Boris: The first hundred days

Boris: The first hundred days
Boris: The first hundred days

No-one quite knew what to make of Boris Johnson's electoral victory one hundred days ago. Was it the triumph of his personality over that of the only other man in British politics recognisable by his first name - Ken Livingstone? Or was it a symbol of the sturdy approach of a Conservative government, taking first the capital and then the country? Plenty of people in the media believed it represented the victory of conservative common sense over metropolitan multiculturalism.

After one hundred days things have not grown much clearer. Boris has not proved the bumbling incompetent many had predicted, but he's hardly a smooth political operator either. Both resignations under his watch followed explicit assurances from the mayor he would stand by his man. He began his tenure by cutting short the time he is available to the media every week and thereby managed to also cut short his honeymoon period with the press. He's starting to make one too many mistakes with what memos and agreements do and do not exist.

One of Boris' first actions was also one of his best - to scrap the Londoner newspaper. This horrific little title stood as an affront to the intelligence of anyone unfortunate enough to cross its path. Paid for by Ken, and filled with the positive things he was doing, it was quite possible to close one's eyes after reading it and imagine in detail what it's like to live in China. London hacks and politicians called it the 'Iskra', after the communist paper in Russia. The decision to funnel the saved funds into planting 10,000 trees was genius.

It was a highly ideological decision, and no worse for that. But it came at the same time as another ideological decision, this time of a less amenable character. Boris' decision to scrap the deal between Ken - Red Ken for our purposes here - and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was motivated by political belief without any grounding in what it would mean.

Under the deal, London was supplied with cheap fuel and in exchange it helped sort out Caracas' disastrous transport system. The saving meant Londoners on income support were to be given half-price fares. Instead, their fares will double and London now has to pay the Venezuelan government £7 million. Boris justified this decision by saying he does not do deals with "foreign dictators". No matter what you might think of him, Chavez has been elected in a popular vote three times and easily won a referendum on whether he should be recalled from office. Britain's prime minister, on the other hand, has never faced a popular vote.

But people didn't vote for Boris because of South American politics or free London newspapers. One of the serious mistakes Livingstone made in his campaign was not taking Londoners' fear of crime - especially knife crime - seriously enough. Having based his campaign on knife crime, Boris went to work on the subject with a disciplined seriousness.

So, what' changed? Very little, but one hundred days isn't enough time to expect results on a complex problem that most people accept is rooted in social and economic factors. Operation Blunt 2 was launched in mid-May by the Met - with Boris an eager supporter. Stop and search powers came back with a vengeance, and scanners were installed around tube station trouble spots. There's been no let up in the stabbings yet.

His big coup for the long-term anti-knife strategy was Ray Lewis, the man responsible for a seemingly successful school which imbued young black kids with discipline and leadership qualities. Lewis was an absolute dream for the modern Conservative party - full of decent Tory talk of discipline but not a middle-aged white man. Boris loved him. But then all sorts of different journalists from all sorts of different papers started bringing up questions about his past. Finance, abuse, and then some things that were even worse. Boris said he relied on Lewis' position as a justice of the peace as a hallmark of his honesty. Turns out he wasn't a justice of the peace after all. None of it was Boris' direct fault, the newspapers were forced to conclude, but questions arose as to his judgement, and those questions are still here. Each time one of his underlings has to resign, the gap between his direct responsibility and his judgement will grow smaller.

"We have built strong foundations in these first 100 days, but there is so much more to do," Boris says. "We will now move forward with fresh ideas and energy, to enhance our quality of life, to ensure no one is left behind as our city prospers, to make the streets safer, whilst delivering value for money in everything we do."

Some people are not so confident. Environmentalists have watched Boris carefully since he made the following juicy remark in 2000: "There is no evidence that the planet is suffering from the extreme weather patterns associated with climate change."

He wasn't saying that by the time he was running for mayor. Instead, we had a promise to cut the capital's carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2025. Despite announcing ten new 'low carbon zones' last week, he still hasn't suggested how this is to be done. "After 100 days Boris Johnson has yet to show how he will keep his promise to make London the world's greenest capital," says Friends of the Earth's London campaigns coordinator, Jenny Bates. "He has made progress in some areas - but this has been undermined by transport policies that will lead to more traffic, more flights and more climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions."

But Boris' main challenge was set for him the day he became mayor. He had to make sure London under the Tories didn't turn into a reason to vote Labour in the next general election. There's still a year and a half until anyone will have the chance to make that decision, but there's nothing he's done so far which will turn anyone off David Cameron in 2010.

Ian Dunt


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