Is the shine coming off the Boris bandwagon?

Boris could and should have taken action to stop many of the changes affecting Londoners. Instead many of the decisions he has taken on policing, on tube fares and on housing are beginning to be more vigorously scrutinised and slowly but surely the shine is starting to wear off the Boris bandwagon.

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Gareth Thomas is MP for Harrow West and deputy shadow minister for London

At one level Boris Johnson still rides high. Championed by his fans in the anti-Cameron parts of the Conservative Party, Boris can do no wrong. His calls for a statue of Mrs Thatcher keep those on the political right happy and hopeful Conservative candidates still want Boris’s support to boost their own appeal.

A safe Conservative seat in the South London suburbs allegedly beckons, calling him to his ‘destiny’ in parliament and ultimately in No.10.

And yet, even before the recent car-crash interview with Eddie Mair, another reality was beginning to emerge as Boris’s record as Mayor of London began to come under more serious scrutiny.

A major policy announcement on policing has provoked pan-London scepticism, even anger; and other parts of his record are beginning to suggest a less glowing record than his supporters would like to acknowledge.

Hype over substance

To take just one important example, since 2010 Boris has quietly allowed police numbers to plummet. Recent Freedom of Information answers direct from the Metropolitan Police show a drop of over 4,000 uniformed police officers between March 2010 and April 2012. In some parts of London police numbers fell by more than 20 per cent and did so at a time of growing concern about gang crime and in the period when serious riots scarred London for the first time in decades.

Driven by national cuts to police funding, which Boris has consistently supported, his deputy and other senior London Conservative figures have attempted to claim that with a police recruitment drive underway, every borough will have extra officers coming soon (even if some police stations will have to close).

The reality, as many Londoners have already worked out, is rather different. Local community police teams, the so called ‘Safer Neighbourhood teams’, are being scrapped in all but name. Boroughs are set to have fewer uniformed police officers by the time of the next General Election compared to 2010.

Considering the vital work that these officers do in combating crime and providing re-assurance few will understand why Boris is risking such long term damage to our community safety.

Boris’s decision to reduce fire services across London has likewise alarmed many of those who live in areas which are losing fire services or indeed those who are seeing their fire station close completely.

Seven A&E Departments in London are closing under Conservative plans for the NHS, while Boris also backs the proposals to downsize the popular Lewisham A&E and maternity departments. It is striking too that Boris and other London Conservatives have remained silent on the growing waiting times for operations at London hospitals, and the ever longer waiting times for those seeking emergency care at the capital’s A&E departments.

Silence on the big issues

On housing, Boris has had little to say about ‘generation rent’. Some recent reports have suggested that rent is increasing as much as eight times faster than wages in the capital. Yet there has been no suggestion from Boris that government action is needed and the latest figures from the GLA suggest his record on house building is getting sharply worse, with the number of new homes for social renting in London plummeting under his leadership from approximately 11,300 in 2010/11 to just 1,700 in 2012/13.

Yet it is the squeeze on living standards where Boris has been at his most silent. Since becoming Mayor, Boris has year after year hit Londoners with above inflation fare rises: the cost of an annual season ticket from the suburbs into Central London has risen by over 20 per cent, now costing almost £2000; the cost of single tube journeys are up 50 per cent; and bus fares have more than doubled, increasing by 55 per cent. He is expected to put them up again next January.

Instead Boris supports the cut in taxes brought in by George Osborne for millionaires, worth an average of £100,000; he supports the rise in VAT to 20 per cent and, unsurprisingly, his tepid support for a London Living Wage has been widely ignored by many Conservative Councils.

Indeed, it isn’t just those of us on the centre-left who are criticising Boris. His Conservative ‘colleagues’ are becoming more vocal too.

Ministers in the Department for Business have criticised the weaknesses of the London Local Enterprise Partnership, which Boris leads, for its slowness in allocating government funding to boost jobs and growth in London. In the last 3 years Boris secured less money for London from the government’s Regional Growth Fund than any other region in England, despite London having some of the poorest areas of Britain within our city.

Having a Conservative-led government and a Tory Mayor of London has also resulted in serious cuts to London’s emergency services with fewer police on our streets, many A&E departments set to close and waiting times for NHS care rising.

Boris could and should have taken action to stop many of the changes affecting Londoners. Instead many of the decisions he has taken on policing, on tube fares and on housing are beginning to be more vigorously scrutinised and slowly but surely the shine is starting to wear off the Boris bandwagon.

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