Boris wins

I went into City Hall last Sunday to do the BBC’s Politics Show on the London election results. Ken Livingstone was already virtually gone. Desks were being cleared and the new regime was undoubtedly choosing the wallpaper and furniture. The King is dead. Long live the King!

This weekend eight years ago I was elected to the London Assembly – and Ken became London’s first Mayor. It was so exciting – a blank page on which to write the capital’s future. And now it’s Boris! Unbelievable…

What will Boris Johnson do to London? I have to ‘fess up immediately – I was upset by Boris even throwing his hat in the ring – let alone winning. To me he was not someone who had ever shown the slightest interest in London and its key issues prior to this opportunity knocking on his door.

Mind you – Ken had become arrogant from his years in office and really failed to tackle the issues of the sleaze and corruption allegations swirling around his advisers. Two of them had to quit in the end – but we are still left with a whole host of questions over what money went where and why, and Ken never looked like he was really interested in sorting out matters. The cheeky chappy of yesteryear had worn out our good will and we were clearly desperate for change. But will that change be for the better?

Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick was mercilessly squeezed by celebrity – and the fight by the Labour and Tory armies to get their vote out showed in London’s results. I want to pay tribute to Brian for being such a good candidate. As he put it himself – he didn’t do bad for a ‘talented amateur’. But up against two big beasts and to be frank, old political stagers like Ken and Boris, he was caught in the cross fire as the big beasts slugged it out.

So now we watch to see what Boris does with his new job. It has to be one of the best jobs there is – to be Mayor of this great city. My fears are that he will take London backwards. To be a success as Mayor you have to get the details right – and when pressed on issue after issue Boris either floundered (as on the costings of his bus policies) or frequently back-tracked from previous statements. As Mayor he’ll have a huge staff to help deliver the details, so perhaps he will pull it off, perhaps not. Time will tell!

The voting would seem to say that outer London has wreaked its revenge on a Zone 1 Mayor. But the last thing we need is a Mayor who now spends four years shoring up his outer London vote ready for the next contest. That was Ken’s Achilles heel. He spent much of his time and money devoted to the groups that would repay him electorally.

The first four years of Ken’s reign, I stood shoulder to shoulder with him to introduce the first congestion charge – when it was still about reducing congestion, not raising revenue. I stood shoulder to shoulder with him against the Government’s expensive and ill-thought out private finance for the tube. But then he rejoined the Labour Party – and it was all down hill after that. And in the end the seeming use of the London Development Agency to fund his adviser’s friends’ projects (now being investigated) said it all. It was nicknamed ‘Ken’s Bank’.

That’s the main thing I had against Ken – that in the end it became more about funding his re-election and less about governing for all Londoners.

So my advice to Boris is don’t follow the same route. Don’t simply do the converse of Ken and engineer all your efforts towards those who support you. It is patently wrong for any Mayor to simply channel funds to their own political strongholds. London needs a Mayor who will fight for all Londoners. Ken became a divisive figure – and that is my real beef with him. He set outer London against inner, rich against poor and race against race. He did lots many good things in London and when history is written it will remember those kindly. But his cynical use of his office and divide and rule will also be part of his political epitaph.

Boris – you have the chance of a lifetime. Delivery is all!

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2008