Mayor Ken must have been getting tired of all the media praise he got after the London bombings two weeks ago, for not repeating criticisms he’s often made about U.K. foreign policy. Commentators seemed pleased that he hadn’t gone and blamed the West again — as they sometimes paraphrase him. He’d been hailed for leadership along with, of all people, Tony Blair — who bounced Mayor Ken (a.k.a. Red Ken) as Labour candidate in 2000 and backed a Blairite, who Mayor Ken, running independently, trounced. Okay, he may have thought, time to get back at it.

So, on Wednesday, a day before yesterday’s echo-bombings (like Dr. Evil and Mini Me, to put it in Blairian terms), Mayor Ken spoke on BBC Radio. He said, as he often has, that Mideast policy has been disastrous, shortsighted, one-sided. He even said that, in similar circumstances, the U.K. would produce suicide bombers, too. In other words, he brought that alien, “evil” world close enough to our own that it can begin to be understood, then dealt with. What a contrast to the demonizations of Bushites and Blairites.

For instance, Australian leader John Howard, speaking beside Tony Blair yesterday after the mini-bombings, repeated the Blair “argument” that there were terror attacks before the Iraq war, so the U.K. role there is irrelevant. The point, guys, is that your Iraq war extends lousy, age-old policies. When the British army occupied Baghdad in 1917, General Stanley Maude said: “Our armies do not come to your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.” By 1919, a revolt was on.

Colonial secretary Winston Churchill wanted to gas “recalcitrant Arabs.” He said, “I do not understand this squeamishness. . . . I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.” That’s the kind of plain reality Mayor Ken plainly spoke of Wednesday: “I think you’ve just had 80 years of Western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the Western need for oil.” U.K. correspondent Robert Fisk has made the same point for decades: Continue to treat people this way and they will eventually bite back. (A crawl under Newsworld’s saturation coverage of London yesterday read: “15 people dead in Iraq after a series of bombs at checkpoints.” What are they: still Churchill’s scruffy tribes?)

Mayor Ken’s words, unlike those he said two weeks ago, went underreported, even in the U.K., even in the left-wing Guardian, which tossed his pinata of fact and lucidity into two lines at the end of a hefty piece on the Blair plan for a terror “list.” Memo to self from Mayor: If want to get lots of space and praise in media, say nothing re issues that could lead to understanding terror. If want to disappear from media, talk about them.

Still, it’s copasetic for citizens to hear a public voice that reflects their own dubious response to Blairian gibberish about “them” being evil, hating our liberty, having no connection to actual reality like Iraq, etc. People tend to nod paralytically, or tune out. The Livingstone kind of discourse — which makes plain sense — can be such a relief.

The position of mayor seems to recruit this sort of tribune of the people more than posts higher up the leadership ladder. Maybe it’s because mayors don’t consort much with generals, global CEOs etc. They deal with power, but more like that of the local restaurateurs. And they can’t ever forget the potholes and parking, which helps maintain perspective.

This week, Toronto Mayor David Miller made a good move by apologizing to Canada’s Miss Universe for a bureaucratic bungle that insulted her when she came to Nathan Phillips Square. It wasn’t standing up to terror and Tony, but it was thoroughly commonsensical, the kind of populist reflection of popular sentiment mayors do well.

Late Toronto mayor Nathan Phillips, of the square, used to stride to the front of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple to participate in Yom Kippur worship each year. He always chose to read from a single chapter in the book of Nehemiah that repeats the phrase “all the people” 11 times. Perhaps it was a reminder to himself. There’s a humility that can come with mayoring.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.