A high-flying businessman brought in by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to head his staff resigned suddenly yesterday – the third senior figure in his team to quit in as many months.
Tim Parker, the private equity magnate appointed as Mr Johnson's first deputy mayor with a brief to shake up City Hall and take over the crucial chairmanship of Transport for London (TfL), stood down after Mr Johnson said he would chair the transport body himself.
Mr Johnson also risked the wrath of David Cameron after describing the Conservative leader's descriptions of Britain's "broken society" as "piffle".
The abrupt departure of Mr Parker, a 52-year-old branded the "prince of darkness" by unions for his cost-cutting, comes after the resignation of another deputy mayor, Ray Lewis, who wrongly claimed to be a magistrate. Mr Johnson's senior adviser, James McGrath, quit in June for comments he made about immigrants.
Allies of Mr Johnson expressed surprise at the latest departure. Mr Parker was seen as quite a catch; he was confirmed as a board member of the London Development Agency only this month and was still described as the new chairman of TfL last week. He had been due to begin work next month.
Mr Johnson and Mr Parker insist that the decision for him to step down was amicable and said he would remain a board member of TfL and an adviser to the Mayor.
But critics said Mr Parker's sudden departure followed weeks of infighting and left Mr Johnson's attempts to build a mayoral administration in trouble.
The timing was not ideal for Mr Johnson to make a pointed attack on Mr Cameron's long-running critique of Britain's "broken society" – as he did in his Daily Telegraph column yesterday. The Mayor distanced himself from the Tory leadership's attack on Labour social policy, writing: "If you believe the politicians, we have a broken society in which the courage and morals of young people have been sapped by the welfarism and political correctness... If you look at what is happening at the Beijing Olympics, you can see what piffle it is."
Aides to Mr Cameron insisted that they were "relaxed" about the comments.
Mr Johnson said that he should take charge of TfL personally, explaining that in recent weeks "it has become increasingly apparent to both of us that the nature of the decisions that need to be taken are highly political and there is no substitute for me, as the directly elected mayor, being in charge."
Mr Parker said he had realised "that it would not be appropriate for an unelected official to chair a body which is responsible for most of the money and a large part of the brief of an elected mayor". He added: "I also agree with the Mayor that my position as adviser does not justify my full time and exclusive commitment to the Greater London Authority [GLA], or the title of first deputy mayor... I look forward to advising Boris on an ongoing basis on transport."
Allies of Mr Johnson expressed disappointment at Mr Parker's departure. One commented: "As far as Tim is concerned, his appointment was Boris's biggest coup by far. He is a very successful businessman who was going to be chief executive of London. Somehow all of that has gone for a piece of chalk."
Labour pointed to rumours of friction between Mr Parker and Sir Simon Milton, the former leader of Westminster Council brought in as deputy mayor for policy and planning.
The Labour GLA member John Biggs claimed there was "chaos on the eighth floor of City Hall". He said: "Relationships on the eighth floor are riddled with tensions and while Boris was keen to give him this position of first deputy mayor, Mr Parker's colleagues were clearly not supportive."
Mike Tuffrey, the Liberal Democrat leader on the assembly, said: "The wheels are coming off this new administration. Why is Boris losing yet another adviser? Has Tim Parker discovered that running London isn't as easy as running private business?"
Scourge of the unions
When Tim Parker was asked to leave the world of private equity which made him a multimillionaire to become chief of staff to the new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, it took him "about two seconds" to say yes. Mr Parker took the position of first deputy mayor for a nominal salary of £1 a year. As an entrepreneur with a fortune estimated at £75m, he could afford to. The 52-year-old father of four was branded the "prince of darkness" by trade unions for his cost-cutting at the AA. Mr Parker was born in Aldershot to an army family. He read politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford and chaired the Oxford University Labour Club. He became a Treasury economist when he graduated during the chancellorship of Denis Healey, but left the Civil Service after two years to take an MBA. His business career has taken him from running Kenwood, Clarks and Kwik-Fit to heading the AA when it was taken over by the private equity giant Permira.
The other casualties
One of Boris Johnson's high-profile appointments when he was made deputy mayor in charge of young people. But the former vicar and junior prison governor was forced to quit within weeks after being engulfed in a string of sleaze allegations, despite protesting his innocence.
A Tory high-flyer and political adviser to Mr Johnson, Mr McGrath was forced to stand down in June over a race row when he was recorded suggesting black people should leave the country if they disliked a Tory-run capital. Mr Johnson insisted Mr McGrath was not racist, but said the comments made it impossible for him to continue.