Adam Bienkov | Tuesday 13 September, 2011 10:22
As the whole world watched on in horror as criminal hordes wrecked London for three straight nights, the Mayor was nowhere to be seen.
But whilst Boris Johnson was missing presumed holidaying, his re-election campaign was still fully present and correct.
As the city burned, worried Londoners received a series of campaign ‘newspapers’ congratulating Boris for ever-safer streets and ever-rising police numbers.
In riot-hit Lewisham, residents read of an incredible 17% fall in youth crime and a
“remarkable” 36% fall in robberies. North of the river Tottenham residents read of an even more remarkable 38% fall in robberies there.
Never mind the marauding gangs mugging, looting and burning outside, according to these ‘Pyongyang-style freesheets’ crime was on its way out, and Londoners had Boris alone to thank. Wherever he might be.
The BBC eventually managed to track him down, holidaying somewhere at an undisclosed location.
Reluctant to return home for a mere city-wide riot, Boris fumbled his way through a short phone interview instead, managing to get the name of the man killed in Tottenham wrong, and insisting that the police could manage perfectly well without him.
The presence of the Mayor, whose leaflets informed us had single-handedly eradicated crime in the capital, was now suddenly surplus to requirements.
In fact not only would Boris’s return be unnecessary, but it could in fact be harmful. And as questions about Boris’s whereabouts continued, his policing deputy Kit Malthouse went on air to claim that Boris’s return home would actually be a “reward” for the looters.
Of course by the time he finally did return home, the looters had received all the “rewards” they could get their hands on.
And whilst the Metropolitan Police were still on the ground stamping out any last signs of trouble, Boris got straight down to the important business of his re-election campaign.
First up was a new fight against cuts in police numbers. Boris was going to stop the fall in officers and he was going to take on David Cameron to do it.
But hang on, what fall in police numbers was this? Surely Boris’s leaflets had just told us that police numbers were actually going up?
And what was this remarkable surge in robberies the Metropolitan Police were now reporting, up 23% in Lewisham, and up an even more remarkable 32% in Haringey over the past twelve months? Hadn’t Boris’s leaflets just told us crime was going down?
At first Boris’s campaign weren’t sure who to blame for this non-existent crime wave and non-existent police cuts, but it certainly wasn’t Boris.
David Cameron typically got some of the blame, but for the real cause, they had to look much deeper into the evil that is Ken Livingstone.
Ken for his part had committed the unspeakable crime of daring to blame the Mayor and the government for what had happened and Boris’s campaign were not going to let him get away with it.
We may have had the worst week of unchecked criminality in living memory, but to try and pin any blame on the people in charge was simply beyond the pale.
Ken’s claims that cuts to youth services and educational grants may have had something to do with the riots were howled down as “extremist” and Ken’s enemies were quick to call for his expulsion from the campaign, party, and human race.
Yet for all the outrage that followed, the riots exposed the Mayor’s greatest weaknesses.
Because for all the promises in his 2008 election campaign to tackle youth crime and its causes, Boris has done almost nothing to get to grips with the problem.
Boris’s first campaign majored on crime but in office he has mastered in the art of inaction.
In good times, most voters will forgive that and perhaps even believe some of the wilder claims made in his campaign newspapers.
But after the summer we’ve just had, many will be looking for the kind of leadership that so far he has failed to show.
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