Six months on, what shape is Boris Johnson’s mayoralty in?

Asked by Lib Dem Voice back in June what I was making of it all, I guessed that “careful news planning should carry him safely through the honeymoon period”. I warned that “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”. And I concluded that we didn’t yet know “what Boris Johnson really stands for nor how London will be different and better at the end of his four year mayoralty”.

Today that fundamentally remains my view, even though he has started to make the big decisions that will ultimately define how Londoners view him.

On travel fares, for example, in September he decided on an inflation-busting middle-of-the-road position (excuse the pun): neither holding them down, as Londoners would have expected from a mayor elected on a value-for-money ticket, nor putting them up by enough to fund an investment programme. On the Western congestion charge, the indications are that a similar compromise – keep but amend – will be his preferred option.

On policing, the big decision was to dispense with the services of the commissioner, Sir Ian Blair. The only surprise was the manner of the doing: not a proper process through the Metropolitan Police Authority, lending legitimacy to the decision and rising above the party divide. Instead, a quiet chat spun out of control and ironically created the impression of a decisive mayor taking personal charge of London’s policing…. a fact he will come to regret when the problems mount up and are placed firmly at his door.

What of my challenge to develop an enthusiasm for governing? Here the disarray in building his top team – with more high profile departures from City Hall’s eight floor than an edition of Celebrity Big Brother – has of itself forced greater personal ‘ownership’ of the business of government. And he clearly does relish the ability to do and decide, after years merely commenting or opposing.

That said, a mayor is not just a doer – he or she needs to lead and inspire, and at a moment of crisis or extreme challenge, to reassure. Ken Livingstone had his moment of euphoria and disaster, winning the Olympics and then barely 24 hours later having to rally London in the face of the 7/7 terror threat.

The last few weeks have seen an arguably more acute threat to Londoners – the financial tsunami sweeping through the London economy which will have profound economic impacts for years to come. Where is Boris Johnson? Mimicking Corporal Jones’s advice to another bank manager, in mythical Warmington on Sea – “Don’t panic, Mr Manwaring!”

Where is the package of urgent action to addressing rising unemployment – a short term boost to tourism promotion, for example, and extending the existing half price travel scheme from people on income support to those with Job Seekers Allowance?

Compare the lack of action in London with New York, where Mayor Bloomberg is being courted for his advice on the bailout by both presidential candidates. Unlike Mayor Johnson, Bloomberg IS a ‘man with a plan’. He’s talking about diversifying the economy away from over-reliance on financial services, bringing in tax breaks to encourage the film and TV industries, and, yes, promoting tourism.

So the verdict six months on? A mayor getting into the swing of governing, Yes. Caution, not radical neo-conservatism, Yes again. But leading, inspiring and taking action as we enter very tough times, alas No.

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

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6 Comments

  • Boris has got one giant problem.

    In order to satisfy his Clarksonite fanbase, he’d have to follow policies which would be ruinous to a city like London. He can either shore up his core vote or alienate the majority.

    His confusion is evident as he sees how successful the congestion charge has been, but his instincts drive him towards opposing it in order to satisfy hiw own people, Mail readers and libertarians.

    Paddick would obviously have been the better choice, but Livingstone will get a good write-up in history.

  • It think it is WaLmington-on-Sea (with “L”, not “R”), and it is Captain MAINWAIRING. Corporal Jones always addressed Mainwairing as “Sir”. It was Private Pike who addressed him as “Mr Mainwairing”. Captain Square of the Eastgate Platoon always pronounced the name “Mainwairing” as it was written, much to Mainwairing’s annoyance.

  • It is a bit unfair to compare Boris with Bloomberg – the mayor of NY has far more powers, and a far bigger budget. As you say, Boris could spend a bit more on tourism PR (although the gyrating £ makes it hard to know which market to target), but is there evidence that that would achieve much? The answer is not always higher spending.

    Boris has pledged to freeze his share of council tax – not a trivial pledge when inflation is running at 5.2%. I think that many Londoners fearing for the future, hit by below inflation pay deals, etc, will think that is the best thing that he could do.

    He has also been pretty forthright in arguing that we must be careful that new financial regulations do not strangle the city.

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