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The case for Boris

Johnson Boris Pointing 2

The election for Mayor of London will soon be over. Some Londoners have found it an unedifying campaign. It has certainly been robust. While Conservatives have been proud of their candidate B

oris Johnson, many in the Labour Party have felt excruciating embarrassment at their choice of Ken Livingstone. Our capital has a sophisticated electorate. There may not be a natural Conservative majority but there is a vitality, an independence, a spirit of aspiration, innovation, optimism, and good humour which has prompted many not born in the city to live here.

When the eyes of the world are on London on July 27th, as the Olympics opens, who will be our Mayor? Who would be the best advertisement for a city that celebrates wealth and success? Who would radiate warmth, unity and good cheer? Who would show we were looking to the future rather than the past?

Thinking back to four years ago, I remember even Conservative supporters on the doorstep being doubtful as to Boris's seriousness. Would he be lazy? What had he ever run before? Would he be up to the job? Labour suggested he would be a joke - but also ran a smear campaign suggesting he was a racist who would ban the Koran.

Personality matters with a directly elected mayor.   This is an area where Boris has strong appeal. Others will be primarily motivated to vote for Boris for negative reasons. They wish to prevent a return to Ken Livingstone.  The decision to select and retain Ken Livingstone as their candidate has shamed the London Labour Party. His campaign has been characterised by dishonesty, hypocrisy and extremism.

Given the nature of Livingstone's campaign, the traditional media has given him a easy ride.  Certainly the Evening Standard has been constrained compared to four years ago. I have been surprised that some of the Livingstone scandal has not had greater traction. For instance, the extraordinary revelations of his expense claims as Mayor, including charging the taxpayer £260 for a pair of shoes.  On the other hand, social media has held him to account far more than four years ago when Twitter hadn't really taken off.

So what of Boris?  For a start, this Thursday will give Londoners the chance to vote for a lower burden of taxation. Boris has pledged to cut the Council Tax precept by at least 10% over the next four years. With Sir Edward Lister as his Chief of staff that is an entirely credible promise. It is true that it is a modest share of Londoners' total Council Tax bills.  But it is still something that offers relief to hard pressed Londoners and it provides an instructive example to central government.

Boris Johnson has already achieved a vast amount as Mayor of London. I listed 100 achievements and then 200 before losing count. In their scope they reflect that Boris has been the Mayor for all Londoners. There are some big achievements - more police and more housing. Some things will have been of more interest to those in outer Londoner, others to inner London. Some to motorists, others to cyclists, or tube passengers, or pedestrians.

In my part of the capital the scrapping of the West London extension of the Congestion Charge was important. It mattered, for instance, to a self employed carpenter I was talking to on the Edward Woods Estate who had been forced to give up using a van to bring his tools with him because the cost was prohibitive.

That might not be of much interest in Enfield. But the way school standards are being driven up by the newly sponsored Mayoral academies will be.

Most Londoners have not used the Boris Bikes. But there are 153,464 who have signed up as regular users. The expansion of the scheme will mean many more.  Those who don't use them benefit from reduced pollution and traffic congestion.

Not all of us live in one of the streets where new trees have been planted - but 10,000 new street trees have been planted and a second term would see that continue.

This has been a positive, ambitious Mayoralty. While other politicians would run for cover when bold and radical solutions are suggested. Boris marches toward the sound of gunfire. Londoners recognise him as being in the Conservative Party but not run by the Conservative Party - although frequently, as with spending transparency for example, he has blazed a trail for Government.

There has been lots of fun - cable cars, fireworks, St George's Day events, wiff waff, drinking fountains, judo, jazz, better busking, competitions to encourage children to draw, to play the violin, to grow fruit and vegetables.

Boris says:

"I feel like somebody who’s built half a bridge. I can see the other side of the river, I can see what needs to be done, I’ve got the structure and I can see where we need to go."

There is lots of talk about how Boris would like to be Prime Minister. Maybe he would. What is abundantly clear is that he likes being Mayor of London. He is absorbed in the job. His mission is not complete and I hope and believe that this week Londoners will give him the power to get on with it.


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