Life after Ken

Terrible results are capped off by Boris Johnson taking the mayoralty of London and with just a coup

It's probably not going to be a John F Kennedy 'remember where you were?' moment but the day Boris Johnson ousted Ken Livingstone and became the first Tory mayor of London is extremely significant.

David Cameron's Conservatives now have something high profile to run. They've got a fair amount of time on their hands so they can concentrate a lot of effort - and people - on the job.

Boris will be the front man and provided he doesn't fall flat on his face, like Labour ministers no doubt hope, the Tories will have something recent to point to so they can say 'look we're no longer the Conservative Party that John Major led and yes we can do government'.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told me on Friday lunchtime - when the result was a very long way from being declared - that she thought the Tories were set to take the mayoralty. She observed that finally they would be tested in running something - presumably because she assumes they will mess things up. But what if they don't?

Labour was prepared for a pretty dire outcome from the 1 May 2008 elections - though not as dire as it turned out. If you were listening to the coverage of the elections in past 48 hours, virtually every commentator said that we would now see a raft of policy initiatives from ministers. Smith said in our phone conversation that she herself would be making an announcement next week. They say they are also going to be listening and learning...

The question on my mind today, though, is what will the Blairites be doing this weekend and in the coming days? Charles Clarke has already chucked a couple of bricks over the parapet at the Brownites but will we hear from Milburn, Byers and the like and, if so, will they take advantage of choppy waters and rock the boat?

Last night I was in the BBC London studios to sound off on the Tessa Dunlop radio show - well, it's cheaper than therapy. As the results came it was incredibly disappointing - and not just because Ken Livingstone lost. It's because the Tories now feel dangerous again and I can't forget what it was like the last time.

Communities abandoned, appalling economic mismanagement, kids educated in portacabins, teachers and nurses paid a pittance. And all the while, tax cuts for the wealthy. Other people seem to have shorter memories.

Personally I hope Gordon Brown is ready for a long, hard two-year fight because the electorate clearly needs to see, in the words of Rhodri Morgan, some clear red water between the prime minister and the PR men that front now the Tory Party.

No more of this big tent stuff - remember "best when we're Labour"?...

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Would you jump off a cliff if someone told you to? One time, I did

I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain.

Ever heard the phrase, “Would you jump off a cliff if they told you to?” It was the perpetual motif of my young teenage years: my daily escapades, all of which sprang from a need to impress a peer, were distressing and disgusting my parents.

At 13, this tomboyish streak developed further. I wrote urgent, angry poems containing lines like: “Who has desire for something higher than jumping for joy and smashing a light?” I wanted to push everything to its limits, to burst up through the ceiling of the small town I lived in and land in America, or London, or at least Derby. This was coupled with a potent and thumping appetite for attention.

At the height of these feelings, I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain. One of the cool girls started saying that her cousin had jumped off the bridge into the river and had just swum away – and that one of us should do it.

Then someone said that I should do it, because I always did that stuff. More people started saying I should. The group drew to a halt. Someone offered me a pound, which was the clincher. “I’m going to jump!” I yelled, and clambered on to the railing.

There wasn’t a complete hush, which annoyed me. I looked down. It was raining very hard and I couldn’t see the bottom of the riverbed. “It looks really deep because of the rain,” someone said. I told myself it would just be like jumping into a swimming pool. It would be over in a few minutes, and then everyone would know I’d done it. No one could ever take it away from me. Also, somebody would probably buy me some Embassy Filter, and maybe a Chomp.

So, surprising even myself, I jumped.

I was about three seconds in the air. I kept my eyes wide open, and saw the blur of trees, the white sky and my dyed red hair. I landed with my left foot at a 90-degree angle to my left ankle, and all I could see was red. “I’ve gone blind!” I thought, then realised it was my hair, which was plastered on to my eyes with rain.

When I pushed it out of the way and looked around, there was no one to be seen. They must have started running as I jumped. Then I heard a voice from the riverbank – a girl called Erin Condron, who I didn’t know very well. She pushed me home on someone’s skateboard, because my ankle was broken.

When we got to my house, I waited for Mum to say, “Would you jump off another cliff if they told you to?” but she was ashen. I had to lie that Dave McDonald’s brother had pushed me in the duck pond. And that’s when my ankle started to throb. I never got the pound, but I will always be grateful to Erin Condron. 

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser