I could be forgiven for thinking that the Boris Johnson who writes for the Daily Telegraph is not the same man who runs London. Already this year, he has written two columns articulating a very different view from his actual policies.
Boris’ columns are composed in his instantly recognisable prose and have a touch of the Jeremy Clarkson style about appeal about them. However, unlike other columnists, Boris is in the privileged hot seat of London Mayor and welds real power. Therefore, he should display the courage of his convictions and put into action what he advocates.
The first Johnson anomaly was after his recent family trip to India. He wrote about the cost to the British economy of failing to harness economic opportunities from emerging markets such as India and China. Boris used the onion shortage crisis in India as a hook to make a more general point about Britain’s (and by default London’s) failure to capitalise these opportunities. He asked: “Why the hell don’t British contractors and consultants get on out and pitch for projects like building a tube network in Mumbai?”
Unfortunately, Boris does not really know his onions. As Mayor, he took the decision to close the offices London Development Authority offices in both Mumbai and Delhi. These were established by his Labour predecessor, Ken Livingstone. It is a bit rich for the Tory Mayor now to be calling for someone, somewhere to do something. Who better than the Mayor of London? In fact, Boris denounced the overseas offices as a waste of money, referring to them as “embassies” during the 2008 mayoral contest. Yes, the economies of China, India and Brazil are seen as the engine of global growth. Yes, Britain is losing out, but Boris seems to have forgotten who runs the economic hub of this country.
The second anomaly arose over the congestion charge. During the 2008 mayoral election campaign, Boris assured Londoners that he would not increase this above £8. In December last year, he increased the charge by 25 per cent to £10 (£9 with auto pay).
Yet he made a clear and unequivocal commitment during a televised debate. His exact words were that he “would certainly not allow the congestion charge to go up above £8 which the [previous] Mayor promised not to let happen before and then broke his promise as usual”. His response when I asked him about his own broken promise at the last Mayor’s question time was: “I can’t remember”.
Curiously, though, Boris was moaning about soaring fuel prices in a recent Telegraph column. He expresses horror at the £80.54 cost to him of putting petrol in his car and called on his Government to address the plight of the poor motorists. What about the poor motorist who voted for him because of his promise of keeping the congestion charge at its then current level of £8? Since Boris has the power to help motorists, he doesn’t need to call on anyone else to this for him.
Can the Mayor really be so oblivious to the gap between what he writes about and his actions as Mayor? Or is it just that we have a part-time Mayor running London? The capital needs a full-time Mayor whose actions speak as loud as his words. The sooner Londoners realise this before May 2012, the better.
Murad Qureshi is a Labour member of the London Assembly
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