View From The Side: Boris Johnson- Broken Promises & Dodgy Deals


I’m not going to pretend to be neutral writing this; I think Boris Johnson is a grubby crook. I’m tired of journalists pretending they have some remarkable, inhuman ability to disassociate their own prejudices from the words they write, and I’ve got no intention of doing the same. So, right from the top, I don’t like Boris Johnson. But that doesn’t mean that what I’m going to say isn’t also correct; by and large Johnson (forget all this chummy ‘Boris’ woo) has been a criminally bad mayor of London.

He’s broken huge swathes of his election promises and acted in ways that stretch the loosest definitions of legality. He’s presided over an influx of cash wealthy, culturally bankrupt property speculators that threatens to engulf the city.  As he comes to the end of his reign it’s time to examine the various ways that Johnson has shafted the city, because – God help us – he’s got plans to run the country.

Luckily there’s been a spate of articles online by far more thorough journalists than I, which when taken together make for some grim reading. Adam Bienkov over on has done sterling work compiling a list of Johnson’s election promises to try and work out how well the public have been given what they voted for. I say sterling work, because it transpires that most of Johnson’s “manifesto commitments from both 2008 and 2012 have been almost entirely wiped from the web, as has most of his campaign literature.”

What Binekov does dig up is that

  1. Johnson promised to eradicate homeless sleeping by 2012 – rough sleeping has in fact doubled over the last five years. To be fair, Hackney council had a fair crack at eradicating the problem – they tried to fine the homeless £1000 if they were caught sleeping out at night. Safe.
  2. Johnson signed a pledge never to close any ticket offices. He closed them all.
  3. In 2008 he promised there would be no tube strikes on his watch. We all know how that one went.
  4. He promised no raises to the congestion charge – this turned out to be a flagrant lie, as it ratcheted up from £8 to £11.50. Inevitably one of the few pledges that Johnson did keep was not extending the congestion charge further West, so as not to cover the area he, his wealthy cronies, and a huge section of his voter base live.
  5. This one’s a real stinker – in 2010 Boris promised not to close any fire stations – since then he’s shut down 10. But don’t worry – there haven’t been any major fire related incidents in the last five years, right?

There’s been a bunch more involving taxis, the police and a failure to set up a promised cabinet style mayoral government, but I’m going to skip those and focus on another point Bienkov brings up – cronyism. Most of Johnson’s crimes boil down to his simply not giving a shit and knowing he can get away with it. Rising homelessness? We’re in a global downturn. Tube strikes? Blame the union. But on the point of cronyism he’s on very shaky ground indeed.

According to his 2008 manifesto, Johnson had the following to say on the topic

"We believe that all appointments should be based on merit, and not on personal patronage. Our administration will seek to recruit the right people for London who have the experience and the skills to deliver our agenda for change."

This statement has been so thoroughly divorced from the reality that he could have just as readily been promising to fill the Thames with the frothing piss of champagne swigging virgins. The thing that’s remarkable is how little Johnson tries to hide his love of carving up prime positions and handing them over to his already privileged mates. For example, his great chum Veronica Wadley got the £95K a year job of Volunteering Advisor. No one knows what this job is, what it does and why we have it. It’s such a nebulous position that, apparently, no one even applied for it – Wadley was the only candidate interviewed for the role. But don’t worry! As Snipes has pointed out, she was totally suited for the role – or not-

“When asked by the London Assembly Committee what experience she has in volunteering, she admitted that whilst she had done some since leaving the paper, she had not done any whilst editor, because she had “a fairly busy life” in which “my volunteering efforts were focused on my family.””

FFS! Snipes went on to suggest that the job was a thank you from Johnson for the Evening Standard’s (with Wadley as editor) unwavering support for his Mayoral bid. They forget to mention that Johnson had previously tried to parachute her into a plum arts consultancy job, only to be blocked by the then Labour government – no such problems once Dave was in No. 10. More gruesomely, Snipes also suggests that Johnson fancies Wadley, calling her ‘Mrs Robinson’ once she’d got the job.

Which brings us neatly to Joanna Lumley. Lumley has a fondness for banging on about how she’d bounced the young Boris on her knee. Maybe it’s some vestigial first stirrings of the famous Johnson libido that have led to his embracing her insane vanity project the Garden Bridge. The Garden Bridge, a proposed green space extending over the Thames from Temple to Southwark, has hit problems from conception. To many Londoners the idea of a public space, paid for with public money, that has a set amount of closures for exclusive private functions built into its design from the off, sounds like a slap in the face. Lumley has been describing the project as a ‘tiara’ for London, and in that aspect she’s correct – it will be expensive and generally belong to the wealthy, like a representation of the inequality the city stumbles towards  – the plebs milling on the shitty river banks as the well heeled gulp down canapés in their inner city paradise.  

Whatever my personal feelings towards the project, let’s get to the important point – it turns out that Johnson has been up to his old tricks, and has completely taken the piss with the tendering procedure. This from London Assembly member Tom Copley writing on Little Atoms:

“There has been little doubt in the minds of those of us who have been following the saga of Joanna Lumley’s brainchild that Heatherwick Studio had been given an unfair advantage in the design competition. Just before the tender was put out for what was then rather uninspiringly called the “Temple to South Bank footbridge” Boris Johnson flew to San Francisco for a 24-hour £10,000 taxpayer-funded trip to drum up private sponsorship for it. He subsequently refused to say whether anyone from or associated with Heatherwick Studios had been with him on the trip. Now, thanks to an exposé by the Architects Journal, we know that Thomas Heatherwick was there.”

“Why does this matter? Well, isn’t it odd that the Mayor of London, who is also Chair of Transport for London, should he promoting a design for a project that hadn’t been put out to tender yet? When the contract was tendered, TfL ignored its own legal advice by opting to select three bidders. They split the design contract from the engineering contract to avoid having to go through the usual OJEU open tendering process.”

“The brief given to the three bidders: Marks Barfield, Wilkinson Eyre and – of course- Heatherwick Studios, was for a pedestrian footbridge. Nowhere did the brief mention that what was really desired was a Garden Bridge. Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre duly produced designs for a pedestrian footbridge. Meanwhile Heatherwick Studios – lo and behold – came up with just what the Mayor wanted: a Garden Bridge.”

“The tendering process attracted such concern that TfL conducted an internal audit of it at the request of then Transport Commissioner, Peter Hendy. The resulting report was widely condemned as a whitewash, and a far more critical earlier draft was leaked. Yet still both the Mayor and TfL denied any wrongdoing.”

Thomas Heatherwick is no stranger to controversy – he has previously designed Johnson’s flagship policy – the new Routemaster buses. These wonders of eco-engineering have been found to produce more harmful particles than the vehicles they replaced, with the batteries not powerful enough to run the bus properly. As a result they’ve been guzzling diesel- they’re also uncomfortably hot for passengers. Other moves from Heatherwick include allegedly nicking someone else’s design for the Olympic Bowl (London Olympic committee reached an out of court settlement acknowledging that Heatherwick’s design shared many features with one submitted  by New York design studio Atopia), and building a sculpture for Manchester that ended up being mothballed after it was deemed unsafe for the public – Heatherwick Studios and sub-contactors had to cough up £1.7 million in damages.

That this man, who is no doubt a skilled architect, but has something of a dubious record, should be stepping up to take on the project Johnson is planning as his legacy to London is a fairly good summary of the last 8 years – Boris Johnson does what he wants, gives his mates a leg up, and London gets shafted. It’s hard not to imagine that the next Tory candidate for mayor, the similarly cossetted Zac Goldsmith would intend to do anything more but the same.