Saturday, May 03, 2008

And those that laughed, they are laughing again



For fuck's sake.

It's not good enough to have voted for a laugh because you liked him off the telly, or to have plumped for him because of some half-baked fantasy that it would "teach Gordon a lesson". This isn't the high-jinks student japery of putting "Jedi" on a census form, nor is it some kind of noble protest vote. This is electing a known incompetent, a self-parodic Dickensian bumbler, old Etonian and new Islingtonian (who we've meanwhile been paying to be an Oxfordshire MP) and doing so simply in the hope he's going to offer good copy. Someone who has been given a free ride just for that reason, not just as you might expect from the Evening Standard (whose editor basically put him up as a candidate) and those mindnumbing Murdoch and Rothermere freesheets, but also, inexplicably, by BBC London and others, so eager these days to be sucked into the papers' agenda.

Now, not only have we got a Conservative mayor, enough obloquy in itself, but he's the UK Dubya, a candidate so irredeemably and unintentionally comedic that even the Tories have been sensible enough not to let him near the front bench since they sacked him from it. But, just as they were happy to back Jeffrey Archer, for pity's sake, as mayor of us rabble (only really relenting when he went to prison) they are of course happy to let this clown loose on London too, on a city that has been loath to do them any favours over the years, and that stands for so much of what they hate.

So what are the new broom's policies ? "No two boroughs are alike. Your corner of the capital is unique and the issues affecting you are too", says the glossy Boris website. His specifically-tailored policies for our borough ? "Safer streets" is one. Yes, that's it, a whole policy. Two words. "Better living conditions in London NE" - without further elaboration - is another bullet-point. Inspired. And remember, this is in his *own* borough: that's how much of a policy vacuum we're in. A third 'policy' is "reducing gang crime". Well spotted: that is a problem here. But er, exactly how many candidates are proposing to increase gang crime ? And how is he actually proposing to implement these brilliant fag-packet policies ? Not a single word of explanation.

But hey, none needed. Nobody asked the new mayor, even really cared, what his policies were, or if he had any: they colluded in his advisers' tactics of keeping him away from the camera and the microphone, where he can't do so much damage to himself. Do people really think that this erstwhile pillar of the Bullingdon Club is just a Tim Nice-but-dim, "a bloody good bloke" ? Do they forget how even while Ken Livingstone was sticking it to Thatcher (before she abolished the GLC), Boris was knocking out boorish right-wing copy for the pages of the Telegraph ? His worldviews are hardly, were never, obscure: his vocal backing of Clause 28, his on-record defence of Islamophobia, his famously pitiful response to the Macpherson inquiry (it is not pure coincidence that he was the fascist party's nominated second preference mayoral candidate). True to form, he also thinks that his own children are above attending local schools, which kinda makes it harder for him to claim he'll be that energised to improve them.

So, in the void where serious policy discussion could have been, the media homed in on crucial points like the alleged fecklessness of Red Ken or Lee Jasper (as if Boris, with his record, should have the moral high ground on family and fidelity), or on spewing endless invective against bendy buses (as if the return of the Routemaster was the only issue worth voting on). Transport-wise, the real issue for years now has been a re-enactment of an old battle of 1980s London: the same Tory councils who then tried to bury Fares Fair and the GLC were now out to nail the Freedom Pass and a socialist, thankfully only nominally New Labour, mayor.

And they got him. Of course you could have legit issues with the old mayor and his style. But regardless of the self-aggrandisement or other personal capital it brought him, Ken Livingstone spent basically his adult lifetime working for and promoting this city: and what we saw with our eyes over the last eight years, from both north and south of the river, was a positive transformation in so many ways. A mayor who was hands-on, involved and actually made things happen, including things that even made a difference, not least the congestion charge (something that the new mayor notably won't be attempting to repeal).

Nobody sensibly thinks that Johnson will stick up for the unwaged or the low-paid, that he will continue to support schemes for integration, regeneration or anti-racism. None of us are under any illusion that he will have the bottle or the inclination to threaten or challenge vested interests, to adopt policies that even tilt at redistributing wealth or increasing opportunity, to push back on the councils (and to be fair, it won't just be the Tory ones) who tell him where to stick his 'consensus' approach to affordable housing. When he tries to convince us of a Damascene conversion, that he's now a friend of the environment and public transport, a supporter of social housing and multicultural society (remember, "I'm down with the ethnics" is a direct, recent quote!), we think we're entitled not to believe him.

As for what might happen with major infrastructure projects, to Underground PPP, Crossrail or Stratford 2012, it's too dispiriting to contemplate. Forget the twinkling eyes of his dining-club fellow Cameron, and remember what the real Conservative party in the country is like: because it's that lot who are again in the ascendancy, with Boris Johnson as their willing puppet in City Hall for the next few years.

*Sigh*. Those of you outside this city can rightly feel a little amused: sometimes London needs taking down a peg or two, and making it a laughing stock (not just in the UK) by voting in Johnson is one way of doing that. But this is, inescapably, a win for the crowing press corps who peppered us with increasingly desperate stories of how the old mayor was unworthy of our vote because he was consorting with Muslims, with union leaders, with environmentalists, with other such enemies of the state. A triumph for the blue-rinsers who came out in force to champion their hero, the mop-topped crusader against "political correctness", while three million Londoners deigned to stay at home, no doubt with better things to do. A victory for those who inhabit the benighted world of the Beeb's subtle, seminal, demented online comedy "Have Your Say". But for us, it's just a flat, inglorious, pit-of-stomach defeat that makes London seem a slightly darker place tonight.