Right, I’ve been on a sabbatical from blogging for a week or so, owing mainly to a lack of anything interesting to say. This isn’t, obviously, from a lack of anything Boris-related to comment about (clearly), but I’d rather wait until I’ve mulled things over for a bit rather than rushing to the Publish button. One of the better things about blogging is not having to write crap to meet a deadline. I can write crap to my own deadlines. Feel my freedom.
Anyway, what have we got? It’s hard to separate Boris’s response to the post-G20 police shitstorm from the regular tirades we produce here about Boris’s over-reliance on spin and his overriding obsession with getting his own narrative out there. Indeed, derailing Boris’s narratives is one of the points of the blog – we don’t get to sit in his cosy circle of journalistic buddies, so we must go our own way (I won’t be doing a ‘Year of Boris’ piece, obviously, since Guto and the boys will no doubt be polishing their anniversary press releases as we speak, and you can get that shit elsewhere). So, what was Boris’s G20 narrative? Obviously it had to be supportive of the police, make it clear that Boris was standing four-square behind the property interest and against those who oppose it, give an impression of command and calm competence and attract the right sort of coverage. So, we had the Telegraph article:
So here we go again, folks. It is now 10 years since the anti-capitalists attacked the City of London, and next week they intend to outdo themselves. In student bedsits and in terrace Kensington houses, the alienated children of the middle classes are planning to subvert the G20 summit. Across the desolate wastes of the Leftie internet, their wrathful campfires are already burning, and when April dawns they will surge like the orcs of Mordor in the general direction of the Bank of England.
They will taunt the police. They will paralyse traffic. They will do their utmost to spoil your day; and when they have been sufficiently whipped up by the oratory of Tony Benn, and when Billy Bragg has finished his ditties, it is a safe bet that they will begin the chant of hate. Somewhere in the crowd, a nose-ringed twerp will drain a mouthful of cider and call to his comrades. “What do we want?” he will demand.
Lovely stuff. So, the protestors were all nicely caricatured beforehand, at Boris’s usual £5 a word he gets for this crap. To Boris and the people he writes for, the protestors were the ones who were going to ‘spoil your day’ and, classily compared to orcs, are therefore natural baton fodder for Boris’s blue-coated paladins. Moreover, and this betrays Boris’s total immersion in the pre-G20 line that there were going to be massive violent demonstrations, they ‘intend to outdo themselves’ in their attack on the City. Here Boris faithfully echoes the line taken by the international security industry, who love winding up this sort of thing for fun and profit:
“Protests may surpass any since 1999 in intensity,” said David Lea, of the international consultancy Control Risks, referring to the clashes between police and anti-globalisation campaigners outside that year’s World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle.
Back in his second job of being Mayor of London, and specifically Chairman of the MPA, Boris dutifully kept his narrative going with his pre-protest tour of the police command bunker in Lambeth, whence the forces of law and order would, presumably, be deployed to prevent the cider-swilling anarchist horders spoiling loyal Telegraph readers’ day. On the 31st March he Tweeted his reassuring impression of how the Met were handling things:
Just been to visit the MET’s Specialist Operation Room at Lambeth HQ in advance of the G20. Seriously impressive stuff.
At this point it’s worth noting that the last reference to the G20 on Boris’s MayorOfLondon Twitter account was on the 2nd April, when, with customary humility, he drew our attention to a picture of him meeting the Queen. Priorities, priorities. More photos of Boris meeting smiling policeman are on his Flickr stream, so there’s no doubting the message – the police have everything under control and Boris is right there with them. The official line from the Mayor was in similar vein:
“This has been one of the biggest operations the Met has had to deal with in recent years. People have the right to demonstrate peacefully and the majority will – but if a minority incite violence they will be dealt with in a commensurate way. Most importantly this [operation] must not undermine ordinary policing. I have every confidence in all the Met officers and staff involved in this operation.”
Of course, as it turns out, itwas the police themselves who, acting in a decidedly un-commensurate way, undermined ordinary policing and thereby landed themselves in substantial PR trouble almost immediately after the conclusion of the G20 demonstrations. This wasn’t in the script and must have come as a slap in the face for Boris and a headache for his PR team. No publicity stunts congratulating the cops for a job well done for you, Boris, so what happens next? Not being Napoleon, his first instinct, naturally, is to march away from the sound of the guns, with the result that the field was left to Ken Livingstone to appear repeatedly on Channel 4 News at the drop of a gecko.
Now, much as one appreciates the tenacity of the old newt-fancier, I’d much rather he was bumped off (in the guest-on-TV sense, not mortally) in favour of the man who, we’re given to understand, actually has the job of running London’s police force. After all, that’s the impression he’s given in the really rather recent past:
London mayor Boris Johnson has been accused of pre-empting the police by announcing the resignation of counter-terrorism chief Bob Quick.
Mr Johnson’s office says he was within his rights as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority to make the announcement in a BBC radio interview.
However, it’s increasingly obvious that Boris is only interested in the upside of being seen as the man behind the Thin Blue Line, when you can’t keep him off the air. When something damaging comes out about the Met he goes into hiding and bleats that it’s Jacqui Smith’s fault, but it’s a different matter when there’s good news – witness Boris’s attempts to claim credit for the usual reduction in crime:
I am encouraged by what seems to be a promising trend. It appears that the huge efforts and fresh initiatives over the last year are delivering results
It’s a promising trend, of course, that was going on long before he became Mayor, although I don’t recall him accepting this during his election campaign. Still, it’s nice to know he thinks police statistics are accurate – if, as I expect, certain crimes rise as a result of the recession I’m sure he’ll accept full responsibility and not try to duck out.
Presumably he thought the Met’s initial smokescreen around Ian Tomlinson’s death was accurate, too - would explain the staggering lack of urgency in his response. It’s obviously not that he’s too busy, after all, he’s found time to put a picture of the Queen up at City Hall and write a misleading, mendacious piece of self-congratulatory vanity bollocks in the Mail on Sunday about St. George’s Day as well as the usual Telegraph crowd-pleasing weekly reactionary-fest, and obviously the Today Programme or Channel 4 will clear the airwaves as soon as he picks up the phone. Again, the overwhelming tin ear to the mood of the people is evident, but that’s what you get if you shut yourself off with your journalist friends and refuse to face reality in case it upsets you. Boris has truly become a caricature of a sham of a puffball, and it’s not funny any more, Harry Phibbs.
Finally, it’s worth reading this from David Gilbertson, which nails the policing crisis to its core; the nexus of politicians (who need good headlines), journalists (who need juicy stories) and senior policemen (who need bigger budgets and more power) feeding off each other at the expense of old-fashioned things like accountability, control and the principle of policing-by-consent. As a journalist/politician at the head of the MPA, Boris is in a prime position to break this incestuous cycle, but on recent evidence he’s quite as bad as the New Labour Home Secretaries who put tabloid pleasing and pandering to macho ideas of US-style hard-nosed cops ahead of proper police work, hide when the going gets tough and top things off with a liberal layer of spin. It’s the only liberal thing about Boris’s police policy, that’s for sure.
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