Monday, May 05, 2008

Boris to the rescue

The most cheerful week in politics since David Cameron, at his first prime minister’s questions, wrongfooted Tony Blair by offering Tory help to get his education bill passed. It started with the miserable Gordon having to admit he had gone badly wrong in removing the 10p tax band, something he did out of over confidence and vanity and that was exposed within minutes as a fraud that his successor as chancellor would be unlikely to thank him for. It continued with the local elections offering up such delights as a Tory council in Kingston upon Hull. It was so bad for Labour that even their spin doctors could find no way of putting a gloss on it.

Then very late on Friday came the best bit. A properly contested mayoral election in London was overdue and a novelty. This was real American-style politics: two candidates, neither really a mainstream politician, outside the control of their parties though strongly backed by them, slugging it out for a high profile job that is very much what the holder makes of it. It was certainly Ken Livingstone’s true metier and I feel sure it will prove Johnson’s too. Long seen as a loose cannon in national politics and as something of a buffoon in public life in general he, like his predecessor, leaves few people neutral in their opinion of him. As a result we were treated to a campaign in which the characters of the candidates had as much influence on voters as their policies and certainly more than the party labels attached to them and this is as it should be. In such a contest Livingston was a loser from the start against a man quite unembarrassed, and largely unhurt, by various public gaffes and a very competent and entertaining TV performer. The turnout was a third higher than four years ago and it was probably this, if the extra voters consisted, as I expect, of Tories who had had no faith in previous candidates their party had endorsed, that swung it. Was it another case of the power of hope in politics, the appeal to the disillusioned and apathetic to help reverse a spiral of cronyism and mediocrity? Was that why the FTSE index suddenly went up 128 points after barely moving all week?

There is a sense that the cavalry has arrived and now Boris has to deliver. One good sign is that he has made a priority of cutting ‘so-called minor’ crime, particularly on public transport and has made his wishes clear to Sir Ian Blair, the chief of the Metropolitan Police. This is welcome both as an aim and because while he has no direct authority over Blair he is apparently prepared to make life difficult for the Home Secretary, who does, if Blair does not respond. Since Blair sometimes gives the impression of seeing himself more as a politician than a policeman this could be fun.

All in all a good week. London will be a more cheerful place from today and I think England will be too.