I am not a greedy man. Ever since it was announced that the London Mayoral elections would be a contest between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, I have had to confront the fact that I would not be that happy with whoever ended up as mayor. Ken, in fairness, has done a good job in the role: a successful London congestion charge, the 2012 Olympics, a host of green regeneration projects, an impressive ability to placate Londons business folk and financiers. But after 8 years, recent controversies, the worst involving the allegation his race advisor misused public funds, have shown a dangerous arrogance and a growing distance from the electorate. Boris on the other hand, is a curious beast: clearly intelligent but with no experience of running a large organisation and a foot in mouth problem that makes Tourettes syndrome appear modest. Neither candidate deserves to run the UKs largest city.
The London Mayors job is also a strange creature: high profile because it is running one of the worlds true international cities, but limited because the Mayor has restricted powers to run the city (certainly in comparison to Paris and New York). For instance, some of the biggest issues for London, its dependence on financial markets, the restrictions placed on immigration outside of the EU and the state of Londons public services such as schools and hospitals are not properly within the London Mayors remit to combat. Planning, which the Mayor does have more control over, is a difficult issue, in which solutions below a city level on are often preferable. Therefore, Ive never had the expectation that the Mayor could solve all of Londons problems.
But candidate and policy concerns aside, forgive my superficiality but this election did promise a certain degree of entertainment. Both men are after all B-grade celebrities and wallow in this status. On the one side you had Red Ken with his unfailing ability to conjure controversy (recall he likened a journalist to a concentration camp guard and was then suspended from the position; more recently he has befriended Islamic extremists). And on the other side you had Boris Johnson, a man who despite his posh upbringing and previous stints on the Shadow Cabinet was more stand-up comedian than upstanding politician (he once in very poor taste referred to black people as picanninies). Throw into the mix a fiery former Metropolitan police commissioner and you had the makings of a highly entertaining campaign, part Monty Python, part pop-idol.
Enter stage left Lynton Crosby. Now let me give Crosby his dues. He is a formidable election manager. He got John Winston Howard elected more times than I care to remember and for a man who was previously considered unelectable that is a serious feat. Even his defeats – for example the recent Michael Howard campaign – was a relative success given what he had to work with. And Crosby cannot of course be blamed for the poor performances of Ken and the Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick. Kens speeches have appeared tired and jaded; Paddick with his talk about his police experience could make cardboard sound interesting.
But I still blame Crosby for ruining the London Mayoral elections. Crosbys plan has been to tighten the message of the Conservative campaign. That has meant preventing Boris from saying anything off script. No more random flights of Latinate or Grecian fancy, no private idle chats with journalists, no discussion of ignorant Liverpudlians. Winning the election for the Conservatives has meant preventing Boris from being Boris, turning a free wheeling, circus animal of a politician into a very well-behaved poodle. Sure, Mr Johnson retains his scruffy mop of blonde hair, and ever so often you see a cheeky grin emerging from his tight lips, but it is all gone in an instant. Staying on message has been Crosbys key campaigning device.
And yes, of course, it has worked. Crosby isnt an election guru for nothing. But what promised to be a highly entertaining, controversial contest has been rendered dull. By keeping Boris on such a tight leash, Crosby has deprived the election of its star performer. Crosbys professionalism has killed the contest as a media spectacle. Boris the bumbling, boisterous politician has been turned into Boris the bore. Sure it will probably win him the election, but there is more to elections than mere electoral success. Sometimes it matters that politics is authentic. Sometimes, in our media saturated environment we hunger for something real. Sometimes we actually want something or someone to believe in. I think Lynton Crosby has taken that away from us. So though I never thought I would say this, could someone please bring back the real Boris Johnson? Bur please just not as mayor?