Friday, 2 December 2011

A Charm Offensive is Still Offensive

Some years ago I was seated next to Jocelyn Stevens at a formal dinner when he was Rector of the Royal College of Art. Such was the rapt attention paid me by my host, that for three hours I felt like the most fascinating, intelligent, amusing and original woman in the world. Two days later I bumped into him and said a cheery hello. He had no idea whatever who I was.

Luckily I was well aware of his infamous charm, and simply found the episode funny. I also knew there is a far more sinister side to this promiscuous attention. It is a means of control and domination far more subtle, but ultimately just as offensive, as the violent moods he was also prone to.

In a similar manner Mayor Johnson has been bred and trained to please. From his carefully ruffled mop and boyish smile, his ‘cheeky’ off-colour comments, his renaming as ‘Boris’ (real name Alex de Pfeffel), to his deadly magnetism with women, he is designed to undermine resistance, and entrap.

Since 2008 he has increasingly become a caricature of himself, wearing silly hats, saying silly things and grinning his silly smile, his inner narrator imagining the press release as he plays to the cameras.

Despite this carefully positioned fa├žade, Johnson has an Achilles’ heel; he is desperate for your approval. Cross him or disagree with him at your peril; he is a fearsome enemy. He aims to run the country and will charm and wheedle and bully his way through if we let him.

So, beware of any man who is so obsessed with his hair - Berlusconi and Cameron with their dyed coiffes prove the point.

Contrast this object lesson of vanity and ambition with Ken Livingstone, a man unafraid to make unpopular decisions if he thinks they are right. Our Portobello and Golborne stallholders and traders were dead against the WEZ and so were we Councillors on their behalf. Now it’s gone and the pollution is literally deadly. No easy answers there.

I first encountered Ken in the early 80s when he was running the GLC, his free festivals on the South Bank and 25p bus fares transformed London. He still speaks from the heart and his ambitions, I genuinely believe, are for London and Londoners, not for himself. I am delighted he is visiting North Kensington on Monday; it will be a day to remember.

As for Alex de Pfeffel, a charm offensive is still offensive. So next time someone says ‘he’s such a character!’, you can answer, ‘Well, so is Freddie Kruger’.


  1. Having worked in domestic violence for some years I can tell you that when a man is described as 'charming' my alarms go off. I don't know what goes on in the minds of abusive men but it does seem to start with a desperate need to be needed. And the cold capacity to do anything to keep you needy.

  2. Thanks for that perception; keeping the victim needy, helpless and dependent is of course part of the equation.

    When politicians get away with this unchallenged, these are dark times indeed.

  3. It's interesting you say that - one of the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy is superficial charm. It's to do with not genuinely caring for other people, but developing an amicable facade so that they can charm others for their own purposes.

    Sound familiar?

  4. Thanks for that,20.26, good to know I'm on the right track here. Sadly I am surrounded by Eton boys and others bred to charm, we must keep our armour on.

    Lock up your daughters/sisters too!


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