Boris Johnson heckled for almost two hours in Lewisham

The mayor was not made to feel welcome.

Boris Johnson faced one of the most hostile audiences of his mayoralty last night at the People's Question Time in Catford, attacked relentlessly over his role in supporting the closure of Lewisham A&E, his money-losing cable car, fire station closures, gun and knife crime, the cross-river tram, and his climate "sceptic" Telegraph column.

The majority of the event, which Boris is legally mandated to attend (explaining why he was to be found in the lion's den), was spent focusing on the closure of the local accident and emergency department and Lewisham hospital. It's a particularly sore point in the area, because, as Rowenna Davis explained, the hospital isn't being closed because it's under performing, but because other local hospitals are under performing. The intention, it seems, is to drive "business" to those hospitals by closing the successful one.

Despite the published schedule, the A&E closure was discussed as part of nearly every topic, from housing:

 

 

To the economy:

 

 

In addition, there was a section at the start dedicated to it. Lewishamites forced the Mayor to confront the fact that, while he is frequently outspoken on areas he has no control over, such as taxation or immigration, he pleads inability when asked to do the same with the A&E. Similarly, a zombie statistic—that "100 lives would be saved" by the move—was repeatedly brought up by Boris and shot down by attendees, including local MP Heidi Alexander.

At one point, a local doctor pointed out that the Mayor's responsibility for tackling health inequalities, and said that by ignoring Lewisham's effect on that, Boris was being cowardly. It's fair to say he lost the plot at that one. Darryl Chamberlain posted a recording of Johnson's reply:

 

 

It's rare for Boris to get this angry publicly, though he has a reputation for a bit of a temper behind closed doors. The recording also makes clear just how hostile the crowd was; he can barely be heard over the heckles and jeers.

The other hefty load of criticism was reserved for the cable-car (officially called the "Emirates Airline", just as frequently referred to as the "dangleway"). Connecting two tourist attractions, the O2 Dome and ExCeL exhibition centre, the link was sold to south-east Londoners as a new river crossing in an area sorely deprived of them. In fact, after a burst of use during the Olympics, the cable-car—which can carry as many passengers per hour as a modestly-frequent bus service, but costs almost three times as much and doesn't accept travelcards—has fallen into such disuse that the European Regional Development Fund has stepped in with an £8m boost to its ailing finances.

Johnson seems to have accepted that, as a public transport project, the dangleway is a busted flush, instead defending it as a tourist attraction to Lewisham:

 

 

Since one of the Mayor's first acts in office was to cancel the cross-river tram, an ambitious proposal from Peckham to Camden crossing the river at Waterloo bridge, the cable car had a high bar to cross. Judging by local response, it hasn't.

The wonderful @bitoclass has storified the entire meeting if you want more Boris schadenfreude than you can handle.

Boris Johnson. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.