Boris Johnson has been very patient, considering this week saw the launch of the election campaign for the London Mayor. He waited until he got a sense of what the press coverage said about the Government’s Budget the following day and has then acted swiftly – taking credit for the bits he likes (reducing the 50p tax rate and a cycling budget boost), pushing back against the unpopular elements in a veiled rebuke to his Conservative cabinet colleagues (hello granny tax!). He completed his performance by throwing a political grenade into the campaign, by pushing the debate in another direction with an attack on education standards in London as a principal cause of last year’s riots and demanding fresh powers to intervene in this area.
Unfortunately for him, this issue goes to the heart of his record. Rule Number 1? When Boris throws a political grenade, you need to be looking at where it came from, rather than the explosion itself.
His pitch in today’s Guardian for more control over education in the city is quite provocative, eye-catching and worthy of discussion, even though my initial gut reaction would be against loading a further layer of oversight onto our school teachers. Yet by concentrating his fire on the failures of the education system, an area in which he hasn’t had direct authority, distracts us from considering his record in the areas that he HAS had influence – economic development, housing and regeneration in the city.
These have been within his sphere of influence for the last four years. He has had substantial levers of power at his disposal in which to promote employment, reduce housing and transport costs, as well as investing in young people. He quotes figures of 55% of young black men being out of work across the city and admits to rising accommodation and transport costs in the city, a crushing indictment of his term of office as champion for London. Education must play it’s part in equipping young people for obtaining employment, but where is the humility at his own inability to promote a healthy economy?
Thankfully, Green candidate Jenny Jones is tackling these issues head on in her manifesto pledges around the economy. For those who have been reading my blog for a while, you’ll be unsurprised that I welcome her increased focus on economic issues and inequality in our Green Party pitch at this election, as we still need to be quite robust in outlining policies not traditionally associated with our party into the public consciousness. Her promise to create 300,000 new jobs and apprenticeships aimed primarily at those under 25 at the level of the Living Wage is a tough but manageable target and sets the city on a direction of travel that concentrates on boosting the economy by investing in people, not just businesses.
If Boris Johnson is spending the first few days of the campaign playing smoke and mirrors with his own record, I’m feeling increasingly optimistic that there is a space for fresh voices to be heard on this campaign.