The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'boris johnson'
In a few hours, Londoners will go to the polls to elect their next Mayor and councillors. The Mayor is that of Greater London, who administers matters above the separate boroughs but below the level of Westminster. The post was held by a younger and more radical Ken Livingstone in the 1980s, before Thatcher abolished it; when the Blair government restored it, Livingstone won it back and held it for a few terms, before being toppled, at the last election, by the floppy-haired, mildly eccentric Tory Boris Johnson.
A number of candidates are running this year; the Greens, the Lib Dems (running ex-police commissioner Brian Paddick), the far right, and an independent who, unlike most of the others, wants a third runway at Heathrow. The main race, however, is shaping up to be a rematch between Boris and Ken. Two likeable and/or loathsome outsized personalities, holding the banners of their respective tribes and ideologies. (A few days ago, Johnson had a lead in polling, though it's said to have narrowed somewhat since then.)
In the red corner, Ken Livingstone needs no introduction. While less radical than during the wars of the Thatcher Era, he still wears his socialist convictions on his sleeve. Which can be good, when it comes to commitment to public transport, forward planning of infrastructure (something the free market isn't all that good at) and attempting to mitigate some of the rising inequality in high-Gini London, though is somewhat more sketchy when it comes to grand sweeping statements on the public dime. Livingstone has, in the past, used his theoretically strictly local seat as a base for foreign policy, drawing the Greater London Authority into a (symbolic) alliance with Venezuela's autocratic Chavez regime, on the pretext of providing free transport to the poor. More recently, he seems to have taken a leaf out of George Galloway's playbook in trying to court the Islamist vote, expounding on Palestine whenever visiting constituencies with large Muslim populations, bashing Jews and making suspiciously dog-whistle-like statements about gays. Oh, and he held down a job presenting on the Iranian propaganda channel Press TV; perhaps we can expect those good honorary socialists, the Islamic Republic of Iran, to sponsor bus passes for the poor if he wins?
In the blue(-blooded) corner is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a character even more fanciful than his name would suggest, and not without his controversies. Upon election, he did scrap a lot of Livingstone-era public transport plans (such as the cross-river tram), though has avoided the sorts of red-meat pro-motorist culture-war policies some other right-wing mayors (such as the one in Toronto) have pursued. Not only did London's bike lanes remain, but Johnson, himself a cyclist, expanded support for cycling in the city (albeit with the sponsorship of Barclays, though that presumably ticks the piss-off-the-Left box). The Observer's architecture correspondent Rowan Moore has assessed Johnson's record on public works, and found it to be fairly moderate and generally sensible, if leaning a bit towards glitz and spectacle in places. Of course, one criticism has been that a lot of the projects were started by Ken Livingstone, with Johnson coasting by when they were finished for a photo opportunity. That is certainly a valid criticism of some things, such as the Overground and the launch of Crossrail; the case against Johnson's claim to the London cycle hire scheme, commonly known as the “Boris bikes” (though some earnestly right-on types call them “Ken's conveyance”) is less clear, though. While Livingstone did talk about setting up a Paris-style bike hire scheme, there is little evidence of anything having actually happened towards one until Johnson's term. And then there is the new Routemaster bus remake and the proposal for the “Boris Island” airport in the Thames Estuary to replace Heathrow (which is either a brilliant idea or utterly daft, depending on whom one asks).
More controversial are the symbolic statements. While Livingstone has allied his office with the actual and honorary socialist freedom fighters of the world, Johnson's statements have gone the other way. At times, he has taken up the cause of opposition to “political correctness” (commonly a way of ostensibly defending freedom of speech and the ability to take a robust joke whilst also dog-whistling to bigots that one stands with them) perhaps a little too enthusiastically at times, at one point, scrapping a multicultural festival because of its anti-racism message. Johnson has also denounced the Occupy protesters, calling them “hemp-smoking, fornicating hippies in crusty little tents”, a choice of words which, regardless of its accuracy, seems to show a haughty disdain for those who think that rising inequality is a bad thing. (Johnson's professed contempt for the Occupy movement, incidentally, is not shared by other members of the centre-right, including Germany's pro-austerity chancellor Angela Merkel.)
During the last election, this blog came out against Boris Johnson. This time, however, we will not be endorsing, or disendorsing, either candidate; there are good reasons for not voting for either. While Johnson is a Tory, and thus, as the common calculus goes, morally equivalent to Hitler, he is a far more moderate Tory than he looked before the last election. And while Livingstone's policy credentials are a bit bolder (with the exception of fancy buses and island airports, of course), some of his symbolic positions are somewhat concerning. For what it's worth, my first preference won't be going to either of them (the Greens are in with a chance, though).
