Reading Boris Johnson’s enthusiastic and generous praise for departing TfL boss Sir Peter Hendy, you’d be hard pressed to tell that he once wanted to sack him.
Back in 2008 when Boris was a mere candidate, he and those around him thought Sir Peter to be overpaid and far too loyal to Ken Livingstone to trust with delivering a new mayor’s transport policy. They wanted someone cheaper and without the baggage of the Livingstone years to front their plans.
But Hendy soon demonstrated that he was both able and willing to work alongside Livingstone’s successor and so talk of replacing him quickly vanished.
Now, as he enters the final months of his mayoralty, Boris finally gets a chance to appoint a new commissioner.
He’s made absolutely the right move in asking Mike Brown, the head of TfL’s growing Tube and rail empire, to step-in as acting commissioner.
Brown is a capable and thoroughly likeable guy, good in front of the Assembly, generous with his time and, as if that’s not enough, a lot less likely to charge Londoners for lunch than his departing boss.
London could do a lot worse – and many would say it’d be hard to do much better – than him taking on the role full-time when the no doubt expensive search for a new commissioner draws up a list of candidates to be considered by the TfL board and it’s chairman, Boris Johnson.
But while hiring Brown would be a smart move, Boris needs to be true to his own 2008 principles and let his successor and the new TfL board they’ll appoint next May make the final call.
They might want someone different, or they might want to move away from the current system of commissioners holding open ended contracts and adopt the same system of fixed-term contracts used for the Met’s top cop.
They might even decide to follow the example of the capital’s fire authority which has been flirting with the possibility of appointing a non-fire fighter as the London Fire Brigade’s next commissioner.
A new Mayor could even conclude that TfL’s need to make ever larger sums of cash from commercial ventures means that it’d best for someone from the world of commerce to sit above its service chiefs.
So Boris should resist the urge to make a full appointment and show his soon to arrive successor the same courtesy he’d have expected from Ken had this vacancy arisen just months before he hoped to take office.