First, thanks to Mrs. Stop Boris for holding the fort so well all day yesterday. I did get home in time for the result but she clearly had things under control here so I didn’t need to face posting myself in the deeply depressing circumstances.
What a truly awful outcome.
Boris Johnson will become Mayor of London at midnight tomorrow night, and the BNP’s odious thug-in-a-beige-suit Richard Barnbrook will take a seat on the London Assembly at the same time.
There’s no point beating about the bush in summing up what this means for our nine months’ work, and for our every spare minute of the past two:
The Stop Boris campaign failed in both its headline objective and its additional appeal.
On the plus side, given our final voting recommendation (which has been viewed by 1,700 unique web-users), I think it would not be immodest to claim that we did have some effect on the voting. Turnout was up by around 20% on 2004, and Ken Livingstone received over 200,000 more votes – about 25% more – than in 2004, after reallocation of second preferences. (His first-preference voting figures were boosted by a similar number, representing around a third more votes than last time.)
These figures suggest that the threat of Boris, promoted by us and others, did motivate more people to the polls and more people to vote against him. So why, despite such success, did we ultimately fail?
Impossible to overcome
The trouble is, for all our voluntary efforts, and the grassroots movement against Boris – and notwithstanding the £400,000-odd spent by the Labour party promoting Ken – the sheer scale and organisation of the Back Boris campaign in all its guises simply proved impossible to overcome. They doubled the number of first-preference votes cast for the Conservative mayoral candidate in 2004.
It’s well known that the official campaign spent around £1million on putting across their ‘time for a change’ message. On top of this, you had the ‘money-couldn’t-buy-it’ support of a range of right-wing media outlets, most effectively the Evening Standard, whose advertising boards are seen by millions of potential voters, day in, day out, as they walk around the city. While only 180,000-odd people [should that hyphen be there? The statement works in an equally valid sense without it ] buy the paper, the value of those boards should not be underestimated. Their often shockingly misleading headlines, taken in by passers-by over a period of months, fuelled a grossly overstated perception of ’sleaze’ and ‘corruption’ in Ken Livingstone’s administration, and a positive perception of Boris’s chances and suitability for the role as a replacement Mayor.
And where did that £1million campaign budget go? It went on Lynton Crosby’s cynical and manipulative campaign, which was designed to build up strong anti-incumbent feeling through half-truths and repeated attacks, while giving as little detail as possible on a bland and vague manifesto containing focus group-tested phrases and sweeping, undetailed pledges on unarguable issues like wanting to cut crime. The money also went on regular, targeted, glossy leaflets and letters to encourage out the core vote and tempt over the swing voters. More controversially it also went on paying people as far afield as Australia to conduct a covert campaign of ‘astroturfing‘ against opposing journalists and bloggers.
The combined might of the Mail/Standard, Telegraph and Murdoch groups of newspapers, the motorists’ lobby, the anti-environmentalist lobby, BNP supporters’ second-preference votes, the anti-Ken protest vote, the anti-Labour protest vote, the Lynton Crosby cynical marketing effort and of course the LOLBorisROFL!!!!1! contingent, simply couldn’t be fought back against successfully enough.
Vague feelings and meaningless pronouncements
Contrary to a pro-Boris comment on one of Mrs. Stop Boris’s posts yesterday, we will not now be eating and choking on our words. I stand by everything I’ve blogged and written on StopBoris.org over the past two months. I would challenge anyone to find factual inaccuracies or unfounded opinions on this blog, were it not too late for it to matter now anyway, and were I not intent on taking a considerable break from blogging and getting involved in Boris-related arguments from today.
At the end of the day, this election was not fought and won by Boris on the policy details that matter. Who would vote against the idea that affordable housing should be available to households with a joint income of £30,000, rather than the £60,000 Boris’s planned scheme requires (putting it out of reach of 80% of Londoners)? Who would vote for an erroneously costed bus plan rejected by just about every bus expert in the industry? The list of such things is already well known and now academic, but it’s illustrative of the fact that this election was fought and won on vague feelings and meaningless pronouncements.
So where does this leave London now? We can only wait and see how Boris runs his Mayoralty, but if this is how he treats his own supporters, it doesn’t look good for the open and inclusive leadership he promised.
In all fairness (perhaps too much fairness!), his acceptance speech last night was moderate and inclusive-sounding. Interestingly, in his speech he essentially offered Ken Livingstone a job in his administration, and in Ken’s speech he basically accepted the offer. Giving Boris a helping hand with not completely messing up London through maladministration is undoubtedly in the best interests of the city, so I won’t dwell on my nagging gut feeling that it would in some sense be more satisfying to see Boris left to his own devices to preside over a complete farce for four years. The less of the progress made in the past eight years that is set back in the next four years, the better, however frustrating it could be if an unexpectedly stable administration threatens a re-election of Boris in four years’ time.
