According to Iain Dale this morning, Boris Johnson’s First Deputy Mayor is about to resign by, we are told, mutual consent. This move will also see Johnson “promote” himself to the chair of TfL. Of course, this is the third senior figure to have left the Johnson administration under, let’s say, unclear circumstances. Dale is reporting it as a Johnson stamping his authority on his Mayoralty – a true sign that he is not being ruled from CCHQ. A nice bit of spin by Mr Dale – but perhaps not the whole story.
No ideal, but Johnson deserves time
Firstly, no government at any level wants to lose three senior figures within its first six months.That has happened to Boris.In reality, I do not think it has caused him too much damage though. To suggest that this is somehow all part of the Boris plan to show the people of London he is not under the control of team Cameron is laughable.
On the other hand I do think that Ian Dale is right when he says it is better take swift action rather than let scandals and poor appointments fester in City Hall – that would be a mistake with serious consequences. So, on the one hand you have to question Johnson’s judgment by making these appointments in the first place; but on the other hand I think he does deserve credit for acting swiftly and decisively. After all, he is still a novice in this job and deserves some time to bed in.
Do not politicise a non-political position
More worryingly is Iain Dale’s suggestion that Peter Hendy should be replaced.The Tories do see him as a Livingstonian character who is far too Labour for his own good.I think that is unfair.Hendy is a transport man through and through.He has come from humble backgrounds as a bus worker all the through to leading the largest transport authority in the world.The man knows his onions and is also well respected in the organisation.
While I might be reading in between the lines here, I suspect that Dale would rather see a political figure put in as London’s transport commissioner… Steve Norris perhaps?
While Norris is all about London, he is a failed London Mayoral candidate and a politician. He is not a transport professional. It would be a mistake to politicise the role of TfL Commissioner – a role that Hendy has carried out with aplomb and dignity. Why would Londoners want a man who would inevitably get caught up in party politics? After all, it seems they don’t want Johnson getting caught up with CCHQ; surely putting Norris in there would only increase the risk of this happening. London needs a transport guru running its transport system, not another appointed politician who failed to gain position through the ballot box.
One small word that could be one big problem
But I fear the biggest challenge has not yet reared its head for Boris Johnson and the Tories. It is the three letter word no Tory dares utter at the moment: Tax.
London is just about to shell out for some seriously big projects: London 2012 and Crossrail are both multi-billion pound projects that still have question marks over their costs and funding. The collapse of Metronet has also left a large hole in the governments and TfL’s coffers. We are talking billions upon billions upon billions of pounds for these three areas alone. The credit crunch and rising cost of materials is only making this figure rise even further. Someone has to pay.
The Tories the party of higher taxes?
But how is this going to happen?Well the only way it can happen, the tax payer will pay.In particular, the London tax payer.That will mean almost certainly Boris is going to have to introduce a tax hike for Londoners.The Tories – the party of tax?That does not sound good.The problems evolve even more when you think about when Johnson can do this.He doesn’t want to wait until he comes up for re-election to hike the council tax.He will want to do it sooner rather than later so that people will be more forgiving when it comes to re-election and memories soften.
Tax hikes near a general election?!
That leaves it to tax hikes for Londoners in the near future –at a point not too far from a general election.No wonder the Tories and Iain Dale want not to paint Boris as being a a puppet for the Tories.They do not want to be judged on what Boris does because Boris will be forced to raise taxation – and the Tories do not want to be known as the party that raises taxes just before a general election.It will be all too easy cannon fodder for the Labour party.
Ironically, the biggest problem may not be Boris being associated with CCHQ, but CCHQ being associated with Boris.