What a Shambles: Boris Johnson Is under Pressure Following Yet Another High-Profile Resignation. How Much Longer Can the Bumbling Mayor Himself Survive?

By Livingstone, Ken | New Statesman (1996), June 29, 2009 | Go to article overview

What a Shambles: Boris Johnson Is under Pressure Following Yet Another High-Profile Resignation. How Much Longer Can the Bumbling Mayor Himself Survive?


Livingstone, Ken, New Statesman (1996)


Following yet more disastrous headlines, Boris Johnson's administration now resembles a ship with no clear course and with a crew losing members at an alarming rate, each one forced to walk the plank while the captain himself tries to persuade everyone else that nothing is wrong. So far, three deputy mayors of London, including the most senior of Boris Johnson's aides, have been forced to resign in one year.

The deputy mayor Ian Clement is the latest to go, forced out over misuse of a Greater London Authority credit card. The scandal has been building for several weeks and may well end up in the realm of fraud. In July last year, the deputy mayor Ray Lewis was forced to resign over allegations of financial misconduct and because he had lied about being a magistrate. The first deputy mayor, Tim Parker, resigned in August, only a short time after taking up his post, having lost an internal power struggle.

To this we must add other layers of senior mayoral appointees who have gone in enforced circumstances. The deputy chief of staff James McGrath resigned after suggesting that black people who did not like Boris Johnson as mayor could leave. The Olympics adviser David Ross went having failed to declare that he had used [pounds sterling]162m of company shares for personal loans. The head of Barclays Capital, Bob Diamond, rapidly departed for the United States after the mayoral election, having been touted during the campaign as an example of the expertise Boris would bring to his team.

In all my time in the capital's citywide politics, I cannot think of any comparable period of sheer disarray and instability. The charge of incompetence is being demonstrated repeatedly. This is a mayor who finds the time to do his weekly newspaper column and hold heavily controlled media events, yet has no time to meet the leadership of the largest Tube unions, even when strike action looms, and whose administration is the first to withdraw the entire bus network because of bad weather.

The succession of enforced resignations contrasts very sharply with the previous eight years, in which there was only one resignation at a comparable level. The turmoil at the top is merely a symptom of the problem. London is a great international city, and to sustain that position it requires huge investment on all levels as well as clear policy, to ensure that it is able to function successfully. Boris Johnson's administration has no policy to meet this challenge. It is backward-looking and committed to small, shrunken government. Thus it cannot and will not address London's biggest issues. As a result, it is in a perpetually disorganised state.

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This is a problem for the Conservative Party nationally. Johnson's re-election campaign would be two years into a possible Tory government and the most high-profile electoral test of that government. Unlike the rest of the country, the progressive vote in London held up strongly during the 2008 mayoral election. …

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