Along with about 2000 other interested Londoners I spent a big chunk of last night at Westminster Central Hall to witness Boris Johnson stage his first State of London debate.
Taking the theme of ‘New opportunities for young Londoners’ the night was mostly a success. Johnson really needs to rid himself of the habit of passing questions to others but it was clear his concern over youthful lawlessness is genuine and that he’s committed to take action to tackle knife attacks and general bad behaviour.
Joining Boris were his advisors Ray Lewis and Munira Mirza – both were far from impressive.
Lewis clearly has a wealth of knowledge in this area but he seemed to talk in generalities which visibly dismayed the youth workers sitting near me and he never seemed to recover from two members of the audience complaining that he’d failed to answer their emails. Responding that “I do what I can when I can” was never going to impress many and doesn’t quite seem to fit with the honourific ‘Deputy Mayor’ title he’s been given.
(By the way, someone needs to tell Lewis that he’s just a salaried employee of the Authority and that it’s really not fitting for him to be telling Londoners what will and won’t happen while he’s working at City Hall.)
As for Mirza it was hard to see why she was there, her contributions were vague and never really seemed to relate to the questions asked by audience members. There were times when it felt like we were witnessing some dreadful audition for QVC.
Joining the City Hall trio was ex-EastEnder Ross Kemp. Before the debate started many questioned if his presence were some act of supreme irony. What on earth could a man best known for pre-watershed portrayals of violence bring to the discussion? Well in the end Kemp outshone the two Mayoral advisors and was consistently the most articulate member of the panel.
His direct and detailed knowledge seemed to impress many of the professionals present and as one of the doubters I felt compelled afterwards to tell how impressed I’d been with his contribution.
I’m not convinced it was a good idea to hold the debate on a single theme as more than once proceedings repeatedly threatened to descend into an endless series of funding bids and requests for Boris to visit projects BUT the topic seems to have convinced many to attend with most of those asking questions being younger audience members.