Can anyone say that Londoners are better off now than they were four years ago?
By Adam Bienkov
8 March 2012, 19:51
Nobody ever really had high hopes for a Boris Johnson mayoralty, not even his own supporters. The manifesto he ran on was generic. It may have had his name on the front cover, but it contained the same list of policies most other Tory mayoral contenders had run with for years.
‘Just get some of that through, cheer us up, and try not to make too much of a mess of things’ was their modest hope.
There were exceptions however. Andrew Gilligan at the Evening Standard, predicted that Boris’s election would be an ”essential revolutionary moment” when “selected victims are led out to the firing squad. It will be politically correct London’s equivalent of the credit crunch and, with any luck, it will be goodbye to the groundbreaking cycling-for-the-blind initiatives, farewell to the gay Bengali workplace sustainability forums.”
Sadly for Andrew, the revolution never came and Ken’s international embassies, multicultural festivals and even some of his key appointments are now championed by the very man he thought would remove them. And if Ken Livingstone wins the election in May he will return to a City Hall largely untouched since he left it.
I saw this clearly on my last visit for Mayor’s Question Time. After the meeting a Tory Assembly Member asked Boris and his colleagues to join him for a discussion with the ‘International Union of Sex Workers.’
I half expected Boris to drag his comrade out to a firing squad, but no he just quietly walked out. Whether or not Boris met with the sex workers I don’t know, but later on I saw him walking towards the communal canteen in a Transport for London beanie hat, bright pink ‘London and Partners’ rucksack, and an old anorak that looked like it had been dragged out of lost property. As he shuffled apologetically past a demonstration of wheelchair basketball, I realised that this is not a man who has taken control of City Hall. City Hall has taken control of him.
And where he’s failed in City Hall, he’s failed in London too. Without a grand vision for the capital, Boris has instead spent his time on a series of micro-projects, many of which have barely lasted longer than the time it took to write their press release.
A scheme to turn the Thames into “a new tube line” resulted in just enough passengers for a bus route and his “war” on knife crime resulted in knife crime actually going up. His electric vehicle scheme, ended up with more charging points than members and a series of Boris-led guided cycle rides were cancelled, after one week when just five people turned up.
Hundreds of millions were spent on a bike hire scheme that just 1% of Londoners say they use, and hundreds of millions more were spent on blue cycle lanes, now most closely associated with a spate of fatal cycle accidents. And after all this the proportion of Londoners cycling has hardly changed. In 2007/08 1.9% of trips undertaken by Londoners were by bike. Three years later that figure has risen to just 2.2%.
Boris’s other great revolutionary project was to eradicate the allegedly disgraceful waste at City Hall. But after four years of “ruthless” cost cutting, Boris has managed to give London households a tax cut worth just £3 a year. And while Ken Livingstone is standing on a promise to give Londoners more money back in fare cuts, it is Boris who now argues that we should give Transport for London even more of our own money to spend.
Boris’s transformation from a Conservative heavyweight into a ‘Ken-lite’ figure is complete. But after four years in the job, it is far less clear what if anything he has done to transform London for the rest of us.