There is controversy after London mayor Boris "watermelon smiles" Johnson made the Rise music festival drop its anti-racism message, in favour of a less contentious statement about "culture" and "community". It's not clear what happened there. Was he repaying a debt to the pro-racism lobby? Shoring up his support among Daily Mail readers? Or was this a case of his anti-leftist cold-warrior instincts deciding that "anti-racism" is a codeword for "Marxist socialism" or somesuch? (The latter could hold water, with Johnson banning the Cuba Solidarity Campaign's stage from the festival, though one could argue that such an event could be propaganda for what is a totalitarian regime, albeit one with splendidly good PR.)
Quelle surprise; it turns out that, after all, Boris Johnson's replacement of bendy buses with magical
flying Routemasters, a key plank in his election campaign, might not actually happen.
Kulveer Ranger, Boris Johnson's director of transport policy, said that a design competition would be launched - but if no bid was good enough they would look again at the pledge.
He added that although Mr Johnson is very keen to bring in a new-style bus in place of bendy buses, they would not press ahead with the idea for the sake of it.
Mr Johnson made phasing out bendy buses a priority, initially saying new Routemasters would cost £8million to run with conductors. However, he later admitted the figure would be nearer £100million.The magic Routemasters, it seems, were what Johnson's strategist, Lynton Crosby, would call a "non-core promise". It is not clear exactly how many Londoners voted for Johnson primarily because they wanted to see the return of those friendly red buses. As John Lydon once said, "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"
Petrolheads and Chelsea tractor drivers can rejoice, though, as the congestion charge looks set to be "reviewed" (i.e., cut back); the western extension looks set to be scrapped altogether. Jeremy Clarkson, however, will be disappointed that a £500/day congestion charge on bicycles is not on the agenda.
Today, Britain will go to the polls to elect local councils. In London, this als o involves an election for the Mayor of London, a powerful executive post with powers encompassing the entire city, which has been held since its inception by Ken Livingstone.
The election will involve a limited form of preferential voting, in which voters get two preferences; in essence, one's ideal candidate, and whom one regards as the lesser evil. (You can vote otherwise, of course; you could put down your two favourite fringe parties, in order of preference, but then once they had been eliminated, your vote would not have any input into the race between the two major-party candidates who are all but guaranteed to square off for the title.)
The two major candidates are, of course, Ken Livingstone in the Labour corner and, in the Tory corner, Boris Johnson, the outrageously outspoken party clown of the Conservative Party. Johnson is best known for his gaffes (such as talking about black areas as being full of "piccaninnies with watermelon smiles" and asking New Guineans whether they have stopped eating each other yet), though has been uncharacteristically restrained in recent months—some say by his campaign manager, none other than Lynton Crosbie, the Australian Karl Rove who kept John Howard's conservative government in power for 11 years and has since become a sort of soldier of fortune to rightwingers seeking office across the English-speaking world. Or, perhaps, by medication; for the most part, his policy pronouncements have been rather vague and not demonstrated much of a grasp on how exactly he intends to manage London (except for hinting that there'll be less management going on, and more power devolved).
Whom would I vote for? Well, naturally, Boris Johnson—if the election was for the post of Mascot of London, that is. His loveable-buffoon act is considerably more entertaining than anything Ken Livingstone has been able to come up with, and since no more suitable candidates (such as, say, a professional wrestler or Leoncie) are running, he'd be the best person for that job. However, since the election is not about choosing whom you'd most like to have a drink with at the pub but whom you'd want managing the metropolis of London, electing Johnson would be at best dismal, and quite probably disastrous.
Johnson has not revealed much of what he would actually do in office. He has issued a few policy ideas, all of which were very sketchy. There was his plan to replace the (much-maligned) bendy buses with something called "21st-century Routemasters", which nobody has actually seen, though we are supposed to believe that Boris will somehow conjure them up once he takes office; the proposal could scarcely sound less reassuring if we were promised flying Routemasters fuelled by pixie dust. (If—if—one were to take Johnson's word at face value, this would presumably involve allocating a big chunk of London council tax revenue to researching and developing a new retro-styled bus; which would be a jolly good boy's-own adventure, though hardly the most efficient use for tens of millions of taxpayers' pounds.) Other policies are either hopelessly ill-costed (such as the commitment to putting attendants on buses, whose costing turned out to be off by an order of magnitude) or else amount to little more than vague motherhood statements, promises to do something about crime or give power back to the people. If you squint hard enough, and hate the thought of Ken Livingstone getting back in enough, you can almost convince yourself that there is something there to vote for. Though you'd really need to believe that anything would be better than Livingstone.
Chances are what would happen if Johnson got in is that he'd pose for a few photo opportunities, pass a few populist pieces of legislation, play a bit with the giant model train set he has won and then, like Toad of Toad Hall, get bored of it and go off to pursue the next distraction. He already would be dividing his time with a seat in Parliament if he got in, so London couldn't expect more than half of his time. Of course, he would remain Mayor of London, but the real decisions would be made by the men behind the curtain, i.e., various nameless apparatchiks.
