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Don’t Be Fooled by Bumbling Boris

Ken Livingstone

WHEN Boris Johnson announced last week that he was standing for selection as the Conservative candidate in the 2008 London mayoral election, I expected to hear something from him about his policies for London.

Lots of people in and around the Tory party duly gave interviews, from David Cameron downwards.

But Johnson himself appeared for a photo opportunity with a PR brief to journalists that he would not be answering questions. The Tory media strategy was simple. Don’t let Johnson answer media questions.

However one piece of information did come out. Boris Johnson believes: ‘The real hero of Jaws is the mayor, a wonderful politician. A gigantic fish is eating all your constituents, and he decides to keep the beach open!”

It is indeed a fitting parable for a Tory. The Mayor, after all, allowed the town to be eaten to protect the profit of its businesses.

Some people portray Boris Johnson as a joke. Indeed if he were running for the chair of a quiz show he is genuinely a strong candidate. But he is not a joke, but a disaster, for the Mayor of a huge city such as London.

For the Mayor of London does have to answer questions – and even more important than questions to journalists questions of policy.

Decisions have to be taken dozens of times a day in managing one of the world’s major capital cities with an expenditure on police, transport and other services of £11 billion a year for which the Mayor has direct responsibility.

He has no experience of managing any large organisation – a small scale right wing magazine does not constitute one - and his general mode is to make a mistake, a gaffe, and then amusingly apologise for it. The trouble is that if you have made a wrong policy decision an apology does not correct the damage it has done.

Boris Johnson has not shown any serious interest in even the most important issues confronting the capital.

A keystone of my policy is to defend the Freedom Pass, which provides free public transport for older and disabled Londoners. Boris Johnson did not bother to vote in parliament on it.

He did not attend the parliamentary vote on Crossrail – the £10 billion underground rail link from Heathrow airport to the City and Canary Wharf which is the key to creating 200,000 jobs in central London.

But if Boris Johnson may be less than forthcoming about his own programme for London, there is no doubt what his party stands for.

They have resisted every progressive measure that I have introduced as Mayor.

The Tories on the London Assembly voted against all my budgets that delivered record police numbers as well as against the policies that have raised bus and tube ridership to the highest ever levels.

They also opposed free bus travel for under-18s, as they have the living wage for Londoners.

The congestion charge has been a crucial policy for both transport and the environment – and the Tories voted to abolish it.

As Mayor I have introduced a policy that 50 per cent of all new housing development must be affordable. Tory councils have consistently attempted to overturn it.

These are the issues over which the 2008 mayoral election will be fought, and Boris Johnson will have to make it clear where he stands on them.

The Tories evidently hope to deflect attention from their party’s actual record in London by concentrating on personality rather than politics.

They no doubt intend to promote Johnson as an entertaining maverick who speaks his mind, does not always toe the party line and has an engaging talent for humorous self-deprecation.

But behind the affable, bumbling persona that Johnson has cultivated it is not hard to identify some very right-wing views.

Johnson voted against amendments that would have allowed unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, to adopt children. He voted in favour of hunting. On nuclear issues Johnson voted in favour of replacing Trident and did not bother to attend the votes on nuclear power in 2002 and 2006.

Last year he described ecological objections to highly polluting 4x4s as “quasi-religious” and demanded “do we really have the foggiest idea what difference to the temperature of the planet we can make by our individual actions?”

It is the world’s cities that are the main source of the carbon emissions which, if we fail to reduce them drastically, threaten the future of life on this planet.

The last thing we need is a Mayor of London who pours scorn on the idea that individuals need to change the way they, wasting less and thinking more about the energy they consume, in order to prevent catastrophic global warming.

As regards the trade unions the reception they could expect is shown by his statement when the firefighters came out on strike over pay in 2002. Johnson expressed regret that the “Reaganesque option of mass redundancies is not open; not with Britain’s increasingly arteriosclerotic employment law.”

The multicultural model which has been central to London’s success, not least in our bid to host the 2012 Olympics that will bring thousands of jobs and homes to the capital, has received no support from Johnson.

He is clearly more at home in his parliamentary constituency in Henley-on-Thames than he is with the ethnic and cultural diversity of London.

During his stint as editor of the Spectator, he commissioned articles from writers who warned against the supposed threat of immigration and condemned multiculturalism.

One issue of the magazine notoriously featured the front-page headline “The Muslims are coming!” and the article inside declared: “Islam really does want to conquer the world.”

So much for Johnson’s fine words in the Evening Standard last week about his admiration for London as “a model of co-operation and harmony between races and religions.” He has done absolutely nothing to assist this.

Indeed, based on his past record, it is clear that my efforts to build harmonious relations between London’s diverse communities would be seriously undermined by Johnson if he were Mayor.

The close relationship between the mayoralty and the peace movement that I have established would also be destroyed.

Johnson enthusiastically backed the invasion of Iraq, defending the neocon project of regime change and arguing that it was “a brutal reality that Britain’s global role is to do more or less what the Americans want.”

He dismissed “tiresome pretexts about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction” and supported the right of the US government to “reconfigure the map of the Middle East so that an important part of the jigsaw would be more favourable to America and Western interests.”

It was only when the occupation of Iraq turned into a military catastrophe that he changed his mind.

Some commentators have dismissed Boris Johnson as a joke candidate, but that is a mistake. He is, as someone put it, a reactionary in bufoons clothing.

To elect someone as Mayor with such a right-wing record, with no experience of managing a major city nor any real interest in the issues that have faced its people, would not be a joke but seriously damaging. Every progressive movement in the city should be warned.

This article was published in the Morning Star, 21 July 2007