I didn’t expect Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson to be the new London Mayor. I hoped Ken would carry on, because I live in (the outer edges of) central London, and everything Ken’s done over the last eight years to join up the transport network has improved the live of me, personally. I am a fan of the congestion charge, and that it isn’t on account, because it means taking the car into London means you have to do admin, and so people don’t do it. It’s a simple tactic, but it’s made the transport network work, as the buses can get around.
I can’t help but wonder if Ken Livingstone would have been expelled had he remained Independent as he was when he first got elected. Whilst the righteous anger of the London suburb belt and South London waxed wroth, I’m not sure it could not have been overcome had Ken not also had to face the backlash against Labour’s first decade. The mayoral position, for all that Ken is a card-carrying classic breed Labour member, has never really been a party political one, until now, where the hopes and dreams of the Conservative Party now rest with the haystack who walks like a man. The London Mayor is now officially a beacon of politics for the rest of the country, where Ken’s strengths were always where he was just trying to get London to work properly. Capital though it is, the idea of my local government becoming a national issue, requestioning every little bikeshed decision to see if the Conservatives could possibly be allowed to run the country again.
I’d like to think people have a long enough memory to realise the parallels between now and ~1995, before we swapped the men with the blue ties for the men with the red ties, and tried something new. However, until either the Liberal Democrats tie their act together with a neat little bow and start actually getting press for policies, or another political party is formed somehow; we’re just going to flick back to blue in a couple of years mostly because we don’t like red anymore.
I’m also – too many paragraphs beginning with “I” – not a fan of a number of Boris’ policies. The idea of building 50k affordable homes is a nice one, but given that he’s mayor of London and not, say, the Home Counties, where does he intend to build them? And with what money? As I understand it, any excess budget is – rightly – going to make sure the city doesn’t collapse under the weight of the Olympics; during the run up to which the administration will be running their reelection campaign, a fact which amuses me. He wants to put the congestion charge on account also, which misses the point somewhat. The money the congestion charge is – £5 to bring your car into the centre of London – isn’t much more than a token, really. It’s more the fact that you have to pay on the day or within a few days. It’s administrative faff, which puts people off more than the charge does, otherwise the city-boy types will just set up a direct debit to take the money out and ignore the thing completely. The reason the congestion charge is important to me, personally, is because it means that buses are suddenly able to get from A to B without a traffic jam, meaning they’re a viable form of commute. I’m in favour of people who actually have to go into London with a van and cannot justify a “Fleet” account (And here I mean things like plumbers, rather than those who cannot be bothered to drive to the nearest tube station. They can pay for parking with the money they save by living far from where they work. I’ve little sympathy for the people who complain that they cannot have their outer-suburbs cheaper housing/rent and keep their inflated London salary) getting a discount or something, but the point of the exercise is not so much to charge people to get into London. This is not to say that the outer-London transport network doesn’t need a great deal of expansion, it does, but inner London transport was actively broken and the money to fix outer London did not go – as the suburbs appear to think – to upgrade the Jubilee line with gold plated fire alarms, but to bailing out the private companies that almost caused the entire underground network to go bankrupt.
None of which is actually Boris’ fault, but his campaign policies did seem to mostly focus on capitalising of feeding money into the areas the previous administration didn’t have enough money to give to, balanced against mass-populist whitewash. Neither of which contained any reference to where they were going to get the money to spend on this thing. What’s the betting the rise in my – already high – council tax is higher this year than last?
If I sound panicked about this, it’s because almost all of the policies thus far explained are either going to require more money from taxpayers, or a poorer quality of transport inside the capital, or another inconvenience for me; all of which starts to drain on my ability to remain living in the city. And if I, an engineer with a reasonably good job, cannot afford to live on the outskirts of the city I work in, something somewhere is drastically wrong.
All of which ignores the other issue, which is Johnson himself. For – more than once – referring to Africans as “Picaninnies”, for being banned from various other cities any other person would have been shot at dawn. I see Johnson’s election as a triumph of celebrity over talent or policy or politics, as much as Schwarzenegger’s election was, and I’d prefer for this city, and this country, to be less of a laughing-stock than it already is.
Ideally, we’d also win the cricket, and while I’m wishing I’d like a pony.