Thursday, 2 October 2008

Boris Johnson, power politics and the end of Blair

If the resignation of Ray Lewis has come to be seen as Boris Johnson's weakest moment as Mayor so far, then the resignation of Sir Ian Blair will undoubtedly be seen as his strongest.

Now I'm not talking here about the rights or wrongs of this. But from a purely power-political point of view, it is clear that this will have seriously boosted his position.

And as Boris and Kit Malthouse lobby to get even greater powers over the Met, it is worth remembering that it was only two days ago that David Cameron moved to stop just that.

So what does this all mean for Boris and more importantly what does it all mean for us?

  • Well first of all it's clear that this has set a precedent. And no matter what Jacqui Smith or David Cameron might say in the future, the Mayor of London now clearly holds a power he didn't once have.

  • Because in British law political powers are gained not just by statute, but by convention, and a new convention has clearly been set today.

  • Second of all, the office of Police Comissioner has been permanently politicised and from now on it is not just performance but political allegiance that will be central to their role.
  • Third of all, this is another blow to the authority of David Cameron, and a further upping in the ante of Boris's attempts to get his job.

And if all that wasn't enough, there is still the small matter of finding a new Police Commissioner, with who both London and the government will have to work. Yes, this is big news people.

Images by Beau Bo D'or


will said...

The sound of braying tories is deafening over this news.

The Troll said...

To be fair I don't think it is just tories who are braying about this.

Alex said...

It's not quite "Franco: Still Dead", but "Blair: Still Fired" does it for me.

Chris said...

The big thing to look out for here is the 'who benefits' question.

Wait and see who gets the job and who his friends are. It will be them rather than Boris who will have been behind this.

LeftIntelligence said...

Johnson is as much a disaster in policing as in everything else. He has already proposed to cut the police budget in real terms by a below inflation increase in spending next year - which shows his real degree of 'commitment' to fighting crime.
Now he spearheads the campaign of the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and others (who make use of a few confused figures on the left) who want to get rid of Ian Blair so they can put in a non-'politically correct' (that is a more tolerant of racism) head of the Met.
It is only 25 years since London experienced black rioting against the police - and the MacPherson report found 'institutional racism' in the Met. Getting back to that old culture before MacPherson was what the Daily Mail/Daily Telegraph campaign against Ian Blair was all about.
With tension already rising with London's ethnic minority communities over Stop and Search this means serious medium term problems for London.

Tom said...

The big thing for me is whether Boris is willing to compromise with the Government on this. If he isn't careful then there'll be a further cooling in relations, which ain't exactly warm. What if Wacky Jacqui appoints someone who isn't on-board with the idea of cutting police GLA funds? No skin off her nose, and Boris can hardly say 'Don't like him. He isn't willing to accept less money' without looking a prat - Smith can (justifiably) say that it's important to resource the police properly, and she's putting in her whack.

If she's clever (OK, debatable) she'll do the sensible thing and appoint Blair's deputy - the spin writes itself; London needs continuity at this difficult time, safe pair of hands, already on board with the key issues facing London, been in position during recent crime reductions, understands the needs of Londoners to restore confidence in their police service etc...

Then watch what Boris does, with the ball back in his court and a close Blair associate in the big hat.

Basically it may come back to bite him, wielding powers he technically doesn't have. He can't just keep forcing policemen to resign without eventually sabotaging his 'Number One Priority'.

Basically Boris needs good relations with the Commissioner more than the person who appoints the Commissioner needs good relations with Boris, so he isn't in quite the position of strength it appears at first sight.

The Troll said...

This is all fascinating stuff. Just to clarify, I do not think this is a sign of Boris's genuine or real political strength. There have been more than enough signs that he does not have that where it is needed.

Nor is it a sign of his commitment to cutting crime. Getting rid of a commissioner who has presided over falling crime, and cutting the police budget does not demonstrate that.

But what it does do for him is give an opportunity to appearto do those things and for the media narrative that may be all that is needed.

Whoever replaces Blair (even if it is his deputy) they will not in the public mind at least be associated with Labour and the previous administration. Whoever it is, Boris will have the opportunity to appear to 'take ownership' of them on an issue which he wants to be defined by.

