Magazine article The Spectator

It Has to Be Boris

Magazine article The Spectator

It Has to Be Boris

Article excerpt

The government's failings have hampered his campaign, but he must prevail.

A few weeks ago, Michael Gove addressed a crowd of Tory activists in the basement of a London hotel. He wanted to disabuse them of what he regarded as a dangerous notion. The London mayoral election, he said, was not about Boris Johnson vs Ken Livingstone; the stakes were far higher than one man for one city. They had nationwide implications. This is a critical moment in the lifetime of parliament, he said, which will set the trajectory for the next few years - for good or for ill.

The London election was one of these very rare 'watershed binary moments ' for Br it ish politics as a whole.

The Education Secretary spelled out the two alternatives. 'One is that we will be reelected, Ed Miliband's flailing leadership will receive another blow and Conserva t ism w i l l have been affirmed in the greatest city in the world and we will be on course for a majority. Or we'll lose. The second half of this parliament will be about Labour being on the turn, coming back ready to govern and David Cameron will be seen as someone who is potentially a lame duck, who has his most powerful campaigner defeated. Someone who clearly has the momentum running away from him. It's as simple as that, and unless we secure that victory for Boris, all the momentum that we've been able to generate in government will dissipate.'

Gove was speaking last month, when the Tories were ahead in the polls and George Osborne had yet to deliver what may be remembered as the most politically disastrous B udget of modern times. A pile-up of government errors has followed and, now, confirmation that we are in a double-dip recession. Labour is ten percentage points ahead nationally, and a stunning 19 points in London. The election would be a walkover for Labour were it not for Boris's popularity among non-Tories, and the contempt which so many Labour voters have for Ken. The question in this election is how fast Boris can swim against the anti-Tory tide.

The Mayor is standing for re-election with as good a record as you can expect from a job with so few powers. London now has about 8,000 'Boris bikes', which have been taken for ten million rides. He has expelled the cyclist-squashing bendy buses, presided over a ten per cent cut in crime and menaced Downing Street enough to safeguard the budget for the Crossrail project. The Greater London Authority tax was frozen - saving the average Londoner a cumulative £445, and Boris says he'll cut a further ten per cent if re-elected. Not bad for a man once portrayed by his enemies as a bumbling blond, unfit to govern.

But this election is not, alas, about what Boris has achieved. The issues on the doorstep are housing, jobs and the cost of living - all of which fall under the aegis of Cameron's increasingly unpopular government.

Boris might have been able to laugh off relatively trivial stories about pasty tax, and Theresa May getting the dates wrong for Abu Qatada's extradition process. But there is nothing laughable about a double-dip recession, record youth unemployment - or the feeling that Cameron's government is on the wrong track and needs to be sent a message.

Boris's aides have watched aghast as the government has muddled its way into disaster after disaster. …

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