Tony Travers: A smile and dash of Blairism is secret of Mayor's success

Related Topics

The past year has seen a radical change in the world economic order and, in an odd parallel, the emergence of Boris Johnson as a national political contender.

When Ken Livingstone lost the London mayoral race, he handed over a fast-growing city that was the centre of a particular form of globalised financial system.

Today, Boris Johnson is mayor of a city within a country whose economic future is uncertain. He has also recently signalled that being mayor of the capital is but a stepping-stone to a more exalted political position – prime minister.

Ahead of the May 2008 election, his enemies launched exaggerated attacks on Johnson. Having been a lovably eccentric journalist, TV personality and MP, he was suddenly accused of being a monstrous racist and a Thatcherite extremist, too incompetent to run the government of a major city. His candidacy was portrayed as a bad joke.

In the event, he won and won well. In classic British mode, voters thought it was "time for a change". Boris proved popular and capable of tapping a deep well of outer-London sentiment that felt itself ignored by Ken and Labour. The "revenge of the suburbs" is a factor Gordon Brown may well come to worry about during the next 12 months.

Johnson's opponents had created such low and inaccurate expectations of the new mayor that he was in a good position to appear reasonably successful.

True, there were some awkward moments early in his tenure when deputy mayors came and went, creating an impression of chaos. But even Barack Obama has faced embarrassing resignations from his administration. The City Hall machine now appears settled.

Comparisons with Ken Livingstone's eight years as mayor are inevitable. Whereas Livingstone presided over a regime that was tight and focussed, Boris's administration is more home-made. By all accounts, Johnson himself directs what happens and decides the direction of policy. The result is less coherent and predictable than under his predecessor.

Some of his initiatives have been Blairite, leaning against his opponents' expectations, and, indeed, his own party's general policy. For example, he has supported the London Living Wage, opened up a debate about allowing "irregular" migrants to earn citizenship, and supported Obama for president.

Less popular with the left and the Greens has been his abandoning the western extension of the congestion charge, his weaker "affordable housing" targets, and the removal of the police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair. The recession has reduced Johnson's room for manoeuvre. On the other hand, he manages to convey a sense of jolliness and fun that his predecessor never managed. He doesn't really do "mean". On occasion, however, there is visible tension between the jolly Boris and the more serious Mayor Johnson. Also, like Livingstone, he can appear a bit fed-up when MPs or London Assembly members try to hold him to account. By signalling, in an interview with London's Evening Standard last week, his interest in becoming prime minister, Johnson risks transmitting a message to Londoners that he is not fully committed to them. After a single year in power, such a signal would not be ideal. But his sights may be shifting across the Thames. His first year in City Hall has probably helped open up a possible route to Downing Street. Given where he was during last year's mayoral campaign, this must represent some kind of success.

Tony Travers is director of LSE London, a research centre at the London School of Economics

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas