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In an era of blandism, Boris’s blondism has a certain appeal, but now is a test of SERIOUS leadership

Posted on 9 August 2011 | 10:08am

The next couple of days will dictate whether a crisis becomes a disaster, or another crisis managed to a relatively successful conclusion.

Any crisis requires strong clear leadership, and when it is a crisis on this scale, with people fearing the loss of control of the streets, that has to come from the Prime Minister. That means clear and hard-headed analysis, finding the right words to sum up the situation, and the right actions required to bring the situation under control. I genuinely wish him well as he seeks to do those things today.

Boris Johnson’s leadership is also going to be tested, and how be handles that test is likely to decide the outcome of the next London mayoral elections.

As I saw when he and I launched a charity bike ride recently, Boris has a certain natural appeal. Most of the Cabinet would have to fall off a bike before anyone was interested, and even then most passers by would struggle to recognise them. Boris just has to mount a bike and wave to get people waving back from the top decks. In era of Cabinet blandism, his blondism goes a long way, which is why most of the Cabinet resent him.

But he has never really had a crisis of this sort to deal with, and the amiable overdone buffoonery will not cut it as an approach to current events. He has to show he can do serious leadership as well as the celebrity stuff for which, frankly, he is better known.

Ken Livingstone got a bit of flak last night for seeking to link the riots to spending cuts, but the interviews I heard were fair and reasonable, rightly condemnatory of criminality, but rightly also insisting there has to be a debate about the sense of hopelessness many young people feel.

He was right too to point out that Boris Johnson’s main contribution to political debate recently has been to lead the charge for a cut in the top rate of tax, which surely would just been more cuts in public spending in some of the country’s most challenged areas.

Much of the political focus today will inevitably be on Mr Cameron. But how Boris handles himself when he flies in from Canada will matter too. Leadership really counts in these crisis situations.

Nobody has handled it well so far, but that matters less than how they handle it now. These are the moments that test leaders, and the public are very good at judging whether the tests are being passed.

  • Mark Wright

    If the public perceive a correlation of any restoration of law and order on the streets tonight with the return of our Prime Minister then David Cameron could well face a significant backlash as to why he did not sooner.

  • Sam

    Hello, I’ve always been a supporter of Ken and was seriously disappointed when Boris was voted in. However Ken did himself absolutely no favours on the BBC last night by harking back to his past glories and leadership, with no seeming heartfelt sympathy or constructive advice rather just a denigration of Boris – was not the time to start campaigning, pompous and out of touch not descriptors I normally connect to Ken.
    Have you come across this yet?

    The best attempt to catch a mood and and give a background so far, (though surprisingly Mary Riddel at The Telegraph did a good write up) a lot to do with a great writing style but also a good grasp of the background and its impact.

  • It’s got to be a two stage response:

    Firstly – ensuring the police have the resources and support they need to get back on top of law and order and publicising that those responsible are being held properly and fairly to account throughout the chain of responsibility.

    Secondly – actively listening and being seen to actively listen to those who know how to make the difference to the lives of the disaffected and developing and publicising new and real routes forward for them.

  • Chris lancashire

    Quite right that strong leadership is required. Great shame therefore that MPs have just finished removing the top echelon of the Met over the ludicrous phone hacking saga. Too much to hope that they might feel some responsibility?

  • ambrosian

    Although I’ve followed these events closely I seem to have missed those people who have been claiming that rioting and looting is acceptable behaviour. Maybe I’d left the TV to make a cup of tea. For someone must have been saying this. How else to explain the ceaseless stream of politicians and public figures angrily asserting that this is “totally unacceptable”?

    They are quite right of course and how sensible to recall Parliament so that several hundred MPs can get up on their hind legs to say how totally unacceptable it is, how strongly they condemn it and that there can be no excuses. But I fear that before the end of Thursday the tsunami of truisms, cant and hypocrisy will have caused me to snap and trash my own house before calling the police to have myself arrested.

