In hindsight, it seemed inevitable that Conservative Boris Johnson would defeat Labour’s Ken Livingstone and be elected Mayor of London.
Although the Member of Parliament for Henley-on-Thames was initially perceived by some as a joke candidate, in reality Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson had everything going for him. For a start, the media was rabidly on his side.
The sole London-wide newspaper, The Evening Standard, a hot-bed of right-wing intolerance at the best of times, could never allow a week to pass without throwing up an anti-Livingstone headline or five. Two high profile journalists, Paul Waugh and Andrew Gilligan, the former BBC journalist forced to resign after the Hutton Enquiry, were put on the anti-Ken detail full time and didn’t bother to try for anything like a balanced coverage.
In April, The Standard ran the headline: ‘Suicide bomb backer runs Ken campaign’, only to reveal (in far tinier print) that the ‘backer’ in question runs an unofficial website called ‘Muslims 4 Ken’ and the suicide bombers he supposedly supports are in Palestine.
On top of the media onslaught was the backlash against Ken of what is often called ‘Middle England’ or ‘The Silent Majority’. London’s vast army of middle class and white collar workers like a few quid in their collective pockets and generally rate their own convenience above piddling matters like air or road pollution and parking restrictions. To them Ken was the man who gave them both the dreaded bendy-bus and the congestion charge and who was threatening to tax the SUV.
In the eyes of these inhabitants of Bromley, Croydon, Hamstead, Putney and Hounslow, the incumbent mayor was a threat to their standard of living and must be got rid of. Boris, on the other hand, that nice chap off the telly, knew what Suburban Man (and Woman) wanted, which was to be left alone, and he could be relied on to oblige.
When he turned up at the hustings, which was increasingly rare, Boris pledged to halt gun-crime, disband gangs and get rid of the bendy-bus. He very wisely didn’t say how any of these things could be achieved. All Ken could do was to repeat that crime had fallen under his administration but, as the Evening Standard repeatedly pooh-poohed the figures, no one believed him.
It didn’t help Ken that Gordon Brown’s Labour government was becoming more and more unpopular by the day. Although the two of them obviously didn’t see eye to eye on most things, a vote against Livingstone also served as a mid-term kick up the backside for the Labour administration.
The recent election results, coming as they do after a string of Labour PR disasters, the near collapse of the banking system and in the wake of a much-forecast recession, point to a right-wing resurgence on a par with the wave that swept Margaret Thatcher to victory in 1979. Callers to radio phone-ins are starting to come out of the closet and proclaim: ‘There’s nothing wrong with being right-wing; I’m right-wing and proud of it.’ And let’s not forget that for the first time, the neo-nazi British National Party gained over 5% of London votes and secured themselves a seat in the London Assembly.
Which brings us on to the so-called ‘race card’. For a while now, the press has been whipping up hysteria against immigrants. First came the claims that the lazy blighters didn’t work, more recently that has spun around to ‘they’re nicking our jobs’. Although born in the USA, with an immigrant Turkish grandfather, Boris neverthess managed to portray himself as a true blue Englishman and as much part of London as Trafalgar Square and Harrods.
Of course, Boris managed to get himself accused of racism although, to be fair, most of the evidence was taken from satirical articles he had written with his tongue firmly in his cheek. Even so, it would be a brave or foolish man who would send Boris Johnson into a room full of immigrants and second generation Brits and not expect him to make the odd gaff. Usually we would hope that this would count against him at election time, but not in the current climate.
Only time will tell. I’m prepared to give Boris the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not full of confidence that he’ll do a wonderful job and that everyone will live happily ever after.