But what can we really expect to happen over the next four years?
Boris has made a lot of unachievable promises. We will see increased strikes on the Underground if he attempts to impose a no-strike deal on the RMT union. We’re unlikely ever to see a new open-backed Routemaster-style bus hitting London’s streets. His ‘big idea’ for a Thames Estuary airport is almost unthinkable. And his proposed police budget cuts and lack of firm proposals or targets on cutting crime risk a return to rising crime, or at best merely a slowdown in crime reduction, rather than the falling crime enjoyed for the past five years.
With Boris as Mayor and the BNP on the Assembly, we could also see race-hate crime on the increase in the capital for the first time in many years, following years of the capital bucking the national trend with a fall, versus a rise elsewhere.
(The significance of the BNP’s Assembly win should not be overstated, however: while it represents a depressing level of BNP support, and a symbolic victory for a bunch of racist thugs, their single Assembly seat gains them minimal public expenditure and virtually zero power, so the fact they didn’t gain two seats and thus a staffed office offers some comfort.)
We can also expect Boris to be far less pro-active on environmental matters, and more motorist-focussed. News footage of him leaving his home for City Hall this morning showed him being driven away in a huge people-carrier, in stark contrast with the exiting Mayor’s use of public transport to get around in almost all circumstances. We know he plans to rephase traffic lights to favour cars over pedestrians: let’s see if pedestrian road casualties continue to fall under his leadership or, as seems more likely, not.
It’s important that we Boris-stoppers continue to scrutinise him now he has been elected Mayor. There’s clearly a lot of scope for broken promises, and more scope still for the undermining of progress in this world-leading city in any number of policy areas.
Some have suggested that we at Stop Boris are well placed to exercise this scrutiny. We’re certainly better placed than his official scrutineers, the London Assembly, who are completely toothless due to Boris’s own party holding more than the third of seats needed to be able to nod through his budgets without reading them.
We are, however, also exhausted, demotivated, upset, depressed and above all thoroughly fed up with watching this objectionable man blathering on in news bulletins and statements, after two months of non-stop, often painful Boris-watching – and in dire need of a break.
There’s no harm admitting at this stage what many of you will have read between the lines over that period: Stop Boris has essentially been a one-man operation, ably assisted (not to mention at times lovingly tolerated!) by that one man’s wife. Sure, the Facebook group has nearly 2,000 members, and we’ve had plenty of supporting comments, e-mails and even some active on- and off-line campaigning for the cause, but the vast bulk of the work has taken place in a single suburban (Zone 6, no less – ‘put that in your pipe and smoke it’, Mr. Crosby ) living room.
Before I sign off for the last time, I’d like to thank a number of people for their help, support and information over the past few months.
- Mrs. Stop Boris, for everything!
- The donor of the StopBoris.org domain and web space, without which we would have had far, far less impact.
- The Tory Troll for setting up exactly the kind of blog I would probably have set up if I’d ever bothered before Stop Boris, and breaking lots of interesting news throughout the campaign, including being first to the news of the BNP backing Boris. I’d suggest the Troll as the best place to go if you’re looking for a blog to plug the gap left by the Stop Boris blog.
- Dave Hill for running by far the most comprehensive and broad coverage of the entire election anywhere on the web.
- Liberal Conspiracy for giving us some good promotion in the crucial last couple of weeks of the campaign.
- All the other bloggers who’ve linked to us and helped spread our message – I daren’t try to list them all as I will undoubtedly miss some out, but I seriously appreciated every single bit of promotion of this site.
- The Guardian for, contrary to many of the more outraged comments on pro-Ken or anti-Boris articles, covering the election with for the most part moderation and balance. I think the people who’ve criticised this newspaper as a mouthpiece for the Ken campaign, contrasting it unfavourably with the Evening Standard, have really engaged their typing fingers rather more quickly than their brains.
- All the Boris-stoppers who’ve been in touch with us, tipped us off about articles, played an active role on- and off-line in spreading the anti-Boris message, even singing our campaign song for us or creating other songs/videos, and just generally offered their support to our efforts.
- And of course you, the Stop Boris blog readers, all 3-5,000 (understanding webstats seems to be an imprecise science) of you. Thanks for justifying my outpourings’ worthwhileness by reading them!
So for now that’s it for the Stop Boris blog.
I wish all Londoners the best in coping with yesterday’s disastrous result, and above all I hope Boris is not as bad as we’ve feared he will be. For someone so convinced everything I’ve blogged about Boris over the past two months has been fundamentally correct, for London’s sake, I now hope just as strongly to be proven wrong about the consequences of his election for the city I love.