Saturday, 13 August 2011

Sketch: Boris makes a clean sweep for the Big Society

The Prime Minister must have woken up on Tuesday morning with a spring in his step, and hope in his heart. Not, surely at the sight of smouldering buildings and buses which had made a bonfire of parts of London. But rather at a movement which was gathering apace among those whose communities had been destroyed by the previous night's rioting. The previously vaunted Big Society had in fact reared itself up to clean up the streets, energised and angry in reaction to the mayhem in Clapham Junction, Woolwich and Croydon. It also probably filled up time for bankers and City types on annual leave.

It was a sad, sorry, mess though. Even the fa├žade of the Party Superstore was no joke. The mask had slipped on this fondly regarded supplier of fancy dress for south London types, exposing a blackened and burnt out shell and leaving shards of PVC and broken glass in the street. But before many had woken up, something extraordinary and heartening was building among the more organised, socially aware elements of inner London.

After an enterprising artist on Twitter had come to the rescue with the hashtag #riotcleanup
, hundreds of people had answered the call to marigolded arms, forming up behind the police cordon like an advancing army with a rainbow sparkling brooms that - being either brand new or hardly used - would have aroused the suspicions of Channel 4's Kim and Aggie.

And they took it in their stride and surged forward to clean up the mess.

Boris Johnson's people at City Hall got wind of all this activity, and thought it'd be a jolly good wheeze to get the Mayor out there, so he could look the people of Lavender Hill in the eye. A sort of modern day Queen Mother in a blonde wig, if you like. But these people had been waiting hours for the police to declare that the area was no longer a crime scene. They were agitated. And they certainly weren't in the mood for casually congratulating metropolitan leaders who just happened to be passing.

"I came as fast as I could" panted the Mayor, having rather reluctantly rushed back from his holiday in the United States. Facing a barrage of questions about the lack of policing and the apparent unpreparedness (the residents of Clapham Junction had all found out via Twitter that they were going to be attacked), the Mayor told them that there would be "many more police on the streets” and “robust policing”. But the public didn’t really know what he meant by that as it clearly hadn’t been present the night before.

The Home Secretary hovered nearby but was swiftly removed from view by Home Office press officers as if she had taken her cues from a Victoria Wood
Acorn Antiques spoof, shuffling carefully out of sight as if she'd walked into the wrong shot. The cameras barely got a flash of her kitten heels. If Boris really was going to get into a public argy-bargy, Theresa May not be dragged into it.

It wasn't going terribly well, and City Hall press officers quivered at a potential PR disaster. And the thronging crowd weren’t interested in numbers or politicians’ rhetoric.

"WHERE’S YOUR BROOM, WHERE’S YOUR BROOM, WHERE’S YOUR BROOM?" hollered the crowd. It was a sign
of the Mayor's eloquence and charm that he could continue answering questions with a pantomime backdrop of chanting middle-class street cleaners, who all wanted answers. Eventually, a kind man relented to the crowd’s demands, handing the Mayor the aforementioned tool. And, lo and behold, with typical Boris unpredictability, a potential disaster turned into a coup for the cameras as the Mayor brandished his newly acquired accessory high in the air as he went to address the assembled throng. It was a nice little spot for the telly really, but he relished the opportunity.

As the cameras drifted away, the Prime Minister was very proud that his big society agenda was being so publicly advocated by his long-time rival. Not only were the dreams he'd had before he became Prime Minister being played out in scenes on national television, pretty young ladies straight out of a Cath Kidston catalogue were playing bit parts in the show. Now all he had to do was to make sure that his old chum Boris didn't take too much of the credit. But with mayoral elections just around the corner, would Boris's new broom give him a clean sweep at the polls?

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