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After the 1 May elections
What will Boris Johnson mean for London?
BORIS JOHNSON'S election as Mayor of London capped a string of successes for the Conservatives in the 1 May local elections, indicating that a Tory victory in the next general election is a serious possibility. The question now is what will a Johnson mayoralty mean for London?
The mayor has little direct power. The only areas where he can make actual decisions are in transport and planning. Some people speculate that Johnson will try to keep a low profile in order to smooth the way for a Tory victory in parliamentary elections. This may well be his intention, but there are several factors which will make Johnson's tenure for the next two years anything but sedate.
First of all, looming in the background, is the economy. London, as a centre of world finance, is already affected. Projected GDP growth for London this year is a measly 1.3%, with 1.2% the best that can be expected in 2009, 19,000 job losses are expected in the City alone (Evening Standard, 7 May) making any honeymoon period Johnson may enjoy, a short one.
The main plank of Johnson's election campaign was the issue of crime, particularly youth crime. This was a cynical move by the Tories given that the mayor has little input into policing in London. However, Johnson's proposed remedies give a glimpse into Tory thinking on the matter.
Writing in London's Evening Standard he states: "I am convinced we can make a difference to so-called minor crime as a way to drive out major crime". It is clear Johnson looks to New York's notorious 'zero tolerance' policy. In reality this has meant a crackdown on working-class communities, particularly minority ones.
Johnson has no plans for making life better and more hopeful for London's young people. His appointment of Ray Lewis as deputy mayor for youth is telling. Lewis runs Eastside Young Leaders Academy. Here, Johnson enthuses: "Ray's approach has been to take young black males who have been excluded from school and imbue them with magnificently untrendy, boot camp style discipline."
Given that Johnson starts his article on crime in general, why then pose a solution to the problem as disciplining young black males? The racist subtext is clear: lack of discipline in black communities is the problem and the solution is "a hundred" academies modelled on Eastside where youth learn to march in formation and say 'please' and 'thank you'.
It seems clear that a crackdown on youth in general and black youth in particular is in the offing. Such policies backfired spectacularly on the Tories in the past but Johnson will be under pressure to produce results and in the wings will be the BNP with their own brand of racial politics to stoke tensions in London. Johnson has a history of racist gaffes under his belt; all the ingredients are there for a clash with minority communities.
London's youth will not be the only ones to feel the lash of City Hall. Transport is the policy area the mayor is directly responsible for and it is riddled with political minefields. Central to this is Johnson's pledge to negotiate a no-strike agreement with the Tube unions. This has been flatly rejected by rail union leaders.
RMT union leader Bob Crow has said it would be "insane" for the RMT to sign a no-strike deal. Keith Norman, head of TSSA warned; "If Johnson tries to force through a no-strike deal, then London will have to get ready for mass confrontation."
Johnson has the option of capitulating on a key manifesto pledge or picking a fight with one of the most militant sections of the working class while the Tories are trying to shed their 'nasty party' image.
Even if Tory leader David Cameron puts Johnson on a leash on this issue, there is still the question of Metronet, the failed private maintenance company to deal with.
Metronet will come under the full control of Transport for London (TfL) in a few weeks but it is clear both Labour and the Tories favour re-privatising it again as soon as possible. Bob Crow has warned: "We will resist any attempt to do so, with every means at our disposal".
The unions will undoubtedly use the renationalisation of Metronet to equalise pay and conditions across TfL as well as to deal with issues like the use of agency staff. Johnson will not be able to duck these issues forever.
Boris Johnson's election marks a turning point, as right-wing New Labour can no longer keep the Tories out of power. This should act as a wake-up call to everyone on the Left.
Attacks from New Labour and the Tories need a political response, a new party of the working class. Otherwise we face the prospect of a Tory government with no party to organise the fight-back. The clock is ticking, a new workers' party is needed urgently.
In The Socialist 14 May 2008:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party women
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party review