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28 March 2011

Is Boris Johnson a mayor or a hack?

His response to the TUC march shows he puts headlines for the Telegraph above the job he wa

By Mike Gapes

The mayor of our capital city ought to be able to take a measured and competent approach to issues that affect the lives of Londoners, even more so when they affect such a vital matter as policing, disorder and protest.

Although he broke his promise to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority as mayor, Boris Johnson still has key responsibilities towards the Met and to the city they police. He has to balance the right of the peaceful majority to express their legitimate opinions with the need to maintain order and uphold the law whenever a violent minority threaten people and property.

He must also reflect the interests of Londoners in terms of their quality of life and their future prosperity.

Yet his Daily Telegraph column today is a bizarre rant, detached from issues affecting Londoners, and seeking to tar the entire opposition movement as violent, right the way through to the leader of the opposition and the shadow chancellor.

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He writes:

The sad thing is that in spite of their crocodile tears, Balls and Miliband will feel quietly satisfied by the disorder – a token, they will tell themselves, of the public feeling that is out there to exploit.

That is simply a spectacularly ill-judged, stupid and senseless comment.

Harriet Harman is right to say that Johnson should withdraw it. It is a foolish allegation, an invention that reveals everything that is out of touch and deeply Tory about this mayor. As Harriet says, instead of attacking the Labour leader,s Johnson should be listening to the hundreds of thousands of people who marched peacefully.

By trying to make a direct link between what Labour stands for and the violence involving a tiny minority, Johnson is doing something much more insidious than attacking Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. He is basically lumping together legitimate peaceful protest with violence. He is saying that those who are part of the non-violent march have an interest in the violence happening.

That is a smear against the hundreds of thousands who marched and the millions of views they represent, right from the very top of London government. It drips with contempt for public opinion on a range of pressing matters, from student fees to VAT.

As mayor, he should be adopting the exact opposite approach, isolating those who cause violence from everyone else. That’s how the police have tried to deal with the demonstrations. They aren’t helped in this by the reckless ramblings of Boris Johnson.

In fact, on the day, Johnson had nothing at all say about the massive demonstration taking place on the streets of the city he is supposed to lead, or the issues that led so many people to come along. He only commented once the clashes started, much later. He did, however, find time to tweet about the Boat Race. Just another example of how out of touch he now is.

It’s not surprising. He didn’t utter a peep in support of the London families hit by rising VAT, EMA cuts, trebling student fees and cuts to the Future Jobs Fund or Building Schools for the Future, either.

Buried within Johnson’s column is an equally revealing passage. He writes of Miliband and Balls:

They will be content to see the police being unfairly attacked on all sides, for being too passive (the right-wing press) or too brutal (the Guardian) . . .

The irony of this is that it is Johnson who is attacking the police: cutting their numbers by 1,000 and threatening local safer neighbourhood police teams. The real attack comes from him. He is making it harder for the Met to police the city.

The Telegraph smear on Labour this morning is of a piece with the relentlessly negative campaigning of the mayor’s re-election team, which has gone negative very early in the campaign, even launching an attack website against Ken Livingtone. Johnson is playing increasingly dirty.

The Telegraph is Boris Johnson’s principal paymaster – he is paid £394,000 a year: £144,000 as mayor but £250,000 from the Telegraph, a sum he has described as “chickenfeed”. In such circumstances, it is little surprise he puts headlines for the Telegraph above a competent approach to the job he was elected to do.

The mayor’s drivel could have come straight out of the Tory playbook in the 1980s. He should withdraw it and apologise.

Either way, as he likes writing it so much, perhaps he should make his Telegraph column a full-time job from May 2012.

Mike Gapes is the MP for Ilford South.