Boris' comedy does not make him a fool
Conservatives like their politicians to be of an essentially choleric disposition: they like gravity mingled with passion; thoughtfulness wrapped up in conviction. Humour must be dry and rationed, lest it be mistaken for levity or simpleness. Margaret Thatcher was master of the art, with her Monty Python 'dead parrot' sketch about LibDem logo in 1990, or 'The Lady's Not For Turning' from 1980, delivered with all the gravity of a Churchillian declaration of war.
And comedy - well, Conservatives tend to eschew the boisterous Music Hall as antithetical to the serious business of politics. And when they try to do it - as (for example) Peter Lilley's 'Little List' 1992 speech, after the fashion of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Lord High Executioner'; or his 'Land of Chattering Classes', based on 'Land of Hope and Glory', the results can be excruciating - perhaps none more so than Virginia Bottomley's foray into 'HMS Pinafore'.
Comedy must be properly performed for it to work: that is to say, if a politician wants to do comedy, it helps to be something of a performer. Michael Heseltine was as flamboyant as a Victorian actor-manager, and his conference speeches always played to a packed house - standing room only. Perhaps his most famous moment was from 1976, when he spoke of the Labour government as being 'a rabble of political extremists orchestrated from within the British cabinet itself'. He portrayed the party as 'a one-legged army limping away from the storm they had created', mimicking their imagined marching orders: 'Left! Left! Left!'.
But Boris - well, Boris is a truly naturally-gifted comedian, right up there with the likes of Tommy Cooper. He's funny because he gets it wrong and you love him for it. But what many Conservative politicians fail to appreciate is that comedy is a great vehicle for communicating the serious stuff of policy, so we have the wise and omniscient Kenneth Clarke insisting that Boris 'is not serious enough' to be prime minister. "If he really wants to be a prime minister for serious reasons and not just getting his picture in the paper more often, he really does have to settle down and demonstrate he can seriously deliver on some complicated subjects," Mr Clarke said.
It is the classic snobbish error of conflating entertainment with levity, comedy with simpleness, or jesting with the inability to grasp complexity and nuance. Kenneth Clarke plainly knows what's best and lectures seriously on the merits of the proposal. Boris simple fizzes and dazzles.
But in a time of melancholic austerity and an era of bland administration and interminably grey politicking, Boris is wonderfully sanguine and gloriously technicolor. He can hold an audience of all political hues, inspire the downhearted, and communicate a profoundly serious message through ditties, gags and obscure Greek words. But it would be a grave disservice and fatal underestimation to dismiss him as a fool, not least because some fools are wise enough to be kings. As Isaac Asimov observed: 'That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all.'