Boris Johnson: Not a National Treasure



Welcoming a new guest blogger: Georgia Lewis is a journalist, and a freelance moron-watcher on Twitter and via her own blog, The Rant Mistress.

“I love Boris Johnson, he’s great comedy value.”

Really? I live in London. If I want comedy, there are plenty of places I can go for that. There is no need to look to the mayor for rampant hilarity. Hell, why is he even considered to be so damn funny? The unkempt mop of blonde hair? The bumbling mannerisms? That time he got stuck on a zipwire? If that’s as good as British comedy gets these days, we may as well go back to watching re-runs of Dad’s Army.

“But he’s a national treasure!”

So is Sooty. But that doesn’t mean he should be the mayor.

All snarking aside, Boris Johnson does belong squarely on a blog dedicated to watching morons.

He has done an excellent job as coming across as the cool Tory, the Conservative who’s really quite progressive. He is so funky he even supports same-sex marriage, even though he publicly said he didn’t realise it wasn’t yet legalised here. But who needs a mayor who is aware of the laws of the land? Pish tosh!

Hell, with all his Boris bike antics, he has even managed to paint himself as the Tory who is ecologically friendly. Except he’s not.

Are you labouring under the misapprehension that he is the green Tory who cares about the people? This is the mayor who decided to give his mates in one of the most privileged parts of the capital a nice little tax break when he reversed Ken Livingstone’s decision to extend the Congestion Charge zone to the western part of central London. If someone has to drive into central London from a more deprived borough, it will cost them £10-£12 each time.

The latest stunt on the Congestion Charge is to remove the exemption for most hybrid cars and all cleaner diesel cars. Boris is expected to approve this plan so it comes into force in July. It’s not as if Central London is overrun with gridlocked Priuses and curiously, it will only add an estimated £1 million-£2 million to Transport For London’s coffers . Surely this could be achieved by, oh, I don’t know, extending the Congestion Charge to the west again.

I test-drove a Honda Jazz hybrid last year and for two days, I did the 16-mile round trip from my house in Zone 4 to my Congestion Charge zone office and back. Because this car operates in pure electric mode when driven at speeds of 20mph or less, and given the stop-start nature of driving in London, I spent most of my commute on both days emitting pretty much nothing. I used almost no petrol in two days. Forcing such cars to pay the Congestion Charge will do nothing to encourage people to buy more eco-friendly cars.

But why would he care about that? He has been busy spending £1.4 million of public money on an anti-pollution scheme that doesn’t work. In 2010, he heralded with much fanfare a trial of dust supressants on some of London’s dirtiest roads. The idea is that the pollution is literally glued to the road. Except that a study by non-morons at Kings College London showed that it was not working and that diesel was the main cause of pollution and that the attempts to glue pollution to the roads did nothing to reduce the grot in areas where the big problem is quite simply too much traffic.

Last week, Boris showed further signs of eco delusion when he announced grand-sounding plans for the Congestion Charge zones to be transformed into “Ultra Low Emission Zones.” Which sounds great on the surface. Except that trucks will be exempt from any restrictions. Oh, and this won’t come into effect until 2020. How useful.

His green credentials took a further nosedive in a ridiculous, science-denying column on climate change for The Telegraph last month. His incoherent rant featured reminiscences from his childhood, random observations from his bicycle, the admission that he was no expert, quotes from scientists that he didn’t know whether or not to believe, and the conclusion that all this chuffing snow means that climate change might be a big load of hooey.

And while Boris loves to tell the world that he has the best job in the world as mayor of London, it is indeed curious that he has taken time out of London this week to pop up to Eastleigh for a spot of Conservative campaigning.

The Eastleigh by-election, caused by the embarrassing downfall of Lib-Dem moron Chris Huhne, features the socially conservative Maria Hutchings as the Tory candidate. Despite being at odds with Hutchings on the issue of marriage equality, Boris felt that the best use of his time was a spot of campaigning miles away from the capital.

Tragically, the Tories believe that getting Boris out on the hustings for Hutchings will be a vote-winner. And, hey, who wouldn’t be swayed by his persuasive words, as quoted by Torcuil Crichton, The Daily Record’s Westminster editor: “It is our constitutional duty to kick the Lib Dems in the … well, do they have any?”

