Something sensible has happened during the dog days of August.
London is not going to have a ‘garden bridge’ across the Thames.
What is a garden bridge, anyway? You may well ask.
In this instance it was to have been a bridge, located between two perfectly ordinary other bridges that carry road and rail traffic, and which would have served no other purpose than to ‘beautify’ the city. Providing an arboreal haven for city-dwellers and commuters sounds worthy enough, but its real purpose was to spin profits by providing a corporate hospitality venue. What the world needs now ….
But even if we accept that the original conception of the bridge was to serve as a public park, it made no sense. London has more park space – if fewer parking spaces – than any other city I know. One more would have been as redundant as the ‘bendy’ buses introduced by a former mayor, Ken Livingston. Or, if you like, the cable-car across the Thames conceived by another former mayor Boris Johnson, presumably when he was under the influence of something or other.
These were what Americans call ‘pork’ project ventures. London’s garden bridge project was pure pork, receiving government as well as private funding to the tune of £37 million. The current mayor, Sadiq Khan, has now said “enough, no more funding”. And about time, too. And exactly where did that £37 million go? Beats me. To landscape planners, architects and pitch men, I suppose. And pitch women, too, one of whom, known for her dotty ardency of supposedly worthy ‘causes’, was the actress Joanna Lumley.
Sorry, Joanna. You’ve barked up the wrong tree on this one – £37 million’s worth of trees, to be more precise.
Still, garden bridges aside, August is conforming to its reputation as a ‘silly’ month with talk of Jacob Rees Mogg as a possible leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore a prospective prime minister.
Jacob is politically a right-winger of the old-fashioned Edwardian variety, of the kind we haven’t seen around Westminster since Harold Macmillan and his successor Sir Alec Douglas-Home who had a firm grip of the Tory rank and file back in the 1960s. Although, like them, Rees Mogg himself attended Eton and Oxford, he is no aristocrat (his father William was editor of the Times). But he has the manners of one to the manor born, and dresses the part. He would have the hangdog look of a university don, except for the crisp formality of his attire. He is rarely seen without a razor-edged suit, complete with waistcoat, even in high summer. He probably wears such regalia while mowing the lawn. (He has, by the way, six children, which would make 10 Downing Street a more interesting residence than it has been for many years.) He has the knack of making people smile, even those who sharply disagree with him, because he exudes a schoolboy charm and a ready wit. He is very tall.
‘We need a new hat in the ring,’ say some Tory activists, disillusioned with the current crop of contenders for Theresa May’s job – or at least a younger hat in a larger ring. Mogg fits the bill in that respect. He is forty-eight and has held no ministerial office (these days more an advantage than a burden). Most of his rivals have twenty years on him and carry the whiff of government failure like after-shave.
But caveat emptor. Behind the façade of this lofty, anachronistic, chuckle-inducing Edwardian, by Jove, lurks a dogmatic and regressively doctrinaire figure of reactionary impulses. He wears his misogyny proudly, for a start. Under him, the Conservative Party would be swung as far to the right as the Republican has swung under Donald Trump, and would probably eschew the buffoonery and bombast from the bridge that will probably one of these days steer that American ship of state onto the rocks.
At present, the man has what journalists are calling Moggmentum. Yes, I know, a great many men and ideas gain traction in August, boosted by bored media commentators with nothing much else to write about, only to skid into oblivion in September. So there is no need to panic yet.
Even so, the Tories have proved themselves of late months capable of committing a wide range of high crimes and misdemeanours against political rationality, and Mogg may turn out to have more staying power than the usual run of sun-baked here-today-gone-tomorrow aspirants for fame or high office.
This is, after all, the party that managed to turn Jeremy Corbyn into a folk hero and still harbours enough odd ducks who think of Boris Johnson as a man of the people and Michael Gove as a man of intellect, and of both as serious contenders for the leadership.