Last night was the annual dinner presided over by the Lord Mayor of London for the Governing Bodies of London. The Lord Mayor is not, of course, Boris Johnson, who is the elected Mayor for all of London (not just the square mile administered by the Corporation of London). This dinner packed several hundred of the capital’s politicians and administrators into an intimate dining room in the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor’s official residence.
The occasion importantly provides a platform for the elected Mayor to set out his views on the state of London and there was a bravura performance by Mayor Johnson, responding to a sober speech from the Lord Mayor on what is needed for London to survive the economic situation. Essential the message was “times are tough” but “we are going to get through it”. The package humorously presented (I suspect the audience would have been disappointed if Mayor Johnson’s style had been as straitlaced as the Lord Mayor’s) essentially boiled down to avoiding the over-regulation of bankers, some apprenticeships in tunnelling (building a “cloaca maxima” under the Thames), the new Routemaster (restoring every Londoner’s inalienable right to injure themselves jumping on and off a moving bus), the rent-a-cycle scheme (even if it’s wrong, we’re still going to do it), and a freeze on the Mayor’s precept on London Council Tax.
It was entertaining stuff, but on the day when the Bank of England had cut interest rates to their lowest level since the Bank was established in 1694 it all felt a bit light on substance.
Mayor Johnson was in many ways upstaged by Merrick Cockell, the Chair of London Councils (the umbrella body for the London Boroughs, which was known as the Association of London Government when I chaired it). His speech set out what the Boroughs are and will do to help Londoners ride out the economic downturn and set out how the Boroughs, the Greater London Authority and central government should work together to deliver the most effective policies to enable London – the economic driver of the UK economy – to emerge stronger at the end of the current period and so best deliver a kick-start to the rest of the UK.
Merrick Cockell also got the best laugh of the evening, comparing the GLA and London Councils with (among other things) Rod Hull and Emu with Mayor Johnson cast in the role of Emu.
Strangely, Mayor Johnson referred to a couple of London Assembly members by name in his speech. He highlighted the referral by Len Duvall of remarks made by the Mayor to the Standards Board (if the Conservatives are so confident that the issue is now going to go away following the decision to set up a “timely and proportionate” inquiry why mention it?) and he also made some remarks about how nice the Mansion House was and the sort of building appropriate for the style and status of an Assembly Member like Caroline Pidgeon – now what did he mean by singling her out?
The most shocking thing about Mayor Johnson’s performance was, however, his attitude to London itself. He rightly said that 200 years ago London was the greatest city in the world. Apparently, now, however, it is only “one of the greatest cities in the world” – can’t we expect a more upbeat attitude from our elected Mayor?