What a statesman.

Boris may say over and over again that he has no ambitions to be an MP again but he has a funny way of showing it. In 2011, David Cameron was quoted as saying his “number one priority” for 2012 was to ensure Boris remained mayor of London. Perhaps Cameron fears that a BoJo return to Westminster would be a threat to his leadership. Or Cameron has become so London-centric that he really doesn’t care about the rest of Britain, with the possible exception of Chipping Norton.

Either way, it would appear Cameron is happy to keep a faux eco warrior in charge of London. A faux eco warrior who put up bus and tube fares again with minimal protest.

But as long as people keep falling for his alleged charms and have no issue with voting for a man widely viewed as a lovable buffoon, there’ll be no breaking free of party politics at local government level any time soon. And the capital’s attempt at democracy will be more like an idiocracy. Boris voters of London, you have the mayor you deserve.

Boris’s Imaginary Knife Crime Epidemic

KnivesEveryone, in London and beyond, will remember the horrendous knife-crime epidemic of early-2008. The story was spread far and wide – indeed, friends of mine from France and the United States mentioned it in conversation at the time. The opposition Conservative party and most of the British media picked up the story, and used it to show us just how dangerous life had become in Britain’s capital. It should have been a scary time for me, my friends and family here in London… but it wasn’t.

Why? Because the “knife crime epidemic” of 2008 was a lie. A scare story concocted by the (then in opposition) Conservative party, most of the British press, and in particular, London’s Evening Standard. The timing of the story was no coincidence; it came in the run-up to London’s mayoral election, in which the Conservative challenger, Boris Johnson, was to defeat Labour’s Ken Livingstone – London’s mayor from 2000 to 2008. Livingstone had a long record in London politics, having won the top job way back in the 1980s, and he was (and still is) hated by the conservative media, especially the Standard.

London is an incredibly safe city for its size – one of the world’s safest – but being a city of eight million people, it’s easy to find a violent crime to report any day of the week, if the press so chooses. Beginning in early-2008 the Standard suddenly began to pay more attention to violent crimes, and especially stabbings. There is roughly one murder every two days in London (New York sees around five times the number of murders), so the Standard quickly managed to create the impression that London was in the grip of a sudden surge in knife crimes, even though there was no surge. In fact, as you can see below, the knife crime rate in London has been fairly flat, and had been higher in 2004/5 than in 2008. Certainly, there is nothing that could be called an epidemic.

Crime rate 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008–09 2009–10
Knife enabled crime[34] 10305 12985 12367 12301 10699 12345 12611
Rate per 10,000 London 13.7 17.3 16.5 16.4 14.3 16.4 16.8

Source: Wikipedia Crime in London page

The knife-crime-epidemic-that-never-was contributed heavily to Boris Johnson’s victory in the May 2008 election, and has been resurrected regularly by the press ever since. It was also used by the increasingly authoritarian Labour government of the time to introduce draconian sentences for carrying a knife.

If there was an epidemic in London, it came after the mayoral election; and it wasn’t a knife crime epidemic, but a plague of police stop-and-searches, using the imaginary knife crime epidemic as an excuse, along with the never-ending “terrorist threat”. This new policy was carried out aggressively by the Metropolitan Police, with the strong backing of Mayor Boris, and disproportionately targeted young black and Asian men. This in turn created a surge in anger and resentment against the Metropolitan Police. When a young mixed-race man, Mark Duggan, was shot by police officers (who then lied that he had been carrying a gun), the anger boiled over and led to the Tottenham riots of 2011, which spread around the UK.

A “knife crime epidemic” invented by the Conservative Party and right-wing press in 2008, in order to get Boris Johnson elected mayor, had eventually led to harassment of hundreds of thousands of young men, and helped trigger last year’s riots. Boris has never admitted this dangerous lie, which has proved divisive and damaging to London. While the Standard yet again runs daily smear stories against Ken Livingstone for being “slimy”, nobody is holding Boris Johnson to account for unleashing brutal policing on London.