Boris Johnson tests out a bed on his visit to the Olympic Park and Olympic Village on July 12, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Boris admits working from home after denouncing it as a "skivers' paradise"

Mayor concedes "sometimes I don't go in" after being challenged by Ken Livingstone on his LBC phone-in show. 

In my interview with him in the current NS, Ken Livingstone reveals that disgruntled Tories on the London Assembly have told him that Boris has decided to start working from home on Fridays. 

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.

For the mayor, it was an embarrassing claim. Back in the summer of 2012, as ministers advised people to work from home during the Olympics to reduce congestion, he denounced the practice as a "skiver’s paradise", declaring: "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 Boris. 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."

When I reported the story last Wednesday, the claim was denied by the mayor's spokesman ("no plans to work from home on Fridays"), but Livingstone seized an opportunity to question Boris himself today. In a message left on his LBC show Ask Boris, he said: 

Hi Boris, it's Ken here. I was really interested to see that you're now working from home on Friday, I used to do that occasionally when we couldn't do a babysitter, but I managed to take a big wad of stuff home and brought it in on Monday morning. All your staff tell me they don't see you come in with a big load of work on Monday morning. Tell me, all the problems that we've got in London, the housing crisis, the air quality, do you really think it's justified taking all that time off?

I was just surprised when we had that picture of you in the Telegraph standing in front of the desk after you'd been mayor for five years, you hadn't even moved a little pot of pens and pencils that I used to keep there. Do you do the day job?

The mayor gave a typically evasive response, declaring: "Well, I'm delighted to say that since I managed to evict the idle, useless reprobate Ken Livingstone from his position in London, where he was doing not very much, we have greatly improved the supply of housing, which he mentioned..."

But pressed by presenter Nick Ferrari ("Do you work from home on a Friday?"), he replied: "I work all the hours God gives, I can tell you, I have absolutely no plans to work on Friday." The exchange continued: 

Nick Ferrari: That wasn't quite the question. Do you work from home on a Friday? It's not against the law, by the way, should you so desire. Do you work from home on a Friday?

Boris Johnson: I do not, I do not. I come in, I work unbelievably hard and look at all the things that we've done...air quality...

NF: Where's Ken Livingstone got this idea from?

BJ: Because I'm sometimes out of the office on a Friday, which is perfectly legitimate

NF: Ah! So you sometimes don't go in on a Friday?

BJ: Yeh, I sometimes don't go in. 

Whether working from home involves completing his 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. As I reported last week, one source close to City Hall said that he had "never known the place to be so quiet".

Update: Tom Watson makes a sharp point on Twitter.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ken Livingstone says publicly what many are saying privately: tomorrow belongs to John McDonnell

The Shadow Chancellor has emerged as a frontrunner should another Labour leadership election happen. 

“It would be John.” Ken Livingstone, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vocal allies in the media, has said publicly what many are saying privately: if something does happen to Corbyn, or should he choose to step down, place your bets on John McDonnell. Livingstone, speaking to Russia Today, said that if Corbyn were "pushed under a bus", John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, would be the preferred candidate to replace him.

Even among the Labour leader’s allies, speculation is rife as to if the Islington North MP will lead the party into the 2020 election. Corbyn would be 71 in 2020 – the oldest candidate for Prime Minister since Clement Attlee lost the 1955 election aged 72.

While Corbyn is said to be enjoying the role at present, he still resents the intrusion of much of the press and dislikes many of the duties of the party leader. McDonnell, however, has impressed even some critics with his increasingly polished TV performances and has wowed a few sceptical donors. One big donor, who was thinking of pulling their money, confided that a one-on-one chat with the shadow chancellor had left them feeling much happier than a similar chat with Ed Miliband.

The issue of the succession is widely discussed on the left. For many, having waited decades to achieve a position of power, pinning their hopes on the health of one man would be unforgivably foolish. One historically-minded trade union official points out that Hugh Gaitskell, at 56, and John Smith, at 55, were 10 and 11 years younger than Corbyn when they died. In 1994, the right was ready and had two natural successors in the shape of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in place. In 1963, the right was unprepared and lost the leadership to Harold Wilson, from the party's centre. "If something happens, or he just decides to call it a day, [we have to make sure] it will be '94 not '63," they observed.

While McDonnell is just two years younger than Corbyn, his closest ally in politics and a close personal friend, he is seen by some as considerably more vigorous. His increasingly frequent outings on television have seen him emerge as one of the most adept media performers from the Labour left, and he has won internal plaudits for his recent tussles with George Osborne over the tax bill.

The left’s hopes of securing a non-Corbyn candidate on the ballot have been boosted in recent weeks. The parliamentary Labour party’s successful attempt to boot Steve Rotheram off the party’s ruling NEC, while superficially a victory for the party’s Corbynsceptics, revealed that the numbers are still there for a candidate of the left to make the ballot. 30 MPs voted to keep Rotheram in place, with many MPs from the left of the party, including McDonnell, Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John Trickett, abstaining.

The ballot threshold has risen due to a little-noticed rule change, agreed over the summer, to give members of the European Parliament equal rights with members of the Westminster Parliament. However, Labour’s MEPs are more leftwing, on the whole, than the party in Westminster . In addition, party members vote on the order that Labour MEPs appear on the party list, increasing (or decreasing) their chances of being re-elected, making them more likely to be susceptible to an organised campaign to secure a place for a leftwinger on the ballot.

That makes it – in the views of many key players – incredibly likely that the necessary 51 nominations to secure a place on the ballot are well within reach for the left, particularly if by-election selections in Ogmore, where the sitting MP, is standing down to run for the Welsh Assembly, and Sheffield Brightside, where Harry Harpham has died, return candidates from the party’s left.

McDonnell’s rivals on the left of the party are believed to have fallen short for one reason or another. Clive Lewis, who many party activists believe could provide Corbynism without the historical baggage of the man himself, is unlikely to be able to secure the nominations necessary to make the ballot.

Any left candidate’s route to the ballot paper runs through the 2015 intake, who are on the whole more leftwing than their predecessors. But Lewis has alienated many of his potential allies, with his antics in the 2015 intake’s WhatsApp group a sore point for many. “He has brought too much politics into it,” complained one MP who is also on the left of the party. (The group is usually used for blowing off steam and arranging social events.)

Lisa Nandy, who is from the soft left rather than the left of the party, is widely believed to be in the running also, despite her ruling out any leadership ambitions in a recent interview with the New Statesman.However, she would represent a break from the Corbynite approach, albeit a more leftwing one than Dan Jarvis or Hilary Benn.

Local party chairs in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is profiling should another leadership election arise. One constituency chair noted to the New Statesman that: “you could tell who was going for it [last time], because they were desperate to speak [at events]”. Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall all visited local parties across the country in preparation for their election bids in 2015.

Now, speaking to local party activists, four names are mentioned more than any other: Dan Jarvis, currently on the backbenches, but in whom the hopes – and the donations – of many who are disillusioned by the current leadership are invested, Gloria De Piero, who is touring the country as part of the party’s voter registration drive, her close ally Jon Ashworth, and John McDonnell.

Another close ally of Corbyn and McDonnell, who worked closely on the leadership election, is in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is gearing up for a run should the need arise.  “You remember when that nice Mr Watson went touring the country? Well, pay attention to John’s movements.”

As for his chances of success, McDonnell may well be even more popular among members than Corbyn himself. He is regularly at or near the top of LabourList's shadow cabinet rankings, and is frequently praised by members. Should he be able to secure the nominations to get on the ballot, an even bigger victory than that secured by Corbyn in September is not out of the question.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.