Advertisement
News

How Boris Johnson Fucked London, and How the Next Mayor Could Fix It

From housing and transport to business and culture, BoJo hasn't left London in the best state. Here are some ways the next mayor could right those wrongs.

by Mark Wilding
04 May 2016, 9:41am

(Photo: Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire/Press Association Images)

Boris Johnson has fucked London – the inevitable consequence of appointing a mascot when we desperately needed a mayor.

There can scarcely be a better example of Johnson's duplicitousness than his 2008 pledge not to close a single ticket office on the London Underground. He later announced he was closing them all. You need not look far for other failures. Johnson promised to eradicate homelessness, but during his tenure it has doubled. He promised transport fares would go down, then put up the price of bus tickets by almost two-thirds. Johnson's London is a city divided, a playground for the rich, where the poor are increasingly exiled.

It's easy to see how voters got it wrong. In both the 2008 and 2012 elections, Johnson went head-to-head against Ken Livingstone, a man who last week locked himself in a disabled toilet while a crowd of journalists asked him about his views on Hitler. Voters, forced into the electoral equivalent of Sophie's Choice, chose Johnson. Tomorrow, we have the chance to set this right.

This is the story of how Boris Johnson fucked London, and how the next mayor could fix it.

READ: The Legacy Boris Johnson Will Leave for the Women of London

HOUSING

No one could fairly blame Johnson for causing London's housing crisis. He has, however, approached the most pressing issue facing Londoners with the manner of a man asleep at the wheel of a car as it heads towards the edge of a cliff.

Johnson has failed to meet his own construction targets, undermined boroughs which have demanded affordable housing from developers and backed plans for estate demolitions which have seen tenants evicted and resulted in a net loss of homes. According to the Office for National Statistics, house prices in London have risen by 51 percent during Johnson's mayoralty. Wages have risen by just 8 percent over the same period.

The next mayor could set a minimum target for affordable housing and back boroughs when it comes to enforcing it. This would be helped by forcing developers to reveal the "viability assessments" they use to justify their unaffordable schemes – documents which are currently kept secret. Estate regeneration schemes that fail to meet the needs of existing tenants should be stopped.

Matters need to be improved for renters as well. The mayor could lobby the government for rent controls – although economists are divided on the extent to which this would help. A clampdown on exploitative practices used by landlords and letting agents, such as hidden fees, is long overdue.

TRANSPORT

In the summer of 2012, Johnson, a man who had recently been elected to manage the £10 billion budget for TfL, got stuck on a zip-wire – perhaps the most rudimentary form of transport going. With the benefit of hindsight, the incident serves as a fitting analogy for Johnson's mayoralty.

The price of travelling the capital by public transport has spiralled in recent years. Oyster card users pay two-thirds more for bus fares and 50 percent more to travel by tube than in 2008. When you look at TfL's expenditure, the reason for the fare rises becomes clear: Johnson has been spending like a Premiership footballer in a provincial nightclub.

He blew £60 million on the Thames cable car and hundreds of millions on new Routemasters to replace perfectly serviceable "bendy buses". He's now using £30 million of public money to build a "garden bridge", despite the fact it will be privately owned and operated. Then there's the cycle hire scheme – which Johnson pledged to bring in at no cost to the taxpayer, before billing us for hundreds of millions of pounds.

Putting an end to these projects and focusing on the existing network would seem like a decent start for the next mayor. A fare freeze should be financed by scrapping vanity projects and building houses on some of the 200 million sq ft of development land owned by TfL.

BUSINESS

London frequently tops polls to identify the world's financial centre, so surely Johnson's record on business is beyond repute? But dig deeper into London's performance and you start to question who's actually winning.

Average wages have stagnated, while the London School of Economics has described chief executive's salaries as "absurdly high". While times are good for big business, artists and creative businesses are just as likely to be forced out of the city by spiralling rents as residential tenants, a situation made worse by new planning rules which allow affordable workspaces to be converted into flats.

The new mayor could lobby for a mandatory London Living Wage and lead the way by requiring its payment by all City Hall providers. Similarly, small businesses should be supported with help to bid for public contracts. Exemptions should be sought from new government rules which allow office-to-residential conversions without planning permission. While new housing is a good thing, this blanket policy risks losing places for people to work as well as to live.

CULTURE

In early 2014, Johnson launched his "Back Busking" initiative, declaring that buskers were "incredibly important for the cultural richness" of London. He even named his favourite buskers, The King's Parade, a four-piece band from Kilburn. Two weeks later, the band was arrested and bundled into a police van after playing a gig in Leicester Square.

Johnson frequently espouses the value of culture, while in reality doing very little to defend it. In fairness, last year he created the Music Venues Taskforce to identify how to protect the capital's live music venues. However, a report by the taskforce found that London had lost 35 percent of its grassroots venues since 2007, a year before Johnson took office, for reasons including spiralling property values, the planning system, police priorities and licensing requirements.

A night-time ambassador should be appointed to represent the city's music venues and drinking establishments. Rules should be introduced to protect venues from noise complaints made by residents of new developments. Planning powers should be used to halt the loss of cultural sites, including pubs and LGBT venues. London is supposed to be a 24-hour city and a cultural world leader. The next mayor must do much more to protect this reputation.

@mark_wilding

More on VICE:

Meeting Sadiq Khan: Labour's Candidate for Mayor Outlines His Plans for London's 'Young and Lost' Generation

What Does the Mayor of London Actually Do?

How a London 'Night Mayor' Could Revive the City's Dying Nightlife

Tagged:
Politics
London
Mayor
Boris Johnson
Vice Blog
tfl
luxury developments
mayoral elections
London Mayoral Election 2016