What worries Cameron: Indian dance or Boris Johnson?

In the aftermath of London 2012 Olympics success, Prime Minister David Cameron dismissed Indian dance as not-physical education. Sports lessons in schools were being filled with “Indian dance or whatever,” he said – activities that “you and I wouldn’t think of as sport.”

“The two hours laid down is often met through Indian dancing classes. That’s not really sport,” he said, prompting Indian dancers in the UK to invite Cameron to an energetic and challenging session of Bollywood or Bharatanatyam.

Coincidentally, Cameron’s biggest rival in the Conservative party – London mayor Boris Johnson – is a big fan of Indian dancing. Johnson is the man to watch in British politics, having entirely captured the afterglow of the Olympics. An Ipsos MORI poll found that Johnson received a bigger popularity boost from the Games than Cameron.

Johnson and London’s public transport system both benefited from the halo effect, with 61% and 57% of respondents respectively saying they now have a more positive view of them. By contrast, only 43% said the Olympics has had a positive effect on their opinion of Cameron. The greatest positive change is amongst Conservative voters – 80% for Johnson and 69% for Cameron.

All of this has led to widespread speculation in the British media that Johnson is gunning for the job of Prime Minister. Boris fuelled speculation after making comments (on the day the poll was published) that were described by the Conservative-supporting Daily Mail as constituting an “extraordinary attack” on Cameron.

Boris’s main beef is that Cameron has been sitting over his cherished plans for a new ’super-airport’ for London – to be situated on an island on the Thames. But he used his interview to launch a broader criticism of the government’s economic policies, outlining ideas that are said to be supported by many Conservative party members.

“The government needs to stop pussyfooting around,” Johnson said. “The way to get business really motoring in the UK is to cut taxes, cut regulation, create the infrastructure and get behind it. That’s what you should do. That’s what I recommend.

“There’s a real opportunity to capitalise on the Olympics. [To] look at London as the motor that can drive growth. This is the time to be ambitious about London and what it can do for Britain.” Rubbing salt into the wound, Johnson also said Finance Minister George Osborne was more keen on big infrastructure projects than Cameron, who he said was suffering from “institutional capture (inertia).”

Significantly, Johnson left open his options for returning to parliament, leading the Daily Mail to point out that Johnson is favourite among Conservative members to replace Cameron as Conservative leader, with his absence from parliament seen as his biggest impediment. A poll of Labour supporters also found that Johnson is feared as a tougher opponent than Cameron for Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Where does Indian dance come into all of this? Johnson, who has a Punjabi mother-in-law and is a frequent visitor to his family in India, know his bhangra better than any other British politician (it’s tempting to put the Punjabi MP Virendra Sharma ahead, but Boris has that ‘wildness’ quality to him that is so essential to bhangra).

Here’s what Johnson told a cheering audience at the launch of the Big Dance at the London Palladium in 2010: “With 300 languages spoken in our city, it’s no wonder that we have the greatest number of dance styles practiced in London. Did you know that? I’ve been the lucky beneficiary of some tuitions in Bollywood dancing, did you know that? I’ve Indian relatives, and they (said) let’s go off to weddings in Bombay and Delhi. I’ll show you how you do it. Two things you gotta learn: you do lightbulb lightbulb, motorbike motorbike. Got it?”

Wild cheers from the audience, accompanied by lightbulb and motorbike hand movements. “That’s it!” says the Mayor. “You got it.” You can watch (and learn) his moves here.

Unfortunately for Cameron, Britain is a nation in love with dancing – a slightly startling fact reflected in the massive popularity of a television programme called Strictly Come Dancing. So by the time of the Olympic Closing Ceremony, it came as no surprise that Cameron joined Johnson in shaking a leg to the Spice Girls. It wasn’t so much a shake of the leg, though – more clap in time, to Johnson’s burly swing.

And you can watch the video here.

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