Change Alley

information, opinion, conversation

What Do We Do Now?

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Boris Johnson
“Crikey! When they offered me the candidacy, nobody said I might actually win!”

I went to bed last night not knowing who London’s next Mayor would be, but still nursing a faint hope that all those transferable second votes would come galloping over the hill like the 7th Cavalry to save the day. I woke up to discover that my nightmares were real, and Boris Johnson is now running London for at least the next four years.

It would be hilarious if it wasn’t deadly serious. In charge of a multi-billion pound budget we now have a buffoon who by all accounts can’t run a bath. Taxpayers will be paying £137k a year to a man who, it is universally accepted, will be completely dependent on the quality of the team he assembles to do the job for him.

What worries me about this election is the way that Boris won so convincingly without the slightest trace of a coherent policy on anything. Londoners have dumped a highly competent public servant with a proven track record of controlling a huge organisation, and replaced him with a celebrity journalist chat show host who was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet. Not even the Conservatives’ first choice for mayoral candidate, Boris has been subjected to steady criticism from the Tory press:

“Never before having had the opportunity to observe Boris trying to conduct himself seriously and responsibly, I have to confess that his various attempts to do so last week were deeply disappointing. He just can’t do it. The harder he tried, the more insincere, incoherent, evasive and even puerile he looked and sounded, even enabling the liberal candidate to score points. Take away the gags and jokes and nothing much is left….”

Peregrine Worsthorne, in online journal The First Post

“One of Mr Johnson’s failings is a belief that the public is there to serve him, not vice versa. He has given much pleasure to millions over the years, but will that cause the Underground to work better, the Metropolitan Police to catch more criminals, or business to thrive in London? Or would a Johnson mayoralty be yet one more chapter in an epic of charlatanry – perhaps, since it is so serious a job with potentially no hiding place, the last chapter?

“Oddly enough, given how acute he is, that won’t persuade him to do it properly. The guiding theme of his life is the charm of doing nothing properly. His sins themselves are charming in that they are the sort of failings that upset the Edwardians, and few others since. He is pushy, he is thoughtless, he is indiscreet about his private life. None of this matters much to anyone these days, which is why he has gone so far in spite of them, and tomorrow may go further still.

“Lynton Crosby, the Australian public relations genius who has kept Mr Johnson out of trouble during his campaign, returns home after it. Then what? Who will guide the unguided missile? Who will support the figurehead? Who will ensure he turns up on time, or at all? How will they be accountable?”

Simon Heffer, in the Daily Telegraph

Ken Livingstone may not have been perfect; who is? However, over the last eight years he has proved himself a highly competent, imaginative and principled leader of one of the world’s great cities. Only in comparison with a professional showman like Boris would Ken lose out in the personality stakes. To quote Peregrine Worsthorne again:

“Last week was also the first time I observed much of him on TV, and I was worryingly impressed. For unlike Boris he showed that he could be both witty and serious at the same time.”

As an environmentalist of sorts, the ‘green’ thing matters to me. I’ve heard nothing from Boris on these matters apart from a vague, uncosted, statement of intent to replace the ‘bendy bus’ with a new Routemaster, and even vaguer promises to ‘work with’ local authorities on improving recycling. Ken Livingstone , on the other hand, has a long track record on environmental issues. Friends of the Earth rated Ken the greenest candidate in the Mayoral election, giving him nine out of ten. Said FoE Director Tony Juniper:

“He is one of the few British politicians to have shown genuine leadership on green issues and put London at the forefront of efforts to tackle climate change. His manifesto is full of exciting plans to go even further. Of the three main candidates for London Mayor, Ken Livingstone is the greenest.”

As George Bernard Shaw said, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” In spite of using local elections to beat up a national government for policies outside local control, Londoners still deserve better than Boris. I keep coming back to a quotation from H.L. Mencken: “Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under”. Now I consider myself a pretty decent bloke, and I suspect under the buffoonery and bluster Boris is too. In answering my original question, “What do we do now?”, all I can do, apart from fleeing London, is try to shame Boris into doing the very best job he can for the city that elected him.


Written by Pete Smith

May 3, 2008 at 12:09 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Yes, my thoughts too. He did look shocked when the results finally came in . . . “Blimey, I was only taking the piss”

    Being funny and likeable on Have I Got News for You is not a good qualification for the job but then, we are a nation obsessed with celebrity.


    May 5, 2008 at 7:55 am

  2. He has tried it seems to make an impact in his first week and do things the happy Tory elite wouldn’t have expected; that deputy appointment for young people being one such move (but then that deputy did come out with a bizarre comment about the incompetence of teachers).

    I liked the ban on alcohol on the tube. Like you Pete, I didn’t vote for him but I just hope he gets on with the job and sensibly too.

    Of course, I’m sure Cameron has a team that are pulling Borris’s strings. They don’t want him to misfire do they. 🙂


    May 13, 2008 at 7:05 am

  3. Boris has taken what to my mind is his biggest decision to date by pulling the plug on Ken’s High Court challenge to Thames Water’s Beckton desalination plant.
    More here

    Pete Smith

    May 13, 2008 at 10:27 am

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