John Walsh: Tales of the city

'Boris Johnson, a cuddly sheepdog? Not any more – just ask Jacqui Smith'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Back in April, when I interviewed the three foremost London mayoral candidates, I asked Boris Johnson about the Metropolitan Police Authority. In theory he was entitled to chair it. Would he do so in practice? "Absolutely," he said. But wouldn't he feel out of his depth, chairing a roomful of hard-bitten senior police strategists as to how their enormous force might be deployed across the capital, when all he had previously chaired were the agreeable morning conferences at the Spectator? "I don't see why not," he huffed, "I've always got on very well with the police."

I thought at the time it sounded smug and over-confident, like Boy Mulcaster in Brideshead Revisited being over-familiar with the rozzers shortly before being thrown in the nick. But now do we not look on in alarm and wonder at the speed with which the supposedly slow, English-sheepdoggy Johnson has got right inside the police force's power base? He's been chairman of the Met slightly less than one week. On the morning of his first day, he took three minutes to fire the Commissioner – the first time a serving Met Commissioner has been kicked out in 100 years. Supposedly, according to the law, the Mayor could do this only after consulting the Home Secretary. Johnson did no such thing. On Boris's second day in power, Sir Ian Blair went to tell Jacqui Smith he'd resigned. She could have overturned the Boris Bullet. She could have persuaded Blair to stay on. She did neither.

Johnson then announced that he wouldn't appoint a permanent successor to Blair until a future Conservative government takes power – a breathtaking piece of cheek. And presumably to her consternation, he wrote to the Home Secretary saying he wanted to be part of the appointing process: not just involved in interviewing candidates, but sharing with Smith the final choice from the final short-list.

Historically, it's always been the Home Secretary who appoints the Met Chief. It's a major part of his/her brief as law-and-order supremo. Not any more. You just know that, when the time comes, Johnson will out-argue, out-smart and out-manoeuvre Ms Smith to ensure his own candidate gets in. Not since the heyday of Alexander the Great has the world known such a burst of empire-building as Johnson's manipulation of power at the head of London's police.

In the meantime, he's asked that Blair's deputy and acting Met boss, Sir Paul Stephenson, stays in place for a long "consolidation period". But since Sir Paul is currently being questioned by police about his role as auditor of an enquiry into a £3m contracts scandal involving Blair's friend Andy Miller, he sits in acting-office like a bad smell; he may well have done nothing wrong but his presence is a constant reminder of unresolved questions that have dogged Sir Ian Blair since 2005.

Tomorrow, it seems, belongs to Boris. At the time of the election in May, I didn't believe the critics who warned that, no matter how cuddly the Old Etonian sheepdog seemed to be when canvassing for office, sooner or later the cloven hoof of autonomy would pop out from his woolly cycling socks. I think it just did.

* Extraordinary stories are emerging about the stock available in TK Maxx, the cheap, high-street retail chain. Last week, purchasers of a range of jackets discovered that each one came with a knife attached. Now, a customer has taken back his 3ft-long walking stick, complaining that, when he twists the top end, it turns into a 20in sword.

The store claims to know nothing of the sticks; they seem not to have been aware of the knife-bearing jackets either. Which means that some dubious manufacturer in Asia (called what? Yakuza e Gabbana?) is routinely accessorising his clothes on the quiet with bits of weaponry. When I next buy a pair of TK Maxx gentleman's brogues, will they feature a spring-loaded blade in the toecap, like the one with which Rosa Klebb kicks James Bond at the end of From Russia With Love? When I buy a new TK Maxx tuxedo – not, admittedly, a very likely scenario – will I have to call customer relations, complaining that the shoulder-holster is uncomfortable? Who knows? The whole secret-armaments thing might catch on. Stand by for the new Calvin Klein boxers, with optional rocket-launcher...

Comments