congestion charge? It would have been absolutely impossible!
“But Ken went through with it when other people wouldn’t have. Ken might be a weasely mouthed politician, but I know Boris Johnson, and Boris couldn’t run a piss-up in brewery. I’m serious, Boris cannot run a whelk stall, and I believe that literally.
“He can’t do stuff, and he doesn’t even turn up half the time. And when Boris proposes things like re-phrasing traffic lights so pedestrians have less time to cross, I begin to despair. It’s cars that need less time to cross!
“Then there’s that ridiculous actor from down the road who, every time someone tries to interfere with his bloody motorcar, complains to the local newspapers.
“They think he’s an important man, but he’s not – he’s a bloody nuisance! I have long thought about running an anti-Tom Conti campaign.
“I think it would be a great idea if they would stop traffic coming up the whole length of Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead High Street, Heath Street right up to the top and right across to The Spaniards and down Highgate Hill and along Gordon House Road and Mansfield Road – and replace it all with a circular tram system all the way around, letting people get on and off where they want to. That would be completely wonderful.”
Earlier, Mr Aaronovitch told interviewer Piers Plowright about his early life in Highgate and Hampstead where he had gone to school in Gospel Oak and at William Ellis before being thrown out of Oxford’s Balliol College and taking a degree in modern history at Manchester University.
Mr Aaronovitch, who now lives in Cannon Place, Hampstead, spoke about his illiterate grandparents who had come from Lithuania, and about the family’s poverty that had led his parents towards becoming committed Communists.
His father was an entirely self-taught man who worked as a full-time official of the Communist Party for £12 a week for most of his life, then went to Balliol at the age of 52, took a PhD and became an academic.
“My father was the kind of Communist who believed that, come the revolution, taxi drivers would go to the ballet. And essentially what capitalism did was deprive workers of ballet.
“Being brought up in a Communist family was like being brought up at a 90-degree angle to the world, and sometimes 180 degrees.
“Everything that everyone else said was the opposite of what you were brought up to think. People would like America and not like Russia, whereas we would like Russia and not like America.
“But in a funny kind of way we were Her Majesty’s Loyal Communist Party, because we operated within the British context.”
Later in his life, Mr Aaronovitch progressed to Euro-Communism (“a lot of Euro, but not a lot of Communism”) before eventually mellowing into being a social democrat.
After university he worked for ITV on the Weekend World programme and then became a manager at the BBC.
“I found myself in a series of middle management jobs, at a time when there was a managerial revolution in the BBC, and I just couldn’t do management.
“It’s not that I didn’t think somebody should care; I did. And it’s not that I thought that there weren’t important management roles to be fulfilled; I did. I’m not contemptuous about management. I’m just totally crap at it.”
Eventually he was rescued by Ian Hargreaves, then editor of The Independent, who lured him to the newspaper as the chief leader writer.
He lost his large BBC salary, his pension contributions and his BBC car – “but I had to try it out,” he said.
“I discovered not only that I could write, but also that I absolutely loved it, and I wrote in every form I could possibly find, from leaders to columns and even weekly TV criticism on the Independent on Sunday.
“Luckily, I have never had to be a chameleon. One thing I have never had to do is write something other than what I think. I have had a very privileged existence in print. I’ve been very lucky.”
But he fell out with his colleagues at the Guardian when he supported the invasion of Iraq in his columns. Having watched in horror events in Kosovo and Rwanda, he believed that something just had to be done about Saddam Hussein, “the worst dictator on the face of the earth”.
“It’s not that I couldn’t appreciate that there were sensible arguments against invading, including worrying about the consequences and whether people fully understood what they were going into, and whether they had a good plan for the aftermath.
“But I met people who could not conceive how it was possible for someone like me to hold the opinions I did sincerely. In other words I was excommunicated. That was the thing that caused the bitterness for me – the fact that it was not a permissible view for someone who wanted to describe himself as permissive or on the left. That was my problem at the Guardian.
“It costs me some associations, and some friendships.
“The other thing is that it made me aware of was how easily a latent anti-Semitism could well up in places where you would least expect it. I’m not talking about grand anti-Semitism, about storm-troopers breaking windows. I’m talking about the casual assumption about things like ‘The Jews run America’. People just assumed that I was pro-Iraq war because they thought I was Jewish.
“And I’m not even Jewish.”