London riots expose the folly of Boris’s ‘top cop’ routine

Boris Johnson is facing calls to return to London from his holiday and “take charge” of the city’s response to the riots and looting of recent days.

With that call, the Mayor’s opponents help cement City Hall’s own propaganda that Boris is in charge of policing.

Yet at last month’s Metropolitan Police Authority meeting the myth of Top Cop Boris was debunked by no less than acting Commissioner Tim Godwin who made clear it was the Commissioner who – as someone once said – had his ‘hand on the tiller’.

So given his lack of control over the Met I’m not sure there’s any practical need for Boris to return from his holiday.

Sure, on arrival he can make a few speeches, give some interviews (presumably without praying to the sky as his did with his belated media appearances during the snow crisis) and distract the Met by demanding meetings and briefings.

But will any of that really move the situation on?

The MPA has an excellent Chair in Kit Malthouse and, as I’ve said before, Boris and London need let him get on with being the guy who actually holds the Met to account and speaks for Londoners on police matters.

Even in a highly personalised role such as Mayor of London, there is still room for talented ‘others’ to do good work.

I suspect that most ordinary Londoners will forgive a Mayor who wants to complete his family holiday.

But there is a very real political danger for Boris.

Long before the riots, London Assembly Members and others were accusing him of carelessness in failing to give former Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson his full backing.

Ever keen to overspin his involvement in policing, Boris deliberately positioned himself as the one who accepted Sir Paul’s resignation.

MPA and Assembly members have expressed concerns about the robustness of the Met’s leadership when both the top jobs are filled on an acting basis.

The force is under intense national scrutiny, any failings and shortcomings can very easily be portrayed as the result of Boris’s “carelessness” in losing two Met Commissioners in 3 years.

Having continually presented himself as the “de facto” head of the Met, Boris will find it difficult to escape the fallout if the temporary leadership he helped create lets Londoners down.