Boris Johnson – two months on

Just days after his May 1st victory, looking out from his 8th floor office across the skyline of our great capital city, Boris Johnson repeated to me his early days mantra – yes, I was elected as a Conservative, but I am now mayor of the whole of London and will govern for the whole of London. Don’t believe what my opponents said, was his message, I’m no rabid right-winger.

Assessing his progress two months on, that clearly remains his desired positioning. It’s significant that his first gaffe – the sacking of deputy chief of staff, James McGrath, over ill-judged (but not in my view overtly racist) remarks – demonstrated acute sensitivity to maintaining his ‘inclusive’ stance, as well as a notable ruthlessness of which we may see more.

The well-planned media grid for the first 100 days is working, providing a steady stream of photo opportunities and easy announcements. No difficult yet defining decisions, no obvious changes of direction compared to the previous mayor. Meanwhile the media are being kept very firmly at arms length, with the weekly City Hall press conference abandoned.

Behind the scenes, however, the picture is less rosy. Johnson has botched the process of appointing his advisers. Despite promising an end to cronyism and sofa government, there’s no sense of a coherent new team with a new agenda. Indeed, no mention at all of the promised cabinet.

He can’t find an environment adviser. His key planning adviser, Westminster Council Tory, Simon Milton, was stymied by (ultimate irony of ironies) Mrs Thatcher’s ‘Widdicombe’ rules. At times Boris himself doesn’t appear to know what he has delegated to whom. And whichever adviser left him to go on the Today programme without the key Olympics funding memorandum desires a right rollicking or worse.

Another sign that the practical reality of government is more complicated than campaign rhetoric is his so-called Forensic Audit Panel. It was billed as a root and branch investigation into waste, inefficiency and worse. In fact he has rounded up a collection of mates from Tory councils, a sympathetic (indeed card-carrying) journalist and some supporters from business. They said they were especially looking at use of consultants, then promptly gave a contract for £50,000 to the firm of one of the panel members without a competitive tender nor a clear output-based specification. Just the sort of thing I’d have blasted the previous mayor for doing.

Two months in, we don’t have a clearer picture of what Boris Johnson really stands for nor how London will be different and better at the end of his four year mayoralty. For now, careful news planning should carry him safely through the honeymoon period. But he will need to articulate a coherent vision and develop an enthusiasm for the process of government if he is to be a successful and admired mayor of the greatest city in the world.

* Mike Tuffrey AM leads the Liberal Democrat Group at City Hall. Elected to the GLA in 2002, he was previously a Lambeth councillor and an elected member of the GLC.

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9 Comments

  • passing tory 2nd Jul '08 - 11:50am

    Let me state it another way. During the course of his campaign Boris took his time at the start to lay good foundations and then used this background work to good effect. It appears that he is taking a similar approach this time round, and good on him. As the motto goes, “time spent in recce is time well spent” (or, more colloquially “proper planning prevents piss poor performance”).

    Of course, he will have to have a thick skin as lots of people take their pot shots, and try to score party political points. But, for my money, he is doing exactly the right things.

  • “… axing a deal which got London cheaper oil during an oil price crisis (and which my fellow Boris-Watcher Tom has calculated may have even left us in profit)?”

    So it’s alright to do deals with dodgy regimes as long as we share the proceeds and even make a profit?

    Very Lib Dem.

  • Labour Member 2nd Jul '08 - 9:54pm

    Boris is doing exactly what I thought he would do – ie nothing much. Let’s be honest here, he hasn’t got the ability to manage more than that and he also feels (rightly, sadly) he can ride on the bck of the government’s unpopularity.

    When he’s gone too far – eg his attempt to get populist on the Olympics it has gone very badly for him and he cannot afford to do that too many more times without it being noticed that he is incontinent of bullsh*t.

    FRor those of us who want rid of him (and I am including the LDs here obviously) the only thing to be done now is to bide time and not (and this is where I would scold LDs) to follow him down the road of empty populism.

    Next time round Boris will have no novelty value and if the election is about big and serious issues he ought to lose.

    In an ideal world he’d lose to a unified candidate of the progressive left of centre and not to someone with a narrow party label, but I guess that will remain my dream and not the reality.

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