Neither Boris Johnson nor Ken Livingstone are fit to lead London.
It’s a shame, because their double act has been engaging. They developed a nice chemistry; each taking it in turns to be the straight man to the others clown.
But now we have no room for clowns. The world’s greatest city needs serious leadership, not a vaudeville routine.
Ken Livingstone has lived his dream. He will always be London’s first mayor. He may also prove to be its most iconic. “Red Ken” will forever be as a much a part of the capital as red telephone boxes and red double deckers.
But his time has gone. To look at him is to stare into the past. He is physically old, and slightly frail. But not as old and frail as his statements. A measured response to the riots could have been the making of his mayoral candidacy. Instead, he sullied it.
It wasn’t just the cheapness and transparency of his politicking; the Conservatives, the cuts, Cameron. Nor the tasteless way he used the London bombings to frame his suitability for tackling the London riots. It wasn’t even the crass stupidity and simplicity of his analysis; blame the bankers, EMA, the fact that 14 and 15 year old rioters are enraged at their inability to provide for their wives and children.
London needs unity. And Ken Livingstone is divisive. He cannot help himself; divide and conquer, opponents and supporters. It is his way. Try as he might he cannot embrace, only attack. He cannot bind, only drive apart. Ken looks for factions to nurture and manipulate, when what we need is someone who can bring London together.
But crass though Ken Livingstone’s comments were, at least he was in a position to make them. Cometh the hour, cometh the man? That man was not Boris Johnson.
Hindsight is a great gift. But it does not require hindsight to understand that the mayor of a major western capital city needs to be at his post, and seen to be at his post, when major public disorder strikes.
Those asking what operational impact could Boris have had miss the point. While Londoners sat imprisoned in our homes, with that strange awareness that a call to 999 would go unanswered, what we were looking for was leadership — a sense that someone was in control.
There was none. We had a void. It wasn’t that the Mayor was asleep at his post. It’s that he wasn’t at his post at all.
Kit Malthouse is an eloquent mayoral spokesman. But no one voted for him — they voted for Boris Johnson. And where was our mayor when his city needed him most? Absent without leave. He picked up his broom too late.
A crisis reveals the true metal of our leaders, and when the moment came, both prospective leaders of London were found wanting.
But in truth, that shouldn’t really surprise us. Neither Ken Livingstone, nor Boris Johnson are leaders. Nor are they really politicians. They are characters, political entertainers, colorful personalities who leap out from the parade of the bland.
But leading London is not a game. Nor is it the prize awarded to the winner of a game of Celebrity Political Big Brother.
There are serious people in our country, and outside it, who have run things — big things, like corporations, institutions and even cities. They know how to manage. To procure. To plan. To lead.
London needs that now. We need serious leadership, not symbolic or colorful leadership. The world’s greatest city now needs great statesmanship.
I’ve loved the unkempt blond locks. And the newts. I laughed at the Beijing “ping-pong” speech, and at the audacity of calling for the Saudi Royal family to be hung from lamp posts. But quirky humour is no longer enough. Nor are free bus travel for under sixteens and community bicycles.
I want vision, I want drive, I want imagination. Above all, I want professionalism. Someone who will grab my city out of the hands of the rioters and the speculators and the city spivs and the gangsters, and give it back to the people who deserve it.
I don’t care about the politics. I don’t care if Labour wins in London, or if the Tories get a good hiding. All I care about now is that Londoners win in London.
I’ll vote Tory. I’ll vote Green. I’ll vote independent. I still hope and pray I’ll be able to vote Labour.
But I’m not helping place my city back into the hands of a clapped out revolutionary or an Etonian comic. Not after this week. Not ever again.
Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson have been a great double-act. London now needs the act to take its final bow.