Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Boris Pledges: I Will Have More Money Than Sense!

With Derek Conway suspended from even the Tories for fraudulently funnelling taxpayers’ cash to his family and Peter Hain brought down by repeatedly breaking the funding laws for which he had collective ministerial responsibility, surely no MP could be senseless enough to boast about their illegal election funding plans? Step forward Boris Johnson, hapless Tory London Mayoral candidate, in a new scandal spotted by Mayorwatch (though not by the Guardian in their own article on his funding). At least the police are forewarned when a candidate is so arrogant and stupid that he promises in advance to break the law.

The Guardian’s report on Boris Johnson’s campaign focused on the conflict of interest in one of his big donors being a property developer planning big buildings in London; accepting that was stupid of Mr Johnson. But what it missed, and Mayorwatch was the only site clued-up about London politics to spot, is that Mr Johnson’s campaign has promised to spend £1.25 million against a spending limit of £420,000; missing that was very stupid of the Guardian. You might think £420,000 is quite a strict spending limit, considering there are eight million people living in London, and compared to – say – the limit per head for a Parliamentary by-election, or the £20+ million that Labour and the Tories throw around on their sizzling overdrafts every General Election. You might even say it’s a sign that the Labour Government doesn’t take London elections seriously. But the fact remains, that limit is the law.

And Boris Johnson’s campaign has boasted that he will break the law by spending three times as much as the legal limit.

Mayoral spending limits are fixed by law, and take effect from the 18th of March. Mayorwatch reasonably thought it unlikely that two-thirds of a Mayoral campaign budget would be spent in the next month and a half, leaving only a third as much to spend in the two months when everyone’s paying attention, and asked Mr Johnson’s campaign for clarification. Their reply showed that arrogance and stupidity aren’t restricted to the candidate himself:
“We disclose financial information about the campaign when the electoral commission requires us to – they ask for names and details of amounts given but do not ask for information on what we spend it on. I'm afraid i am unable to disclose how much is spent on each area of campaigning… Since the current Mayor is currently running his campaign from City Hall, perhaps you can ask him the same questions and enlighten us on when he intents to stop using city hall staff for election purposes?”
Readers may well agree that Mr Livingstone is a bullying egomaniac with a careless disregard for financial propriety. By drawing attention to this, however, Mr Johnson’s spokesperson seeks to persuade people that the cure to Mr Livingstone’s dodgy ways is to elect an incompetent bullying egomaniac with a careless disregard for financial propriety. Mr Johnson’s pledge last week…
“Another day, another scandal at City Hall… Being the Mayor of London is a huge privilege and not one I will take lightly. From day one of my administration I will be accountable and open to scrutiny. The position will never be abused again.”
…has lasted about three days. Whoops!

If Boris Johnson isn’t taking the rules about the Mayor of London lightly, he’s doing a very good impression of it. But has he ever taken the job seriously? Tories were complaining for months after he’d become their candidate that he was doing nothing to get the job; also last Autumn, during the run-up to The Election That Never Was (yes, he was the Tory I alluded to at the bottom and never got around to following up), Mr Johnson announced he’d be standing again as Conservative candidate for Henley. It’s one thing to tell the eight million people of London that none of them are talented enough to run their own city, and that we need a viceroy from Henley to ride in and keep us plebs in order. But he’d previously said that, if he became Mayor, he wouldn’t stand again as an MP. So announcing he would be a candidate in both elections at the same time… Arrogant, you might conclude. And stupid. But most of all, it shows that he’s not really interested in the London job.

I was reading a piece on Intelligence and Ignorance yesterday that had a fairly reasonable sketch on each of the three main candidates for Mayor. He felt, however, that Mr Johnson was likely to be such a disaster that he’d be forced to vote for the dodgy Mr Livingstone to keep him out, despite thinking Brian Paddick would do the best job. So, with all the troubles and scandals surrounding the incumbent Mayor, Mr Livingstone probably rejoices that fear of Mr Johnson is his biggest asset. Well, Labour’s election pitch against Liberal Democrats who’d do a better job so often boils down to ‘We’re s**t, and we know we are, but, oooooh! The Tories! Scary!’

In London, Labour’s ‘You have to vote for our bully, because the Tory would be a disaster’ line can be exploded. For all those people who know Brian Paddick would make the best Mayor for London, but are tempted to support Ken Livingstone to keep a hopeless Tory bungler out of the job, there’s a simple solution. It is impossible to ‘let Boris in’ by voting for Brian first. The voting system for London Mayor (unlike for your MP) gives you two choices. When the vote’s counted, if your top choice isn’t in the top two, they look at your second choice. If that one’s in the top two, your vote just gets added to their stack. So even if you’re tempted that way, there’s no reason to hold your nose and vote for Mr Livingstone; you can vote on hope first, and let your back-up vote be about fear.

And when Mr Livingstone takes only his own ego seriously and Mr Johnson takes nothing seriously, doesn’t London deserve someone who’ll take the job seriously?

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