Well who’d have thought it – despite perfectly valid criticisms about the timing of the event, last night’s State of London Debate was a roaring success for the newly serious Mayor Boris who recently debuted at Mayor’s Question Time.
The radical shift of format away from a weekend daytime event to a single weekday night attracted criticisms and naysayers can rightly point to the fairly low turn out as vindication of their concerns.
But the decision to hold it at City Hall rather then an expensive conference centre is so obvious you wonder why no-one ever thought to do it before. Beyond any fiscal savings it surely makes sense that the Mayor answers for his polices in the same building where he implements them.
The format change also saw audience members in other sessions dotted around the building able to question Boris via video feed. The whole affair had that slightly ‘it could break at any moment’ feeling you normally associated with Eurovision but in the end technology was kind and the night passed without a glitch.
It’s true some of Boris’s answers were a bit wooly (and others just plain suspect) but they were at least answers from him, the format of the Mayor facing the audience alone meant there was none of the palming off of questions to advisors which questioners of Boris sometimes have to endure.
Even better, Boris’s solid, confident performance came without the usual tired, stump speech references to “PyongYang propaganda” and a dozen other hackneyed phrases we’ve all heard a million times before.
Some praise too for host Nick Ferrari who chided Boris along at times and helped keep the atmosphere nice and relaxed.
It’s a shame the audience was so sparse though senior Boris people professed themselves content with the numbers and one suggested the event was no worse off for the absence of the usual bused-in groups who treat such meetings as their ritual weekend out. They’re probably right too.
Someone within City Hall does need to think about stopping serial hecklers from hijacking future events – it’s unfair if ordinary Londoners who come along to ask about their bus fares are squeezed out by someone pushing their particular hobby horse for the umpteenth time.
Largely the audience seemed content with what they got, rewarding Boris with a round of applause after being talked into reciting some poetry and generally seeming to have enjoyed their night out.
So a successful night which – depending whether you believe the denials of senior Boris people – may or may not have been intended as the backdrop to him announcing his 2012 candidacy.
Either way Boris is better off not having declared last night, apart from the minor problem of it being illegal, doing so would have overshadowed a performance he can rightly be proud of.