Boris Johnson delivers his speech on Europe at Bloomberg's London HQ this morning. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Boris's frivolity has left London craving serious leadership

When it comes to tackling the real issues facing the city, Boris has failed spectacularly. 

Who would have thought it? The famous blonde mop will soon be seen frantically pedalling its way past City Hall on the way to Westminster. As predictable as it was, Boris’s announcement today breaks a long-standing promise to Londoners that he would not become an MP while he was Mayor. The news clarifies where Boris’s priorities really lie and confirms what many of us have been saying for some time: the story of Boris’s London has been far more about Boris than about London.

To give the man his due, it hasn’t all been bad. For all the bombast and bravado, Boris has represented London well on the global stage. He is a jovial and likeable figurehead for the capital, fronting the 2012 Olympics and promoting the city well. I worked with him closely in the aftermath of the 2011 riots and always found him to be warm and amiable. I wish him well in whatever he does next.

But what has become increasingly clear is that while his own ambition knows no limit, Boris is seriously lacking in real ideas or ambition for London. The headline-grabbing gimmicks such as "Boris Island" disguise the fact that this emperor does not have any clothes. It took five years as Mayor for Boris to finally publish his vision for the city, and subsequent steps towards implementing that vision have been minimal and half-hearted.

Boris sets his targets low, but still fails to meet them. At a time when London needs 100,000 new homes a year, he gave himself a hopelessly inadequate annual target of 15,000 affordable homes and still spectacularly fell short. He talks up Silicon Roundabout yet fails to recognise that a 21st century world city needs technological innovation and investment that extends far beyond a few streets in Farringdon. He lets unemployment soar and then says it’s not his job to create jobs.

When it comes to tackling the real issues facing London, Boris has failed spectacularly. From infrastructure to transport to policing, his legacy is one of delays, disinterest and distraction. Those who have to work with him talk of a man biding his time, doing the minimum he can get away with and pushing the big issues into the long grass to avoid having to make tough decisions.

As a result, the next mayor will inherit a city in which problems that were mounting in 2008 are now spiralling out of control. On housing Boris’s record is particularly poor. His pledges and targets on house-building lie in tatters, constantly rewritten and redefined to cover up his failures. He has passively allowed London rents to hit an all-time high. And his decision to allow affordable housing rents to be significantly increased has hit low-income Londoners hard. Eighty two per cent of Londoners now believe the capital is in the grip of a full-scale housing crisis – and they are right.

Going forward, big problems will require big solutions. Tackling London’s housing crisis will mean making brownfield land available for housing, introducing a sensible system of rent controls and lifting the borrowing cap on local councils so they can build new council homes. Six wasted years mean London’s housing problem has reached crisis point – it needs committed leadership to solve it.

Boris doesn’t score highly on transport either. On his watch, bus fares have soared by 61% while the cost of a Tube travelcard is up by nearly a half. Meanwhile, Boris proudly poses for photos in front of his pointless £60m cable car and his defective £11.4m Routemaster buses. Instead of spending taxpayers money on vanity projects and a few accompanying headlines, he could have committed to keeping fares down. The Mayor of London should be overseeing and implementing a reliable, affordable and integrated transport system, not chasing photo ops and dangling on zip wires.

After promising to make London’s streets safer, meanwhile, Boris cut the number police officers by over 2,600 and forced through the closure of 12 fire stations.

The result of all this is that London is decreasingly affordable and increasingly divided. From his luxury office at the top of City Hall, Boris looks out over a city in which one in four people now live in poverty while the gap between rich and poor has turned into a chasm under the leadership of a Mayor who claims inequality is "essential". 