Of course the skinny chicken will come back to roost when the cutbacks kick in, but for now appearances are all.

Anonymous said...

Who ever is chosen will be seen as Boris's tool.

Rob said...

Interesting perspectives, TT.

"the Mayor of London now clearly holds a power he didn't once have"

After Stockwell, there was a lot of pressure - rightly - for Blair to resign. One of the factors that enabled him to hang on despite the calls was that Ken backed him to the hilt.

Might it not be the case that the precedent for the Mayor to determine the Met Chief's fate was set then, and incidentally Ken is of the opinion too that it should be the in the Mayor's power to fire and hire the Met Chief. It was his will that allowed Blair to stay in post. It's the current Mayor's will that he doesn't. Same principle, just a different outcome.

Just a thought...

The Troll said...

Well I can't speak for Ken Livingstone but it is certainly the case that Blair's role had already been significantly politicised, by himself as much as anyone else.

I am in two minds about this. On the one hand I can see the argument for a Mayor being able to fire and hire a commissioner, but on the other hand there is a danger that it will lead to more of exactly the sorts of problems for which Blair has been criticised for.

It seems a strange argument to criticise the commissioner for being too close to the politicians and then in the same breath say that he should be hired and fired by... the politicians.

Having said that, what are the alternatives. You could make him an elected figure, but then you are only further politicising him again.

I think the answer may be in giving greater appointment powers to the MPA, who themselves should be elected. Having said that, the Met commissioner also has a role in national policing so that would cause problems as well.

It's a minefield basically.

Tom said...

What's wrong with classic British fudge and compromise, which is, er, what we have now. Both sides ought to realise that the only way out is for the Home Office to nominate someone broadly acceptable for Boris, and for Boris to accept with good grace.

I'd expect something like that to happen, because of the emphasis on crime - he has to be seen to be getting on with things fairly quickly rather than fighting turf battles with Whitehall.

The Troll said...

'he has to be seen to be getting on with things fairly quickly rather than fighting turf battles with Whitehall.'

I can't say I hold out much hopes of that. If he's smart he will take whatever plate of crap he's given and tell everyone else it's cream pie.

However, with the kind of horsetraders and blowhards he has around him there is every chance we will see this conflict just spreading further.

If you look at what has happened in City Hall so far it has just been one power clash after another. Has this been a result of Boris's competitiveness, or his weak leadership? Probably a bit of both.

But what will it mean for the next few years? More resignations, more manufactured conflicts and more distractions from the actual job of running the capital.

The danger for Boris is that he will overreach himself just one time too many.

Tom said...

Malthouse is to the right of Boris, of course, and as Deputy for Policing he may well have the word in the ear on this. Bit of a jump up for him.

What's been notable this week is that nearly everything Boris has done has technically not been his job; planning airports, sacking police commissioners, investing in academy schools...

It's not like the job he's set up for himself leaves much time, really.

Helen said...

It's almost as if Boris thinks he's Prime Minister!

angelneptunestar said...

First of all, I don't think you are right to say this is a blow to David Cameron.

Secondly, Michael Heseltine came out in full support of Boris on Question Time and Jacqui Smith looked feeble and ineffectual. The audience also backed Boris.

This morning Jacqui has spoken out to criticise Boris. If that is how she feels, why didn't she protest straight away, and put up a fight over Sir Ian's resignation? Heseltine made this point last night and she just swallowed. Far too slow off the starting gate Jacqui, you have been outflanked by Boris Johnson.

prj45 said...

"Michael Heseltine came out in full support of Boris on Question Time "

He also asserted that this wasn't a Tory plot, which is looking less and less like the truth.

Tom said...

"Michael Heseltine came out in full support of Boris on Question Time "

My God! Hold the front page! If the Conservative Mayor of London is now getting the backing of Conservatives the world has really turned upside down, eh?

angelneptunestar said...

Sir Ian Blair has made too many mistakes. He is not a good choice, and he needed to go, end of.

The Troll said...

Thanks for calling an end to the discussion.