All change in London: Will the accidental Mayor shape up?

For much of the campaign, Boris Johnson gave little indication of a desire to win or of a true vision if he did. By Brian Brady and Jane Merrick
Click to follow
Indy Politics

It seems unthinkable, following his astounding victory at City Hall on Friday night, but it is barely a month since the Conservatives were wondering whether Boris Johnson would last the course in his historic campaign to become London Mayor.

In the last few weeks before polling day and with a steady lead in the opinion polls, the reluctant candidate showed signs of a wobble. Mr Johnson, who had long been seen as a risky bet for a party in the process of reconstruction, missed a series of set-tos with opposing candidates.

He was, it was claimed, losing the plot. The MP for Henley, an unlikely media star, had never wanted such a responsible job and never really believed he would get it. Now, as he homed in on the prize, he was getting cold feet.

David Cameron's lieutenants insisted that Mr Johnson must not fail; his redoubtable campaign team insisted that he would not.

That Boris Johnson maintained his pace to become London's first Tory mayor is a testament to his own gradual realisation of what he could do if he could get into City Hall, as much as it is to the effort and meticulous planning that made the achievement possible.

While Mr Johnson has much to learn in his new position, Conservative officials – and even Labour opponents – admitted they could take many lessons from the "textbook" campaign that put him there.

The most telling reason for Mr Johnson's victory was his unexpected ability to rein in a sense of fun which has always threatened to sabotage his loftiest ambitions. For that, the credit must go to Lynton Crosby, the Australian campaigning guru, who managed to produce a disciplined strategy – and a candidate who kept to the script until polling day.

"It was pretty touch-and-go at times," one member of the campaign team admitted. "People were always expecting Boris to say something out of turn or do something silly and, to be brutally honest, so were we. Sometimes it was just a case of getting hold of his elbow and pulling him out of places before he got carried away."

It was not simply a matter of controlling the candidate, however. Mr Crosby developed a policy agenda, sometimes in spite of the candidate, concentrating on tough messages relating to issues such as public transport, gang violence and policing. Mr Johnson looked on agog as the guru compiled his "Zone 5 and 6 strategy", concentrating energies on the most winnable areas of the capital while leaving Ken Livingstone to his strongholds; effectively, eschewing the inner city in favour of the outlying areas of London. The success of the policy was demonstrated on count night, when votes piled up for Mr Livingstone in central areas of the city, but they were dwarfed by the totals gathered by the Conservatives further afield.

The strategy was undeniably helped by a vicious anti-Livingstone campaign waged by the London Evening Standard throughout the months leading up to polling day. The newspaper had been virulently anti-Ken since the former mayor refused to apologise for likening one of its reporters to a concentration camp guard – despite being told the journalist was Jewish.

Whereas several Labour ministers had once complained that the campaign had been too friendly, the press coverage was often extreme in its treatment of their candidate.

"It was violent and it definitely played a part," one said. "When you are going to work seeing terrible allegations about Ken advertised all over the place, without having to but the paper, it must have an effect.

"I sometimes wish some of that malice had got into the relationship between the candidates. I don't think we roughed Boris up enough."

It is not a failing Mr Livingstone is often accused of. But he will have a lucrative retirement in which to rake over his mistakes during the most difficult campaign of his life.

The former mayor has pledged to make himself ready for a smooth handover of power. But he is more likely to spend the next few years following his bitter rival Tony Blair around the lucrative US lecture circuit.

In the meantime, Mr Johnson will have his work cut out meeting the expectations of the people who installed him in office. The new Mayor has the capital's notorious gun and knife culture, congested transport system and preparation for London's 2012 Olympic Games to deal with. He has bold promises to live up to: curb the capital's crime rates with more police officers and a crime map of London, acting as a "human bridge" between the rich and poor and freeing-up traffic-clogged roads by replacing bendy buses with traditional red Routemasters.

The Mayor has vowed to save money by cutting wasteful spending by Ken Livingstone during his eight years at City Hall, and target his £11bn budget more economically. Mr Johnson's first act as Mayor yesterday was to appoint a team of staff to run his administration. Nick Boles, a close friend of David Cameron, is expected to run his office.

Mr Johnson himself will chair the Metropolitan Police Authority to spearhead his fight against crime, a process begun yesterday at a meeting with Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Ian Blair. As another teenager became the latest victim of knife crime in London on Friday night, Mr Johnson used his inauguration speech yesterday to pledge to make the city's streets safer and reduce the menace of gangs. He will provide 50 more British transport police officers and 440 extra police support officers.

Bendy buses – the single-decker, two-carriage vehicles hated by cyclists such as Mr Johnson – will be phased out and replaced with a "new generation" of the Routemaster. Yet his estimate of how much this would cost has varied from £8m to £100m.

Local people will be consultated about the western extension of the congestion charge zone, as plans to introduce a £25 charge for the most polluting vehicles are scrapped.

Boris: the biography

"He's very good at Greek and Latin," proud father Stanley Johnson observed as election victory loomed. "And I can tell you something – if you can do Greek and Latin you can do anything, certainly run a city like London."

It is Mr Johnson's impressive intellect, as much as his eccentric personality, that has set him apart. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (known to family as Al) was born in New York to English parents in 1964 and was, until recently, an American citizen.

After attending the European School in Brussels, and Ashdown House Preparatory School in East Sussex, he won a scholarship to Eton, where he was taught by Sir Eric Anderson, Tony Blair's housemaster during his schooldays at Fettes.

Mr Johnson went to Balliol College, Oxford, to study the classics in 1983. He became a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club alongside David Cameron, and used his time at Oxford to pursue his obsession with politics.

He met Allegra Mostyn-Owen during his first year and they married, at just 23, in 1987. The marriage lasted less than three years. After an ill-starred attempt to become a management consultant, Mr Johnson became a journalist, although he was sacked by 'The Times' for making up a quote.

In 2001, when he was editor of 'The Spectator', he won Michael Heseltine's old seat, in Henley, Oxfordshire. After an unsigned 'Spectator' editorial, accusing the citizens of Liverpool of wallowing in their "victim status" over the murdered Iraq hostage Ken Bigley, then Tory leader Michael Howard sent Mr Johnson to Merseyside to apologise. But he was sacked by Mr Howard a few weeks later in any case, for allegedly lying over an affair with the journalist Petronella Wyatt – something he vehemently denied.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

Comments