  • Holby18

    I thought Ken Livingstone was old, tired and totally out of touch with the public last night.  We really did not want to know about his glory days and his seeking to make political capital out of a dreadful situation. He insulted his audience as he could not persuade us that those on the streets were the ones who went to youth clubs and contributed to their communities. We have had years of pumping money into alienated communities and it has not achieved much.  We have tied the hands of the police with political correctness gone mad.   They were told to hold the line rather than tackle the looting.  It would not do to use batons or water canons on youths regardless of their activities.  They would have the support of the public but not politicans..

    As you say the situation has not been handled at all well by any politicians due to the holiday period.  I do not think we will see so many senior government figures taking their summer breaks during the same period again. Because of their absence we have had too many old hands turning up on programmes.  It is enough to put you off politics for life…………

  • Mark Wright

    After the debate on Thursday, led by The Speaker, Parliament as one, unified body should exit the Chamber and spread out into the communities affected, roll up their sleeves and join in with #riotcleanup. No pre-staged photo-ops (people will take their own pictures), no speeches. They should do it to show that the power of community is stronger than any other and that the gulf between those that represent and those that are represented is not as large as some would have us believe.

  • MicheleB

    KL was not campaigning last night, he was simply stating facts and the interviewer was completely wrong to put the spin on it that he did.

    Boris has done nothing since he won as Mayor, he’s even screwed up the implementation of rentabikes (KL’s idea).

    The title is something of a coincidence, I had literally been thinking this morning that if BJ manages a joke about all this, like everything else, he should have his legs chopped.  I look forward to his retirement and a future of bleddy ping pong.

  • Richard

    The police response last night was shown on TV as lamentable. Two residents of Clapham, I think, reported that they had witnessed the trashing and theft for an hour and  a  half before the police turned up. The looters were shown carrying off their booty with the police watching! No attempts to intervene were made. The strategy it seems is to prosecute them later. Gaols full = more community service, and suspended sentences, you naughty boys and girls.

    The fact is that the youths involved know their rights but have no responsibilities. Any confrontation and injury to the little darlings would result in police vilification and suspension, and they know that. “Human rights” should apply to us all, not just the thieving classes involved over the last few nights.

    The spokesman for the “protesters” outside the police station in Tottenham said that they were four hours demanding that they be addressed by someone of higher rank than Inspector on Saturday, and when they were not , the existence of two police cars on the street was like a red rag to a bull. KL trying to infer that the cuts had put these kids on the streets was typical opportunism and utterly irresponsible.

    Parents are unable to stop their children going out late at night for any restraint is an assault. We are now reaping the results of two generations of declining education, parenting and disciplinary standards, together with human rights being “awarded” to the minorities whilst the majority suffer in silence.

    The Government should impose a  curfew tonight and sort those who are in breach.

    On a point of information, why cannot the police get the telephone companies to switch off mobile phone masts to stop the comms between rioters? I know this has been done after certain bombings etc.

  • ambrosian

    Having just watched footage of Boris on the streets of Clapham, I fear that in many cases the gulf you refer to is indeed very great. Here was someone many leagues out of his depth. I almost felt sorry for Boris as he struggled to interact with what he would no doubt call the hoi-polloi, up to the point when he turned angrily on a black man and said people should stop using economic and social factors as a justification for criminality and then marched off waving to nobody in particular as though doing a celebrity appearance.

    Boris and others need to learn the difference between an explanation and an excuse. Nobody who is looking for underlying causes or describing the social context is seeking to justify criminal behaviour. But it always suits the privileged elite who wish to preserve gross inequalities to simplistically attribute all such events to individual human wickedness. They can then avoid addressing issues of poverty, unemployment, racism, police behaviour and government cuts.

  • Did anyone see the interview with Police Federation vice chairman Simon Reed on BBC News this morning? As soon as he referred to the 20% cuts in policing, the newsreader sidestepped away from the topic. WHY?

