Boris, Assembly Members, bloggers, journos and even a few members of the public descended on City Hall this morning for the first Mayor’s Question Time under the new political reality which has so dominated news headlines.
Ever since the election results – which not only heralded in coalition government for Westminster but saw Labour do better than many expected in local elections – were announced people have been wondering what they meant for Boris and the future of his administration.
One thing was always certain, in the spending cuts to come London would have to accept its share of pain.
Whereas Labour ministers risked looking like they were punishing Londoners for daring to vote out their (nominally at least) candidate, the new government has no such concern and, unlike the expected Tory majority Government, not everyone in the coalition will care much if Boris is re-elected should he run next time.
Today we got a glimpse of how Boris intends to deal with the new political reality in the shape of his latest guise – Boris Johnson, your independent Conservative voice for London.
Assembly Members were warned that newly appointed ministers may seek to “de-scope” – presumably a posh way of saying ‘cutback’ – Crossrail, an issue about which our Mayor has apparently found much “ignorance” within the ranks of Westminster politicians. To do so would be “folly” he warned and threaten London’s development.
Boris’s promised response will be to mount a “Stalingrad-like defence” of the capital and speak out against the ranks of Men from the Ministry in defence of the issues of importance to Londoners of which, he told AMs, he has “a massive list”.
There was an obvious relish in the way Boris alluded to future spats with Westminster but then current arrangements play very much into his hands – it was always likely he’d have to speak out against Government cuts but the sight of a Tory Mayor laying into a newly elected Tory PM would have made bad headlines and probably not have played well with those sections of his party which adore Boris.
The coalition arrangement gives him a handy fig leaf of cover from charges of being disloyal. Whenever asked about divisions between him and Cameron, Boris will be able to say he understands that Dave would have liked to do things differently but compromises are necessary in any coalition, while day to day noisily protesting against Westminster cuts which threaten his ability to retain his job in the face of Labour’s inevitable 2012 ‘get Boris’ onslaught.
For London at least the new politics seem set to look and sound a lot like the old ones with a strong-willed, populist Mayor defining himself against a national government in which his party plays a part.
PS: Some Labour AMs teased Boris about no longer being the UK’s most powerful elected Tory, but I reckon he’s pretty happy being the only one who doesn’t have to run every idea past Nick Clegg & chums for approval.