London’s mayoral race was a chance for locals to air their grievances about national politics. And Tory pin-up Boris Johnson won. In fact, it was the Conservative Party’s “best showing in local elections since a man landed on the Moon”, notes The Independent. In other words, an ominous defeat for British PM Gordon Brown.

The reason Labour did so badly seems to be generally agreed on all sides, writes Jackie Ashley in The Guardian — people are starting to feel the economic pinch. In particular, Brown’s scrapping of the 10p income tax band is seen as a costly mistake. The PM was quick to engage in public mea culpa, admitting “I am to blame for Labour’s woes” while signalling his resolution to fight on.

Ringing in the change for London is the blond-mopped Johnson — full name of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson — who replaces socialist career politician Ken Livingstone as Mayor of the 2012 Olympic city.

Johnson, former editor of The Spectator, is a foppish MP known for the quality of his self-deprecation and ability to concoct a soundbite. Here he is on Tony Blair for example: “…a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet. He is barely human in his elusiveness. Nailing Blair is like trying to pin jelly to a wall”.

Latham without the aggression.

And that’s why Boris could prove devastating for Labour. He could even make it — gasp — fashionable to vote for the Conservatives. As William Rees-Mogg writes in The Times, “he makes Toryism fun”.

Of all Shakespeare’s characters, Londoners prefer a Falstaff type to lead their city, says Rees-Mogg: “big personality, a shrewd intelligence, a certain reputation where women are concerned [Johnson excels here], an eye for the main chance and an enduring warmth”. Johnson has all that in spades.

Like a supermodel, Boris cuts such a memorable media figure in the UK that he’s recognisable by first name only. In fact, so worried was Labour’s mayoral office about the likeability of Boris that they apparently set up a “Boris Box” during the campaign with anyone who referred to Johnson as “Boris” obliged to cough up a fiver as penance.

But some, like The Guardian‘s Zoe Williams, were utterly unconvinced by Johnson’s nice guy act. She wrote, pre-election, of the “moneyed creep”: “Ach. That floppy hair, and that sodding bicycle. Has any man ever before managed to persuade such a huge number of people that he was a decent chap on two such flimsy, trivial, irrelevant, modish pieces of ephemera?”

An extreme view, yes, but even his backers should beware.

Conservative leader David Cameron is privately uneasy that the new Tory Mayor of London could derail his chances of becoming Prime Minister, writes The Independent‘s Jane Merrick. Seems he never expected his fellow Old Etonian to win. Few did.

The biggest issue for Cameron is not Johnson’s buffoonery, but his “instinctive opposition to key elements of Tory modernisation – the very elements that make Mr Cameron a credible contender for national office after the Tories’ long years in opposition,” says The Independent‘s leader. In particular, his environmental stance is a worry:  

… Mr Johnson’s green credentials are suspect … Boris has been until recently a climate-change sceptic. Seven years ago, he called George Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto protocol “right not just for America but for the world”.

After Mr Cameron went green, Boris said he was “terrified to dissent from the growing world creed of global warming”, but that his mind was still “bubbling with blasphemous thoughts”. So when he said in his manifesto for London that “City Hall should… strongly support efforts to tackle climate change”, we are entitled to doubt the sincerity of his conversion.

One of his first policies is to scrap Livingstone’s proposed £25 congestion charge on larger vehicles. He does however plan to plant 10,000 street trees, paid for by ditching Livingstone’s free newspaper, The Londoner , which costs £1 million a year.

Johnson also want to scrap “bendy buses”.

Well it won’t be boring.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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