Boris Johnson tests out a bed on his visit to the Olympic Park and Olympic Village on July 12, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Exclusive: Boris's hypocrisy on working from home

Mayor of London has worked from home despite denouncing the practice as a "skivers' paradise". 

Back in the summer of 2012, as ministers advised people to work from home during the Olympics to reduce congestion, Boris Johnson urged resistance. Denouncing the practice as a "skiver’s paradise", he declared: "Some people will see the Games as an opportunity to work from home, in inverted commas. We all know that is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again. I don’t want to see too many of us doing that."

Nor was this mere flippancy from the mayor. He added that working from home was "greatly overrated" and that "In my opinion people need to get in. They need to meet each other and they need to exchange ideas in an office environment."

But it seems that Boris isn't prepared to practice what he preaches. In an interview with me in this week's NS, Ken Livingstone reveals that disgruntled Tories on the London Assembly have told him that the mayor plans to start working from home on Fridays. He said: 

What I find interesting is that almost all the dirt I get on Boris comes from the Tory members on the [London] Assembly. They're really angry because he's decided he's going to start working from home on Fridays. 

When I spoke Boris's official spokesman, he told me: "Unlike Mr Livingstone, this mayor has no plans to work from home on Fridays. Unlike Mr Livingstone, this mayor's focus is on jobs and growth, infrastructure investment, housebuilding and crime. That has delivered Crossrail, the Northern Line extension, 150,000 apprenticeships, an 11 per cent fall in crime and more affordable homes, over 70,000 so far, than Mr Livingstone ever built."

But he conceded that Boris had "occasionally" worked from home before again accusing Livingstone of hypocrisy. Another mayoral source said: "These are the tired ratings of someone who lost two elections to Boris. His views are total guff; Livingstone was often absent on a Friday." But regardless of whether that is true, Boris, thanks to his earlier comments, is himself open to the charge of hypocrisy.

And whether working from home involves completing his planned biography of Churchill, plotting to stop George Osborne getting his hands on the Conservative leadership, or just gorging on cheese from the fridge, the revelation will only enhance the impression that he is a part-time mayor. One source close to City Hall said that he had "never known the place to be so quiet". 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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