    Is being political so much of a shameful exercise when applied to real events being played out in front of our eyes?It seems as though this whole terrible phase in our history is being de-politicised even now. Why can no one see this is impossible? Why does the media not educate their readership/listeners/viewers how to distinguish between politics and party politics?Yes, leaders are being tested – and so are voters – you cannot escape or sidestep the choice of leaders when it comes to party politics. Know the difference.The 20% cuts have to be laughable now – if you want to increase the presence of our police in times of woe, DON’T think they can be popped away in a cupboard and brought out another time IF you’ve already naturally wasted/retired one fifth of their number.And when those 16,000 men and women are on the streets of London tonight, remember the areas from whence they will cone – areas that will be vulnerable in their absence.I will have everyone in our cities and larger towns in my thoughts and heart tonight; I live in the calm countryside to the north of one of those cities that last night joined in the new youth hobby.

    PS your tweeted link to Nick Clegg interview re rioting – priceless and making me feel ill.

  • Consistently behind the curve. Not fashionably late more tardy Tory Mr. Toad of Toad Hall. Boris has chupatz, neither he nor Dave deliver. They are late for the dance.

  • Sam

    Just been clearing up in Clapham Junction, Northcote Road, come back to watch Boris’ attempt to engage with the shop owners round the corner on St John’s Hill – a complete failure. However In Ken’s words last night ‘I can’t believe that, after another night of riots, the Mayor still REFUSES to be here’ . Subtle undermining and past glories which set the tone of the interview, not helpful. I expect any written piece he does will set a similar tone. I do think that perhaps Kit Malthouse was seen as a preferable voice to speak to the people. i.e articulate, commanding and not a buffoon (I reserve that word only for Boris and perhaps Jake Rees Mogg) Sadly I don’t think either will be retiring anytime soon.

  • Sam

    Ok, Ken on Sky, just redeemed himself completely. Engaged into real solutions and considering the possible causes and how to tackle them going forehead. I’m relieved to get my faith back in him. I think he’s best on the ground rather than studio environment.

  • Whatifwhatif

    Darcus Howe said something very much along those lines on TV this morning (or that the need for revenge and respect made it acceptable).

    Don’t shoot the messenger ….. I don’t know why he was wheeled out.

  • MicheleB

    What are your odds that in a couple of years people will be yaddering about why certain other things aren’t being done this very day?

  • Graham

    I thought Ken Livingstone was proportionate in his interviews. I see how it could look to some, if he only trotted out the old mantra of, “it;s all their fault” – see the coalition for guidance on this one – but Ken never descended to this level. What he did do, was to refer to reasons for this violence. He looked at the reality, of what causes may have created this effect, on our city centres. Every right person is disgusted by the carnage we’ve seen, but they are not stupid enough to think there is no link to the actions of the last few nights, and government cuts in youth services. 

    Those youth services are vital in urban environments, and were part of the unseen assault by New Labour on juvenile delinquency, which was part of a deeper, long-term strategy on crime. All Ken did last night, was bring a sense of pragmatism to the emotional reponses from the political left. Like Ken said, these kids weren’t rioting last year. 

  • Dave Simons

    Completely agree with you, Ambrosian, and haven’t we been in this exact spot thirty years ago – 1981, year of recession, riots and Royal Wedding, all under the watch of a bunch of religious neo-liberals who measured everything in terms of the cash nexus. That’s progress!

  • Ehtch

    I wish Cameron et al all the very best in getting things back under control, but I am not holding my breath. Any moves from said people might be just putting petrol on the fire – that is how bad it is, it seems to me.

    Young people look to me have had a gutsful of Cameron and his clan and police friends and they are well pissed off.

    Maybe someone should actually talk to them, to actually find out what they feel and what they are pissed off with? But as I have already said, properly supported education or/and employment they most probably say, so they feel as if they live in this country, and not feel as they are scrubbed and swept to a corner, and put well away from central society.

  • Ehtch

    Agreed. What we do NOT need is flipping wallpapering and masking and flim-flam, which has been going on for far too long in grassroots british society.

    Even though with this destruction going on, I feel confident some good will come out from all this nonsense on the streets. It is only bricks and mortar after all, not flesh and skin, which is more important. Now I am not saying…..

  • Anonymous

    I miss competent government.  I really don’t know what has become of this country.  No-one is at the helm.  Recalling parliament is simply a gesture.  All we will see is a PR response to what has happened.