What these would be we can only guess at. While Johnson hasn't spoken about abolishing the successful Congestion Charge (a policy left publicly to the extreme right—the isolationist UKIP and the neo-fascist BNP—one of whose candidates is also on record as saying that rape cannot be an ordeal because women enjoy sex), he has hinted at rationalising it. It's quite likely that the rationalisation could involve filling it with the sorts of loopholes one could literally drive a SUV through. The recurring theme of "power to the people" could indicate dismantling a lot of the powers of the Mayor of London's office, the breaking up and privatisation of Transport for London, and could mean the end for projects such as Crossrail or the ongoing renewals of the Tube. As for cultural diversity, while Johnson (whom Crosbie has undoubtedly coached well in the art of dog-whistle politics) hasn't outspokenly condemned multiculturalism or championed a Daily Mail-approved brand of John Bull Englishness, he has in interviews said that the best thing about London's diversity was that one could find mangetout in the supermarket. That may or may not mean anything, but it doesn't sound promising. And let's remember that Lynton Crosbie's previous client also seemed like an affable moderate until he was safely in office and the gloves came off in a vicious, dirty culture war.
So yes, I'll be putting Ken Livingstone second. I'm still not sure whom I'll be putting first (I'm leaning towards either Siân Berry or Brian Paddick), though it won't be BoJo the Clown.
Charlie Brooker weighs into the London mayoral election; he's voting for Ken Livingstone, if only to stop Boris Johnson from winning:
A few years back, during the run-up to the Nathan Barley TV series, my co-author Chris Morris and I briefly kicked around a storyline about an animated MP running for election. When I say "animated", I mean literally animated. He was a cartoon - the political equivalent of Gorillaz - fashioned from state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery so that he could move and talk in real time, like Max Headroom. His speech would be provided on-the-fly by a professional cartoon voice artist working in conjunction with a team of political advisers and comedy writers, so he'd have an impish personality not dissimilar to the genie in Disney's Aladdin. Debating against him would be impossible because he'd make outrageously goonish statements one minute and trot out cunning political platitudes the next. Because he wasn't real, he'd never age, die, or be bogged down in scandal - and huge swathes of the population would vote for him just because they found him cool or fun or different.
Fast-forward to now. On May 1 London chooses its mayor, and I've got a horrible feeling it might pick Boris Johnson for similar reasons. Johnson - or to give him his full name, Boris LOL!!!! what a legernd!! Johnson!!! - is a TV character loved by millions for his cheeky, bumbling persona. Unlike the cartoon MP, he's magnetically prone to scandal, but this somehow only makes him more adorable each time. Tee hee! Boris has had an affair! Arf! Now he's offended the whole of Liverpool! Crumbs! He used the word "picaninnies"! Yuk yuk! He's been caught on tape agreeing to give the address of a reporter to a friend who wants him beaten up! Ho ho! Look at his funny blond hair! HA HA BORIS LOL!!!! WHAT A LEGERND!!!!!!Brooker then suggests that, should Johnson win the mayorality and not end up destroying London, that could open the doors to all parties running novelty candidates in the following election:
Basil Brush would be a shoo-in. Churchill, the nodding dog from the car insurance ads - he'll do. Or if we're after the ironic vote, how about Gene Hunt from Life on Mars? Or Phil Mitchell? At least he's a Londoner.
Ken Livingstone has promised, should he be reelected, to ban all traffic from Oxford Street and replace it with a tram line, turning the shopping thoroughfare into something like Melbourne's Bourke Street, presumably paved in red bricks and containing tramp-proof public seating and such. Unlike Bourke Street, the traffic ban will be absolute, with no exemption for taxis.
A pedestrianised Oxford St. could be a good thing, turning a congested thoroughfare into a genuine public space. On the other hand, bus routes which go through it would either be rerouted through adjacent streets (which are already quite busy) or chopped in two.
Meanwhile, Tory clown prince Boris Johnson has vowed that, should he be elected, he will allow motorbikes to use bus lanes, just as cyclists do. Finally the petrolheads have a candidate they can rely on, since Jeremy Clarkson (who proposed abolishing the congestion charge for cars but imposing a £500/day congestion charge on bicycles, on the grounds that they are a nuisance to decent motorists everywhere and the smug, politically-correct Guardian-reading vegan types who cycle are annoying) declined to run.
Alas, if Livingstone (who has done an OK job, when he's not being George Galloway Lite) doesn't get reelected, it looks like Johnson will get up, as the other candidates (Brian Paddick and Sian Berry) do not look like having a chance. And, if Johnson becomes Mayor of London, I wonder how long it'll take until the fun-loving buffoonery gives way to hardline tory policies.