With the London riots many have started to wonder whether or not Boris Johnson's bubble has burst. According to the 'The Guardian' Boris Johnson has been criticised by 'Senior Tories' for his delayed return from his summer holidays and fear the damage done to his electoral chances by having his very own 'Hurricane Katrina'. Looking at the footage from Clapham this theory seems to gain some credence. This is made more worrying by the fact that it was David Cameron, not Boris Johnson, who got the situation in London back under control.
At the moment people are furious. They have had their businesses ruined, cars stolen, houses burnt, property destroyed, and their local neighbourhoods engulfed by violence and mayhem. They are asking where the police were and what their Mayor is going to do about it. This does not translate into a sudden collapse in confidence. However, it could if the right steps are not taken.
Boris Johnson, so far, has had a splendid record on crime with his pledge to have 1 million more police patrols on the streets in 2012 than in 2008 despite the cuts, an almost 9% fall in crime, and the lowest murder rate since 1978. However, these facts have been rendered meaningless for those who have just experience the chaos of the past few days. Boris Johnson's record needs to be reaffirmed. He has already picked up a broom to help the clean-up in Clapham, and should be doing more of these clean-up visits in the coming weeks to help boost morale and to be seen to be in touch with Londoners.
Boris Johnson's record on law and order now needs a new boost. I would suggest that Boris Johnson continues to be vocal about his opposition to the Coalition's cuts to the police budget. Furthermore, he should argue that a protected police budget ought to be funded by scrapping the unpopular £30 billion High Speed Rail project. This cut is already supported by 37% of Londoners according to a TPA polling report. He would essentially be killing two birds with one stone. However, this should be tempered by strong support for the Coalition's policing reforms and greater efficiency savings in the Metropolitan Police.
Boris Johnson should also change his position on who should be appointed as the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Bill Bratton is a world class candidate. He managed to halve the murder rate in New York and halve the violence rate in L.A. with his zero-tolerance policy. Boris Johnson is not currently in favour of the appointment as he would prefer someone better acquainted with British policing. However, the placement for the Assistant Commissioner is also open. Bill Bratton as the new Commissioner accompanied by a 'British' Assistant Commissioner who is an old hand in British policing, would balance out very well. There is also the difficulty of EU employment law. However, with Boris Johnson's support, David Cameron could certainly back such an arrangement against Theresa May and the European Commission.
Another step must be for Boris Johnson to take on Ken Livingstone's argument that the cuts and the power of the so-called rich are to blame for the rioting in London. Ken Livingstone's tactics must be exposed for what they are: partisan and divisive attacks of the lowest sort. Boris Johnson must ensure that responsibility for the riots clearly lie with the rioters themselves, and not shifted onto any external force. A life in poverty is indeed a strenuous and difficult life to lead. However, people still have choices. These people chose to inflict pain, suffering, and violence on their own neighbours in a miserable fit of Schadenfreude. By blaming 'the cuts' and the so-called 'rich' Ken Livingstone is only lowering himself to the same level of those criminals who have unleashed a vista of violence across the country. Instead, Boris Johnson must try to inspire confidence and unity by laying out what great opportunities lie ahead for London.
Boris Johnson has suffered a slight bruise from recent events but he can easily recover from it. He has a morale inspiring and charismatic personality. All he must do is continue mucking in with the clean-up in the next few weeks, reinforce his strong record on fighting crime, and focus the narrative of the debate on what is best for London beyond 2012.
This article originally appeared on the Demo-Critic blog on 11th August 2011