The ballots were still being counted on Friday May 2 — and it was far from a landslide – (53 to 46 %) albeit a record turnout of voters. But by noon, the bookies had already declared Boris Johnson the new Mayor of London. Appropriately enough, May 2 is the day on the Orthodox Church calendar that honors Saint Boris of Bulgaria. Post-election comments — penned in the daily newspapers from assorted left leaning grumblers, snidely suggested that it would take at least one saint (or a collection of them, plus a bevy of guardian angels) to keep Boris from dragging London down to a new level of hell.
Meanwhile, over at Number 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s single working brown eye was turning blue and possibly weeping. He was reading the election results from across the United Kingdom and the news for Labour was devastating. It was the Party’s worst showing in 40 years. More than 300 council seats were lost. 240 of those seats went to Conservative candidates, with significant gains made in the North Country and in Wales. The Tories garnered 46 percent of the votes. By comparison, only 23 percent of the public voted for Labour placing that party in third place behind the Liberal Democrats who received 24 percent of the national votes.
These results were a reverse image of Labour’s victory, in 1995, under Tony Blair’s leadership. Tongues wagged when a photo of a beaming Blair was snapped outside a chic Mayfair eatery on election night. Blair knew that Brown would be a disaster as PM and held off leaving office as long as possible. His Cheshire Cat grin purred out: ‘told you so’ to Labourites and to critics who accused him of clinging to power.
Ever the dour Scot, Brown blamed "difficult economic circumstances" for this terrible ballot bashing, assuring the citizens that the Government’s plans to address these circumstances would become a bit more clear "over the next few months.” Too little too late, was the reply. Polls indicate that only 32 percent of the public have confidence in the economy. Less than half of the country feels Mr. Brown is competent. When an election is called, no later than 2010, the betting shops are already giving the odds to another Tory sweep and that means David Cameron will become the next Prime Minister. (Please note: Explaining how the British parliamentary system works requires a meaty essay, a dictionary of terms and at least mild inebriation).
Much of this rosy outlook for a future Conservative Party ascent to power depends on how Boris Johnson handles his new job. He will be the canary in the coal mine, a political cliché not lost on the Welsh.
Johnson and David Cameron go back 25 years, to their days as students at Eton and Oxford, two of England’s ultimate old boy’s educational clubs. Boris was thought to be a clever Classics student. Cameron less so, but more earnest. Rumor has it that Cameron called Johnson about his run for Mayor, but made him vow to clean up his act so the Tories would not be embarrassed by his notorious antics and boisterous sense of humor. Past episodes include Boris having once referred to black children as “picanninies” in a Spectator Magazine article. He also managed to insult the residents of Liverpool and dissed one of the UK’s most popular TV chefs. He apologized for the first of these indiscretions, but took the blows on Liverpool and the chef.
To assure Cameron of his sincerity, Johnson gave up drinking for three months. This fact was revealed in a TV interview given by Johnson’s Father, Stanley, a lively and engaging man in his own right. The elder Johnson shared family photos which do prove the family are descended from natural blond Turks. As reported here last week, Johnson’s grandfather — born Osman Ali — was a Turkish journalist and (briefly) a minister in to the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire. Osman, a Muslim, relocated to England just after World War One and changed his name to Wilfred Johnson. Boris points out that since his wife’s Mother is from India, their four children are truly multi-ethnic so he cannot be accused of cultural insensitivity. Demographically, this is important as one in every six London voters are from an ethnic minority – the largest and wealthiest of these being from Indian backgrounds. They own an estimated 10,000 businesses in greater London.
Johnson’s management insensitivities are another matter. He has no credentials in this arena. To that end, Cameron’s people are making sure that the best and the brightest available Tories surround Boris. For his part, Johnson (who was sworn into office on Saturday morning — the 3rd) promised to “work flat out from now on to earn your trust and dispel some of the myths that have been created about me.”
True to his word, Johnson met immediately with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair (no relation to Tony). He told England’s most senior law enforcement officer that if London’s crime statistics are not dramatically and quickly improved, Blair could expect to be fired. Although Johnson has made conciliatory comments about his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, pledging to build on Red Ken’s achievements as Mayor, the new Mayor’s incoming staff has been instructed to go through the file cabinets and archives to look for evidence of corruption under Livingstone’s regime.
Johnson quipped: “I imagine there are shredding machines quietly puffing and panting away in various parts of the building . . . Heaven knows what we shall uncover in the course of the next few days.” To sore losers in the Labour Party who try to make trouble for the victorious Tories, the new Mayor promised: “If there are any dogs in the manger, then I will have those dogs humanely euthanased.”
With Johnson’s ability to run London in question — especially with the 2012 Summer Olympics on his plate — Boris has already made a characteristically pre-emptive self-deprecating joke. He says that if he does well, he might like to run for President of the United States someday. He is (technically) Constitutionally eligible to do just that as he was born in New York City. Of course, he’d have to reapply to renew his recently relinquished American citizenship.