Whoever takes over in City Hall will have to make up for eight years of lost time. They will need to act boldly and decisively to ensure that London maintains its global edge. London therefore needs a mayor whose sole focus is working for Londoners, not one who is doing the job as a fall-back option or a stepping stone to Downing Street. With steely focus and real commitment, none of the issues the capital faces are insurmountable. It remains a vibrant, diverse and successful world city that 8.6 million people are proud to call home. But we need the mayor to prepare the city for the challenges of tomorrow. Behind the frivolity and the frollicks of Boris’s mayoralty lies the reality of a city craving serious leadership.

David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham

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David Blunkett compares Labour membership to failed revolution “from Ukraine to Egypt”

The Labour peer and former home secretary says new members need a “meaningful political education”, and accuses unions of neglecting their “historic balance”.

There are three sorts of opposition. There’s the civil society opposition, with people campaigning in their own specific areas, people who’ve got an interest group or are delivering social enterprise or a charity. I don’t think we should underestimate that because we're going to have to hang on to it as part of the renewal of civil society.

The second is the opposition formally, within the House of Commons: those who have agreed to serve as the formal shadow ministerial teams. Because of what I’d describe as the turmoil over the last two years, they’ve either not been able to be impressive – ie. they’re trying very hard but they don't have the coherent leadership or backing to do it – or they’ve got completely different interests to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and therefore they’re not engaged with the main task.

Then there’s the third, which is the informal opposition – Labour linked sometimes to the Lib Dems and the SNP in Parliament on the opposition benches as a whole. They’re not doing a bad job with the informal opposition. People getting on with their work on select committees, the departmental committees beginning to shape policy that they can hopefully feed to the National Executive Committee, depending on the make-up of the National Executive Committee following this year’s conference. That embryo development of coherent policy thinking will be the seed-bed for the future.

I lived through, worked through, and was integrally involved with, what happened in the early Eighties, so I know it well. And people were in despair after the ‘83 election. Although it took us a long time to pull round, we did. It’s one reason why so many people, quite rightly in my view, don't want to repeat the split of 1931 or the split of 1981.

So they are endeavouring to stay in to argue to have some vision of a better tomorrow, and to persuade those of goodwill who have joined the party – who genuinely believe in a social movement and in extra-parliamentary non-violent activity, which I respect entirely – to persuade them that they’ll only be effective if they can link up with a functioning political process at national level, and at townhall and county level as well.

In other words, to learn the lessons of what’s happened across the world recently as well as in the past, from the Ukraine to Egypt, that if the groundswell doesn’t connect to a functioning party leadership, then, with the best will in the world, it’s not going to achieve its overall goals.

How do we engage with meaningful political education within the broader Labour party and trade union movement, with the substantially increased rank-and-file membership, without being patronising – and without setting up an alternative to Momentum, which would allow Momentum to justify its existence as a party within a party?

That's the challenge of the next two years. It's not just about someone with a vision, who’s charismatic, has leadership qualities, coming forward, that in itself won’t resolve the challenge because this isn't primarily, exclusively about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the project being entirely on the wrong trajectory.

A lot depends on what the trade unions do. They command effectively the majority on the National Executive Committee. They command the key votes at party conference. And they command the message and resources that go out on the policy or programmes. It’s not just down to personality and who wins the General Secretary of Unite; it’s what the other unions are doing to actually provide their historic balance, because they always have – until now – provided a ballast, foundation, for the Labour party, through thick and thin. And over the last two years, that historic role has diminished considerably, and they seem to just be drifting.

I don’t think anybody should expect there to be a party leadership challenge any time soon. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn might be persuaded at some point to stand down. I was against the challenge against him last year anyway, purely because there wasn't a prepared candidate, there wasn't a policy platform, and there hadn’t been a recruitment drive to back it up.

People shouldn’t expect there to be some sort of white charger out there who will bring an immediate and quick end to the pain we’re going through. I think it’s going to be a readjustment, with people coming to conclusions in the next two years that might lead the party to be in a position to fight a credible general election in 2020. I’ve every intention of laying down some good red wine and still being alive to drink it when the Labour party is elected back to power.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former home secretary and education secretary.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition