When Boris Johnson asked Londoners to elect him Mayor he promised to Chair the Metropolitan Police Authority and, in a swipe at then Mayor Ken Livingstone, not to “shrug my shoulders and pass the buck” .
True to his word, for the first 18 months of his Mayoralty Boris used powers which came into effect in April 2008 and chaired the MPA.
It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Boris often seemed bored and bemused by the formality of meetings and both during MPA and London Assembly meetings Tory Assembly Member Kit Malthouse would have to ride to the Mayor’s rescue.
‘I’m sure the Mayor would agree that…’ and ‘As I know the Mayor believes…’ would often open an interjection designed to clarify and enhance the boss’s answers.
It was always clear Malthouse would make a better MPA Chair and eventually the Mayor passed the buck and appointed him to the role.
It was a move I welcomed at the time and in the 18 months which have elapsed even political opponents who sometimes clash with Malthouse across both the Assembly and MPA tables have come to speak highly of his abilities.
By breaking his promise the Mayor secured better political leadership for the Met.
Despite shedding himself of the only role which gives him a formal say in the running of the police, the Mayor and his team have continued to present him as being the driving force in the fight against crime.
But whereas the MPA have formal, public, transparent meetings which senior officers are compelled to attend so they can be held to account, Boris is relegated to having private meetings which are ultimately attended as a courteous nod to his electoral mandate.
City Hall’s spinning was presumably behind articles implying the Mayor was planning to set up inquiries into the Met’s role in the phone hacking row.
As I already pointed out, the Mayor has no more power to initiate an investigation than you or I.
Cynics might suspect the desire to portray Boris as the man in charge was the reason he kicked off Monday’s press conference both by announcing that he’d accepted John Yates’s resignation and naming his temporary successor.
As Yates’s own statement confirms, he gave his resignation to Home Secretary Theresa May and the MPA – between them the Met’s legal bosses – as well as the Mayor, and it’s not the Mayor who assigns officers to posts.
Despite proclaiming himself the de-facto elected head of the Met, Boris has very little formal power over the force or its top brass.
That’s why he had to admit to journalists that he wasn’t involved in the decision to suspend Yates.
His lack of formal powers was nicely illustrated when I asked what discussions he’d had with May to ensure it was his views which took precedence in the appointment of Sir Paul Stephenson’s successor.
In response the Mayor could only say the decision would respect the views of all parties.
There are big changes coming to the strategic leadership of the Met which will see the MPA swept away, a new Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime created and scrutiny fall to the London Assembly.
Alongside those reforms the Mayor should stop playing cop and allow the very capable hands he entrusted the MPA to to continue delivering for London.
If he’s generous enough to allow Malthouse to take credit for the successes he may even manage something his predecessor never did and spawn a credible successor.