  • Anonymous

    Having just seen the discussion on Newsnight, I disagree.  I don’t think Ken mentioned Boris Johnson’s name once.  And he is right that you cannot manage this kind of situation over the phone.  What on earth were Cameron and the rest all doing on holiday at the same time?  I’m only glad we didn’t have this lot in 1940.

  • Janete

    ‘As soon as he referred to the 20% cuts in policing, the newsreader sidestepped away from the topic. WHY?’
    Seems to me the BBC are working hard to limit political damage to the Government from these events. Iain Watson put a very positive spin on Cameron’s return last night and I even think I heard Nick Robinson referring to the PM ‘rushing back from his holiday’ on the 6 p.m. News.

    Having helped the Government put across its austerity message, mostly targetted at thoise with little to start with, they do seem reluctant to discuss any possible consequences. @112ba09a14c145c886e8a4079bd18dcd:disqus 

  • ZintinW4

    I can’t help thinking that shocking though the rioting is it is symptomatic of a failure in politics. For too long Labour, the party of working people, has sounded like a management consultancy business. Our language has been managerialist, not rooted in our belief in fairness, equality and social progress. This is not a call for us to all join Socialist Organiser or become Trots. We just need to find the language that reminds people we are here to transform society not to be apologist for a failing market system.

  • MicheleB

    OOOOh ‘ecky thump I didn’t sign myself in properly !!

  • MicheleB

    It’s a little bit silly to say that if an ex-Mayor says something that anybody sensible would say, s/he is doing it as electioneering or to undermine rather than for simple objective reasons like others.

    He is still a person entitled to his objective opinion about a buffoon whose buffoonery camouflages arch snobbery. 

    Yep BJ is amusing enough, HIGNFY is his rightful place.

    I’m not ex-Mayoress so that’s all OK for me to say isn’t it?

  • MicheleB

    Have you offered your services as a Special Richard?

  • ambrosian

    Yes, and tonight Boris was recalling that glorious day of April’s Royal Wedding, to make what point I’m not sure.
    Earlier, Boris said something unbelievably crass even for him: ‘People who live in London enjoy privileges that people in other countries can only dream about.’
    Let’s try re-writing that as ‘The privileged can enjoy London in ways that the underclass in Hackney can only dream about.’

    In the interests of balance, let me say that Hazel Blears has just been giving her two penn’orth of outrage, which brought back memories of the chirpy one brandishing a cheque for £14,000 on television, being the amount of taxpayers’ money she was paying back, representing the capital gains tax she had avoided on the sale of one of her homes under the old expenses system. That’s about four years’ worth of Jobseeker’s Allowance.
    Could someone pass me my beta-blockers and diazapam?

  • Gilliebc

    I saw that “interview” with Darcus Howe this morning.  Excruciating or what!

  • Gilliebc

    I was eagerly awaiting what Cameron would have to say after the Cobra meeting this morning but when he did come out to speak, I thought what
    he had to say was very disappointing and a total anti-climax!  Nothing new
    in the way of plans to deal with this out-break of mass criminality, except
    that the Police would deal with it “robustly” and the perps. would feel the full
    force of the law!
    Nothing new there.  We already have every right to expect as a matter of course the things he said there.  I was expecting more.  Not a good enough
    or even barely adequate response from this country’s PM.

  • Ehtch

    Newsnight tonight. Patronising after the horse has bolted or what?

    And shut up your gob Michael Gove you total tory numbnut mouthpiece. And you were a comedian!!!

  • Richard

    Have you offered your services as  a  “fence”, MicheleB?

  • Richard

    Harman spitting feathers about the cuts was OK by you then?

    Your power of language, Ehtch, is astounding. As a spokesman for the educational successes of the last generation, you are without peer.

    Catch a grip!

  • MicheleB

    You were impressed by Gove doing his impersonation of an angry Hyacinth Bucket sitting up in his seat like a praying mantis on heat then?

    There was a time when Gove was a decent Tory, it was about a decade ago.


  • MicheleB

    Why would I do that Richard?

