What will Boris Johnson be like as Mayor of London?

No prizes for guessing what my first newspaper column after the London elections is about…

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?

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The London results

I woke up this morning hoping that Boris winning was just a bad dream – but sadly – it really happened. His acceptance speech though was very gracious – I would advise keeping that speechwriter standing just behind him at all times! Much as I have enjoyed Boris on TV shows I didn’t want him as Mayor of London. Didn’t want Ken either. However, the people have spoken and now the opportunity belongs to Boris and I hope desperately that he doesn’t bugger up all the good things that have happened in London since the GLA was created and that he does seek to re-unite this city.

Anyway – my poor Brian got hideously squeezed – and the knock on for my Assembly colleagues was a loss of two seats on the Assembly. As for the revolting result of a BNP member being elected despite a good turn out – that turns my stomach. Don’t know how colleagues will manage to deal with that every day!

We should get the ward results and therefore constituency results in due course – and I expect that in Hornsey & Wood Green the Lib Dem vote held up very well as overall Monica Whyte, our Enfield and Haringey candidate, polled more votes than last time and on percentage vote share changes had the best relative Liberal Democrat performance in London too (I think).

It was a huge surprise (seemingly to her as well) that Joanne McCartney held the Enfield and Haringey London Assembly seat for Labour. The Tories thought it was in the bag – but it wasn’t. Shades of the 2004 election where again Labour pulled off a surprise victory in the seat despite very high Conservative confidence that they would take it.

And together with the gain of the Tory seat of Brent and Harrow – the Labour Assembly members did not do as badly as expected on a night when Labour nationally had disastrous results in the local elections and when Ken lost. A bit of a silver lining for them there.

So – off we go – finding our way around a changed political map of London with a Mayor who may garner affection – but can he run London? We will see.

The morning after the night before: the moment when it looked like Paxman might punch Johnson

So – Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman grilled the three main candidates for Mayor last night. Personally – I thought Jeremy won hands down. Boris was appalling – and Paxman nailed him on his waffle approach by asking him for a figure for something he was proposing re-replacing bendy buses. Boris was baffled. Boris was bamboozled. But Boris didn’t answer the question. Boris was exposed as not knowing a thing really about bus costs.

At one point I nearly thought Jeremy Paxman was going to punch him – as he strode menacingly towards Boris repeating his question as Boris refused to answer!

Ken was somewhat downbeat – but competent. And Brian, despite a slightly nervous start in his statement, went on to make good substantive points about how to really tackle gun and knife crime – not just talk about it like Boris or say you can’t do anything about it like Ken.

Brian attacked Boris over his lack of experience of delivery and management. When asked about second preference votes – Ken said without hesitation that he would prefer Brian to Boris – but Brian said basically a plague on both their houses and that they were both bad in different ways. So true Brian – so true!

UPDATE: Here’s the Paxman/Johnson face-off from YouTube:

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Brian Paddick's new website: take a look

Good to see that Brian Paddick’s new website is up and running – and worth waiting for.

Having had a look at Ken and Boris’s sites – Brian is now definitely winning the website battle! It’s direct, well-designed, colourful and easy to use.

Looking at Ken’s very dull, very drab effort, strikes me he feels that he has so much publicity through the state publicity machine that he doesn’t feel the need to put anything into his website. Lord knows he has plastered his face on enough things during his term of office – albeit with ‘Mayor of London’ as opposed to ‘Ken’ as the wording – to make sure his beautiful mug is burned into our brains at every turn. As for Boris – well his website at least shows willing – in that you can see effort has been made and thought has been given – but it’s not very interesting with a format that is too intense in terms of content on the home page etc.

Where've you been Boris?

So – Boris Johnson is now complaining that Ken Livingstone keeps on nicking his policy ideas. Well – though of us who have actually been involved in London over the last decade have been well used to Ken doing his magpie act year after year. This complaint says more to me about how sudden and new Boris’s interest is in London than anything else!

Boris Johnson does a runner

Thursday saw a topical debate on policing in London in Parliament. I took the opportunity to raise with the Minister about the need to station Safer Neighbourhood teams in their own ward – i.e. Highgate!

Of wider note was the brief appearance of the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London – Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson has famously only mentioned London once in his entire lifetime at Parliament prior to his current and somewhat sudden interest in being our Mayor.

So – a debate on what the very heart of Londoners are concerned about – you would have thought he would be there paying rapt attention. None of it. After his ‘contribution’ he left!

Brian Coleman in trouble again

I blogged before about Conservative GLA member Brian Coleman’s foolish and insulting comments about Haringey.

Although Brian gamely tried to defend his words in a comment on my earlier blog piece, the real sign of what happened is that even Boris Johnson – not exactly a stranger to the blundering insult of an area himself! – thinks our Brian went too far, as one of our local papers reports:

Boris Johnson MP (Conservative), who was campaigning in Wood Green last week as part of his bid to become the Mayor of London, distanced himself from Mr Coleman’s comments.

He said: “Like everywhere it has its problems. There are lots of lovely bits and lots of lovely people here. I think generalisations are not particularly helpful.”

The perils of blogging: the Alisher Usmanov affair

What with party conference and now general election preparation – not to mention the normal day-to-day work for my constituents – I’ve not previously got to blogging about the Alisher Usmanov affair.

If you don’t know – he is an Uzbek billionaire (and then some) and owns a large chunk of Arsenal football club. Craig Murray – former British ambassador to Uzbekistan – made various allegations about him in his book. No libel writ. But he then repeated them on his website. Result?

Threatening legal letters to the firm hosting his website. Firm then decided to pull the computer on which his website was hosted – removing from the internet both Craig Murray’s site, but also a host of other sites from people who had never even mentioned Alisher Usmanov. Also caught in this was Tim Ireland (of Bloggerheads website, and who had also mentioned the allegations) – his site was pulled by the firm too.

I’ve not actually read Murray’s book or blog – so I don’t know whether the allegations are true or not – but that’s not the point. There are two free speech problems here.

First – I’m all for people who publish things online being held accountable for what they say – but people who publish online should also have reasonable protection. It is possible to get an injunction against a book, newspaper etc before going ahead with a full action for libel – but there are hurdles you have to meet and in the end you have to make your case in court and win if you want to stop the allegations being distributed. That’s not what has happened here as far as I can see – instead it was a case of threatening legal letters and – bing! – the site went.

Second – those innocent sites caught in the crossfire – including Tory MP and London Mayor wannabe Boris Johnson and Labour councillor Bob Piper. These and others do seem to be back online – but they shouldn’t have gone in the first place.

In many ways the internet – and blogging community – has shown its resilience through this, with widespread support online for the principle of free speech (and far more publicity about the allegations I suspect than if the lawyers had never sent those letters!) There’s an impressive list of blogging supporters at Tim Ireland’s new/temporary site.

Now – libel law isn’t my area of speciality, but clearly what’s happened here leads to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with our laws.

There’s much that is wrong with our libel laws overall (basically – too much power given to the rich who are willing to gamble on the libel lottery), but it may also be there are some smaller, more immediate changes that would be feasible to pursue in Parliament, even though I’m sceptical of the odds of getting a major libel law overhaul in the near future. Something to ponder – and I’m open to suggestions.

(Update: I’ve corrected the text above as more than one legal letter was sent – I originally wrote about “one” letter)