It would be no joke for London

YEARS ago there was a T-shirt slogan which ran: “The trouble with political jokes is that they get elected.”

YEARS ago there was a T-shirt slogan which ran: “The trouble with political jokes is that they get elected.”

This was never more apt than in the forthcoming mayoral election.

For if the opinion polls are to be believed, there is a real danger that when the real polls close on May 1, London will have lumbered itself with a clown in the top job.

As far as I'm concerned he is a clown behind whose funny, floppy, blond fringe lurks a mind of unpleasant divisiveness.

You and I have no direct say in the matter, of course, but we certainly have an interest. And like the election for the US presidency, it's a contest I very much wish I DID have a vote in.

It's not just that London is the capital of Britain. It's a place with a population bigger than that of many countries, and a good deal more mixed - and it's little more than an hour away.

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What happens there is bound to impact on life in Suffolk, whether we like it or not and whether or not we travel there for work (as I do).

It matters to me that the streets there are reasonably safe. It matters to me that the public transport system works.

It matters to me that, by and large, the people in their various communities there get along.

Ken Livingstone may be stretching a point slightly when he claims that after eight years of his leadership the Underground is “better than ever”.

In my experience, its heyday in terms of both cost and efficiency was during his tenure as leader of the sadly defunct Greater London Council in the early 1980s.

But the system still undeniably works. If at times it seems uncomfortably over-crowded it's because Ken's once-controversial congestion charging scheme for traffic is so effective.

He is now up against an opponent who also has a big idea on transport. Just one. Bring back the dear old Routemaster bus.

It may sound a promising(-ish) starting-point for a Morecambe and Wise routine, but I don't think Boris Johnson was actually joking with that one.

You can say what you like about allegedly “red” Ken - and at times his self-confidence does veer into the realms of irksome arrogance - but the fact is that under his guidance London continues to function well.

The astonishing number of major building sites currently dotting the city is testament to its success. Corporations with the cash to build skyscrapers have confidence in the place.

In fact the pace of change in town is both exhilarating and a little frightening. You sometimes get the feeling it wouldn't take much for it all to go horribly wrong.

Like, for example, the ejection of Livingstone's hard-working, community-fostering regime and its replacement by laugh-a-minute Boris.

Johnson may not actually be quite the upper-class twit he likes to seem in public. His book The Dream of Rome, which compares the Roman empire with the European Union, is apparently intelligently written.

His grasp on the realities of modern cities, though, seems to be less than his grip on ancient Rome.

If he were standing to be mayor of Portsmouth, he wouldn't have a hope after describing it as being “too full of drugs, obesity, under-achievement and Labour MPs”.

He is still loathed in Liverpool for one ignorant and bigoted editorial that appeared in the Spectator when he was editor.

Johnson later claimed the remarks about Scousers' “deeply unattractive psyche”, their “vicarious victimhood” and the offensive comments about the Hillsborough disaster were not written by him.

If so, it gives weight to Livingstone's charge that never mind running London, Boris couldn't even run a small magazine properly.

In any case, the offending jibes don't seem out-of-keeping with the attitude of a man who once described Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.

However much he may now claim to be opposed to racism, those comments remain in print to contradict him.

When in London, I often walk through the Brick Lane and Whitechapel area and enjoy the vibrancy of its largely Muslim community.

Any tensions that may lurk there in these post-9/11 times are seldom apparent.

How that might change under a Johnson mayoralty, I shudder to imagine.

Probably quite wisely, his main tactic in the mayoralty campaign has been to keep his mouth shut for fear of putting his foot in it. We therefore know little of what his actual policies in office would be.

But his attitude to London's present cultural mix is pretty clear. He has written more than once calling for what he calls “the re-Britannification of Britain”.

Language and attitude hardly calculated to dispel tension and ease relations between communities.

If he gets in, it will be no laughing matter for London - or for any of us.