    You make some quite snide attempts in your responses to legitimate questions.  When you describe somenting as ‘lamentable’ it implies some expertise, so I asked if you have.

    I don’t perceive you as having any expert in riot control (nor as having any concern about the priority between people and property).

    We already have an inquiry under way about the use of guns (against someone previously photographed holding his fingers in a mocking gesture) ….. do we want many more of them if Police had used more force against ‘kids’?

    I’m glad if you understood my message last night commenting that an earlier msg in thread had come up with the wrong data as ID (while that msg did the same again). 

    Unfortunately I can’t be immediately reassured that this one will come up as it should either (given that I keep getting ‘System error’).

    I doubt you’ll have the courtesy to advise whether you did understand (or to apologise if you were hinting that I am purposely posting in two IDs).

  • Richard

    Did you attend English lessons at school?

    The OED definition of “lamentable” is:-

    (of circumstances or conditions) very bad; deplorable:the industry is in a lamentable state(of an event, action, or attitude) unfortunate; regrettable:her open prejudice showed lamentable immaturity.”

    The expertise I have tells me that if thieves are left for an hour and  a half to rout a shopping centre then the police have lost control.

    Please declare you specialist knowledge on policing such events?

  • Richard

    Your knowledge on all subjects including how a praying mantis sits in a TV studio astounds me.

    No analysis of Harman’s performance?

  • Ehtch

    My power of language? I speak welsh as well you know – twll dy dyn (“arseholes to you”, in english) : )

    Or, glückliches neues Jahr, in german, which Ahem! a Tyrollian woman taught me several years ago, when I became friendly with, when skiing in the Austrian Tyrol, years ago…. more tea vicar?

    Oh yes, it means happy new year in that english you use. : )

  • Ehtch

    Christ! English lessons from Richard time!

    Next he will be asking us to conjugate some latin next. God almighty! Monty Python?

  • MicheleB

    Does ‘Harman spitting feathers’ amount to being your ‘analysis’ then?  My word.

    I don’t have knowledge of how a praying mantis would sit up in a TV studio but I am aware of how they sit up in their own environment.  I don’t imagine it would be very different ….. fill yer boots  🙂,r:3,s:84

    If this post also comes up with whatif, it’s a glitch on this thread, not the other I’m posting on.

  • Ehtch

    And furthermore, Dicky, aka Richard, I am 49, so I am from the genertion before, or the one before, or something….

    Anyway, when I was young, I watched Watch with Mother on the telly, so there! Go Andy Pandy and Little Ted is all I have to say. : )

  • MicheleB

    I am (and was) as well aware of the meaning of the word ‘lamentable’ as you now are Richard.

    I’d apply it to your performance here more than to the Police’s.

    Until they have the command to use weaponry that is normally not authorised they have only their own bodies and batons.

    As I said right at the start of these troubles, post-Saturday night, I am very pleased their priority has been protecting those people that they can, rather than property, and hope still that no bodies will be found in damaged buildings. 

    It is not the Police that have decided that looting is the raison d’etre for all this LAMENTABLE behaviour of others.

    Now you COULD prove your expertise in order to sit in judgement Richard, you should explain whether officers rampaging and beating people would be better than the tactic of their solid unbroken lines forcing people back and to disperse.  If so, how?

    There but for the grace of …….. eh?

    What exactly is your expertise?  Is it defined by an armchair?

  • MicheleB

    I think it’s quite astute to leave the phones working between riots (not during), phone companies have promised to give information and whenever an idiot sends a message to ‘ALL’ or to a specific group of addressees on their ‘smart’ phone it will lead/link to them.

    It would be unthinkable for everyone to lose their services because of a few morons.  Blackberry is used as an encrypted business tool and is essential for those in other time zones travelling for their companies.

  • MicheleB

    Some reassurance for Richard, wannabe detective or ‘outer’.

    The glitch is with the thread.  Click on my icon here and you will see it links also to my posts on other threads where the glitch isn’t prevailing.  In all cases I am giving the same data when I ‘Post as’  but the command is not followed here and here only.

  • Ehtch

    Michael Gove is a plank. Are we all agreed on this? Dicky?