With the 2016 London Mayoral Campaign hotting up as 5th May approaches, it’s time to reflect on the last 8 years, and the legacy that the outgoing Mayor Boris Johnson will leave behind him when he leaves City Hall.
The BBC’s Jo Coburn presented a documentary earlier this week looking at Boris’ legacy – speaking to Boris’ former aides, as well as former Mayor Ken Livingstone and national journalists such as Peter Oborne – and exploring the ups and downs of the Boris era. What’s grabbed the headlines this week is Steve Hilton, former Number 10 Head of Strategy saying that he was ‘pretty sceptical’ about Boris even running for Mayor in the first place, and that it was actually the editor of the Evening Standard who threw Boris’ hat in the ring, and not the Conservative Party leadership.
Nonetheless, what comes through in the documentary, and something which does ring true to at least some extent, is that Boris’ personally legacy is very strong following his time as Mayor. The ‘Boris brand’ and his ‘gift of the gab’ has achieved surreal levels of national exposure – from reams of worldwide publicity to rubbing shoulders with the Queen.
On a wider London focus, arguably Boris’s legacy hasn’t fared so well. Of course, Boris Bikes, Boris Buses, the Olympics and the Cable Car (Emirates Air Line) will forever be associated with Boris as part of his assertion that London is the ‘greatest city on Earth’. But people will also remember that despite promising that Boris Bikes and the Cable Car wouldn’t cost the taxpayer money, they have cost taxpayers millions – together these schemes lose £17m a year!
The BBC’s documentary highlighted other unfavourable reflections on Boris’ time as Mayor. The housing crisis has grown significantly over the last 8 years – property prices are going through the roof, the cost of renting is not much better, and the houses we desperately need are not being built fast enough. Another bugbear of Londoners is transport and Boris has done himself no favours in overseeing an increasing number of tube strikes and alienating underground staff.
And despite all of this, Boris comes out smiling and, although he hasn’t said so in so many words, it is clear that his eyes are now on Downing Street. Of any of the potential contenders to take the reins of Number 10 after Cameron steps down, Boris will be far be the most distinguishable and familiar, and this will put him in good stead.
Indeed, as Jo Coburn pointed out in her documentary, the Boris brand has made it all the way to Madame Tussauds, with his waxwork standing alongside the greats such as Ghandi, JFK and Churchill – good going for the Mayor of London. Perhaps even more important is where Boris’ waxwork is standing – next to Cameron’s, outside Number 10. Whether this is prophetic or not, only time will tell.