One year ago, London went to the polls and handed Boris Johnson another four years as Mayor. Then, he stood on a “Nine Point Plan for a Greater London”, a skeletal manifesto designed to counter criticism that he had no plan for his office other than to further his own political career. A year later, most Londoners have forgotten the pledges and so too has the Mayor.
A year ago, Boris claimed he would cut waste at City Hall but has instead ushered in an era of cronyism. Moreover, his addiction to vanity projects appears undimmed by the failure of his £60 million cable car or his bike hire scheme that will bleed £35 million of taxpayer money over the next three years (despite the promise it wouldn’t cost the taxpayer a penny).
He claimed he would put money back into the pockets of Londoners by cutting council tax yet the £3.72 he saved every London household this year is being more than clawed back through the explosion in transport fares. Weeks after promising to create 200,000 new jobs he exclaimed that “it’s not my job to create jobs”. The number of unemployed Londoners has increased by over 70% during his tenure yet he forgot to spend the £110 million earmarked for jobs and regeneration that was gifted to him by the government.
He pledged to add an extra 1,000 police officers to London’s streets yet there are fewer officers today than in either 2012 or 2008. His “rationalisation” of the Metropolitan Police involves closing 63 police stations and downgrading of countless others.
The headline of his 2012 campaign – and the final point of his plan – was that he was uniquely placed to secure a better deal for London from the Prime Minister. His attempts to block any form of “Kosovo style social cleansing” in London as a result of capping benefits seems to have fallen on deaf ears: not only are the government pursuing their welfare reforms unperturbed but they are actually using London to test out the benefit cap. Sometimes he doesn’t even bother: several Accident & Emergency wards in London are under threat of closure and despite countless requests to support the campaign to keep them open, Boris has barely lifted a finger.
He has delegated more decision making powers to his advisers, reducing his own workload further. Judging by his recent interventions, the EU referendum is occupying his mind more than London’s housing crisis. He has found the time to visit Conservative Associations in Derbyshire and Leicestershire and has become linked with safe seats in Croydon, Reigate, Richmond and Louth.
Back in City Hall, his team have been scrambling to put together “London 2020”, a document outlining Boris’ vision for the capital over the rest of this decade. It would be a worthwhile exercise if this had come after 5 months in the job, not 5 years. The challenges facing London in 2020 are only more acute versions of the problems that London faces today; problems that the Mayor has thus far shown no interest in solving. How do we build the housing and the infrastructure required to cater for a city of nine million people? With rents rising eight times faster than wages, how do we make sure our capital city doesn’t become a Monte Carlo-on-Thames, affordable for only the super rich? These are challenging questions that require ingenuity and creativity, not just soundbites and “piffle”. Yet with his eyes already measuring up the curtains in Downing Street, who trusts Boris to care enough to consider the solutions, let alone implement them?
David Lammy is the Member of Parliament for Tottenham