LONDON -- The Brits seem to have more fun in their politics than we do -- more eccentric personalities, steamier scandals and their newspapers don't take themselves or the scandals as seriously as ours do. But there's no shortage of eccentric personalities and scandals, some steamier than others.
Boris Johnson, the new mayor of London, is stealing headlines from Gordon Brown, the dour Presbyterian prime minister bequeathed by Tony Blair who can't screw up the courage to call the parliamentary elections everyone knows are coming.
This give "Boris the Menace" his opening to be the talk of the town. He tools about London on his bicycle, drawing oohs and aahs for his informality, dropping bon mots in his wake and putting a smiley face on his fellow conservatives. Grumpy Gordon Brown and the Labor Party look old-fashioned, dowdy and well behind the curve. Last month, the new mayor and the Tories gave Labor the worst drubbing in local elections in 40 years.
Prime Minister Brown, who hasn't yet celebrated a year in office, is dismissed as a loser in the mold of John Major, the last Conservative prime minister, who was buried in the Labor landslide of '97. Cherie Blair has added to his grief with unflattering recollections in the serialization of her memoirs. So has Tony Blair's deputy prime minister, who scorns the new prime minister as "prickly," with a temper that can "go off like a bloody volcano." From dour to deadly in only a moment.
Boris the Menace is a television personality, literally. He was a regular in a popular satirical revue -- not exactly John Cleese, but he has a gift for deadly satire. David Runciman of the Guardian newspaper draws comparisons to our politicians, placing Brown among Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton as pols uncomfortable in their skin: "So he is forced to tour the daytime-TV sofas trying to show his human side, and ends up revealing how uncomfortable he is with the politics of self-revelation." Photographers frame him mercilessly against signs such as "exit" and "way out." It's enough to give everyone Labor pains.
No wonder the British voter yearns for change to believe in. The idea of reform of the welfare state, the source of much of the nation's headaches, gets kind words. Ian Duncan Smith, the onetime Tory leader, rails against absent fathers, whose abandoned families cost the government $43 billion annually. Other Tories preach greater parental control over their children's education.
But there's nothing like a rowdy English sex scandal to knock politics off the front page, and there's a whopping good one playing now. A government intelligence officer was forced to resign after his wife was exposed as a prostitute and revealed to have taken part in a "Nazi-style orgy" with Max Mosley, the Formula One auto-racing chief.
This scandal couldn't have more juice, or make more steam. Max Mosley is the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the wartime fascist leader and pal of Hitler. His mother, Diana Mitford, admired Hitler, too, and der fuehrer was a wedding guest when she married Max's father at the home of Joseph Goebbels.
The orgy was videotaped by one of five hookers employed for the evening, catching Mosley in his birthday suit in a mock concentration camp, bound in chains by a lady in a Luftwaffe uniform, shouting imprecations at him. Mosley says it was all a private matter. The tabloids don't agree -- and offer 24-7 comic relief from serious matters of state. This renders White House romps and airport men's room tap-dancing pretty tame stuff.