A VANILLA MAYOR IN A CHOCOLATE CITY
By Lee Jasper
Monday, September 12, 2011.
I like Boris; he makes me laugh most times and then on other occasions he seems completely bonkers. With his blond-tousled mane and his penchant for quoting Latin verses or Greek fables, He has a bright, breezy, infectious personality that makes people smile.
He is a master of communication with the ability to sense the mood of an audience and usually strikes the right chord when addressing a crowd. This allows him to studiously avoid the contentious key political issues of the day, whilst leaving the public satisfied with platitudinous sound-bites, photo opportunities and of course, a bit of joshing thrown in for good measure.
Watching him work a crowd demonstrates his undoubted charm and unique ability to keep London smiling.
When it comes to media criticism (of which there is very little) Boris has a mesmeric Teflon-like quality that has seen off his most determined detractors including me. In politicians these traits are rare but Boris seems to be blessed by the Gods with both in abundance.
Electorally Boris is certainly no joke and Ken Livingstone will have his work cut out for him in the forthcoming Mayoral elections.
However, such panache and bonhomie are fine when all the pigs are fed and ready to fly but this acute lack of any real political nous and understanding is brutally revealed in times of crisis.
The genteel Wodehousian laughter subsided this summer and was replaced by sirens, acrid smoke, tragic loss of life and widespread damage to property and the international reputation of London dragged through the mud.
What we saw was a Mayor out of his comfort zone, unaided by a Mayor’s Office team who have neither the skills nor understanding to deal, in any effective way, with the huge complexities of policing multicultural London.
The recent riots sparked by the shooting in Tottenham of Mark Duggan were entirely avoidable, and any Mayor who had been paying attention could have and should have recognised that tensions between the black community and the police were at breaking point after a series of high profile deaths in police custody and massive rises in stop and search figures over the last three years.
I can tell you now that had Ken Livingstone been in office the riots in Tottenham would not have occurred and the enormous cost to London and the country at large could have been avoided.
What I would have advised is that Boris should have met the Duggan family in an effort to hear their concerns and reassure them that they would be supported in their search for the truth.
However, I would have acted earlier and here I am not just referring to recent events. The signs of acute discontent and anger have been there for all to see of the last year.
Boris Johnson and Kit Malthouse should have personally met the families of Smiley Culture aka David Emmanuel, Demetre Fraser and Mark Duggan, all London black men who have died this year in suspicious circumstances.
Boris or his office did neither. His office should have been alive to the fact that meetings about these issues were taking place right across the country as well as in the capital and all were all well attended with standing room only. He should have understood the significance of the marches and protest meetings.
He did not, because Boris has chosen to ignore the real and authentic voices of London’s black communities.
He should have known that communities were becoming increasingly angry at the injustice of deaths in custody and that this was emerging as a key political issue.
The communications debacle that occurred in Tottenham where the Duggan family and the local community were left in the dark could and should have been avoided. It is imperative in such situations that as much detailed communication and reassurance are provided in real time.
He should have known the historical significance of Tottenham and the sensitivities of any controversial policing incidents taking place in that area.
He or his staff should have convened a community meeting in Tottenham immediately in the aftermath of the Duggan shooting. He should have insisted on senior Metropolitan Police representation and demanded that a full consultations and communication strategy was drawn up involving the Greater London Authority, Community based organisations, the Metropolitan Police Authority The IPCC and the Met Police.
If I were Boris, I would have called the local MP David Lammy and ensured I heard his voice and consulted with him and the local council about how best to provide reassurance and hear communities concerns.
Had I been in office I would have convened such a meeting as a matter of course, first with the parties themselves and then with the wider community. I would have asked for the Officer involved to be suspended pending investigation as is done routinely in the US. As the Mayor’s representative I would have been at the local demonstration and on the streets talking to people and getting a feel for what needed to be done.
I would have ensured that Tottenham Police and the local Council understood the level of anger and concern and I would have called for the local Superintendent to come back from holiday immediately. I would have consulted with the Black Police Association and sought their help and advice.
Boris Johnson failed to do any of these things because he has no real in depth understanding or expertise when it comes to London’s black communities and crucially neither does any member of his team. So, while Boris was on his summer holidays looking for Bullwinkle in the Rocky Mountains, London was under siege. In fact it was only after my live interview with Sky News on August 8, where I demanded Boris return to the capital that the political penny dropped in the Mayor’s Office and Boris broke his holiday.
During a Mayoralty where multiculturalism has been nothing more than a convenient sound-bite, where clear anti-racist race equality policy priorities within the GLA, the MPA and the MPS have been significantly downgraded or simply dismissed and where there is no commitment to ensure a diverse range of experts in the Mayor’s office core team, reflect the hugely multicultural city he seeks to serve, Boris has made grave and costly errors of judgement.
The race equality targets for black police officers have been abandoned and the number of black officers in the MPS is falling as a result. A police service must, if it is to have legitimacy, credibility and be effective in reducing crime and catching criminals, look like the city it serves. Unbelievably Boris Johnson and Kit Malthouse don’t believe that this is a necessary priority for London and so the targets set, have been abolished.
Far from representing all Londoners, Johnson is seeking to largely respond and pander to constituencies in outer London; Boris has become a vanilla Mayor for a chocolate city.
Disparaging “race equality targeted initiatives” and “special interest group pleading” Boris promised to end the era of “racial and religious divisiveness” in London.
In the three years since becoming Mayor, he has destroyed the carefully crafted work undertaken over decades that so improved and enhanced police community relations. That progress now lies in tatters battered on the anvil of political opportunism, murdered by the cynical manipulation of a right wing Mayor and his incompetent mono-cultural team.
With no senior black advisers on his team, Boris was left both ignorant and unsighted. Kit Malthouse, his technocratic Deputy Mayor in charge of the MPS was equally clueless and failed to correctly assess the on-going deterioration of relationships between the police and London’s black communities. I have personally been writing about these issues in depth since May last year and anyone with an ounce of common sense should have realised that someone somewhere should have taken action.
The Mayor’s Office has a blind spot on the issue of race and in certain parts of London that is no doubt popular electorally, but, and this is a huge but, that has come at an incalculable cost to the city not just in financial terms but has the real potential to set the city on course for a continued and serious aggravation of racial tensions in the next few years. The news for Boris is that I don’t see things getting better anytime soon.
There is a huge level of anger out there within black and poor communities and the ironic thing is that the vindictive politicisation of rioters’ court cases into show trials with heavy sentences is deepening that anger and alienation.
Boris has no senior equivalent to the position I held as Policy Director for Policing as part of the core. For eight years as the most senior black political figure in London despite many police challenges there was no such equivalent event: that was not just luck it was precisely because we were able to use our knowledge and expertise to respond effectively to community concerns.
We had a Mayoral team that looked like London and could ensure we were always sighted on these important issues.
Boris Johnson’s failures on these issues have been epic. In a multicultural city like London these are not just serious and fundamental errors; they represent a degree of political negligence motivated in large part by short-term electoral populism. This is an outer London agenda that has gained ascendency that is deeply hostile to race equality and multiculturalism. In a city like London such political prejudice and ignorance comes at an enormous cost.
Lee Jasper is a political and community activist. He is a former director of policing and equalities for the previous Mayor of London. He blogs regular at http://leejasper.com/