Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Boris Johnson

 After five years of not posting a blog (although I have been active on Twitter ) I feel moved to write with my views on Boris Johnson as it appears likely that he may well win the Conservative Leadership contest and become our next Prime Minister .

I know Boris . I worked with Boris . I was the first Member of the London Assembly to endorse Boris' candidature for the London mayoralty . I last spoke to him a year ago at a Party he threw at No1 Carlton Gardens , the Official residence of the Foreign Secretary to mark ten years since he was first elected Mayor of London .

Boris was a poor judge of character . I lost count of the many so called "Deputy Mayors" and Senior Aides who passed through City Hall in my four years :Nick Boles (Head of Transition)  lasted a month , Ray Taylor (totally bonkers) lasted three months ,Tim Parker (on another Planet )  and of course Ian Clement (fiddled his expenses ) spring to mind . Then there were people with no experience of Local Government Munira Mirza (did not like being called "Dear" ) Isabel Dedring, Transport (hated and ignored by TfL Officers) Kulveer Ranger (who once cried on my shoulder because he had lost his Secretary ), Matthew Pencharz ( a nice boy but well out of his depth) . Pam Chesters , a good choice as health advisor but totally undermined by Boris when he ordered her to reinstate Mars Bars in the City Hall canteen.

These inexperienced advisors are no doubt partly, along with Boris ego , the reason for so many failed and pointless Capital projects . Boris Island , the East London Cable Car , the Garden Bridge ...

However he did hire Sir Simon Milton who brought some order to the chaotic situation Boris had created at City Hall, not least by Boles decision to sack everyone who had worked for Ken (except for the excellent Neale Coleman , no relation ) . Boles also ignored all advice from those of us who had been a City Hall for eight years ( Barnes , Evans , Arbour and me ) who knew how the system worked and how to get things done . Apparently Boles said we were "passe" so Roger Evans called us the "passe posse ". Within weeks of Boris taking office we went from being ignored to having Boris appointees asking us out for lunch for "advice" . Once Sir Simon Milton arrived full time as Chief of Staff he ended up taking all the decisions and in my view driving himself to an early grave  as a result . A year before Simon Milton died I confronted Boris in the City Hall lift and said that Simon was working too hard ( he was then in hospital ) and Boris dismissed it with a wave of the hand . When Simon died Boris was genuinely upset and took my advice to have a car to attend the funeral as the Cemetery is a long walk from the tube station and I did not want him to be late for that event . In the end Boris was on time (for once) and the dreadful Baroness Warsi (who was representing the Prime Minister)  was late and kept us all waiting  Sir Edward Lister who followed Simon as Chief of Staff did keep the show on the road and did the detail which Boris never did .

We all know about Boris's dress sense but at his first City Hall London Remembrance Service when I asked his aide to give Boris a black tie to wear he said "we have tried Brian but he won't" . I recall Ken Livingstone always putting a black tie on before laying the wreath.

I served for four years as Chairman of the London Fire and Planning Authority , the body since abolished which had control of the 6000 staff and £330 million budget of London's Fire Brigade . As such I, my Deputy and the Commissioner  met with Boris "officially" every 5 or 6 months to brief him on matters Fire which usually he was not the slightest bit interested in . The first half of the meeting was often spent telling him what I had told him at the last meeting . During the weekend of the Lakhanal House Fire in July 2009 which killed 6 people , I was told Boris wanted to visit on Monday morning for a photo opportunity . I had to explain that it was a possible crime scene and that neither the Mayor nor anybody else could trample all over it . Boris made do with ill tempered visit to Peckham Fire Station instead .

His performance at the monthly Mayor's question time at City Hall was dreadful in the early days and to the frustration of Assembly colleagues ( including Kit Malthouse) did not really improve . Kit was a very competent Deputy Mayor for Policing but was distrusted by Boris for being "the City Hall Leaker " . It was Kit who was responsible for getting Boris to sack Met Commissioner Ian Blair . " he was going wobbly right up to the last minute , I gave him the balls " was Kit's comment to me afterwards .

Boris just simply never read the briefs or prepared for his speeches . At one Lord Mayor of London's London Governance Dinner he could be seen scribbling notes on the napkin during the meat course. At a Board of Deputies Annual Dinner I had actually sent him a three point brief for his speech which was thank the Community for their support in your election , express your admiration for the State of Israel and finally support the role out of Jewish Community Schools in London . Stuart Polak , Director of CFI told me before Dinner he had sent Boris a brief as well . Instead he made a speech about buses to a room full of the great and the good of the Jewish Community who rarely use them !

At the Annual Lord Mayor's Banquet one year he told me the " only way to get through events like this Brian is drink all the alcohol on offer !"

At a briefing for the Security for the G20 London Summit in April 2009 at which I was present,as the Police explained how in the event of trouble President Obama would be evacuated by river down the Thames from ExCel  Boris eyes wandered after a couple of minutes and he suddenly said "just tell me when will I appear on television ?"

At a briefing meeting held in Boris' Office in 2011 during the Inquests into the deaths of the victims of the 7/7 bombings I was telling Boris how the Fire Authority was having to spend a sizable sum on lawyers (as were the Met , TfL and everybody else involved ) not least because Mrs Justice Hallett was cutting up rough as Coroner when he suddenly said " I blame Tony Blair for all this , he started it with the Marchioness (Inquest) " Guto Harri, who was Boris' Head of Communications and at the time absolutely devoted to Boris , said " Oh Boris they are really for the families (of the victims) benefit " To which Boris replied "Fuck the families , Fuck the families !"  . I was having none of this and snapped at Boris  " You didn't have to write eight letters of condolence to families of your constituents or attend the funeral of 31 year old Lee Baisden ( a Fire Authority employee) who had been blown to pieces at Aldgate and comfort his poor widowed Mother " .

After this meeting the ever loyal Guto Harri rang me up and said "it never happened Brian , it never happened" . Sorry Guto it did and I have witnesses .

Well since I left City Hall ( you were thrown out by the voters ED) , things have certainly changed sadly I don't think Boris has . As one female Boris aide said to me "Boris' trouble is he cannot keep it in his trousers" . Oh if that was his only problem .


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