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A clear vision for London?

Boris Johnson
The clock is ticking for Mayor Johnson to tell London his story

By Jonathan Josephs
BBC London

"After more than a year in charge, the Mayor has failed to develop a coherent vision for London". Not the thoughts of Boris Johnson's predecessor but the text of a motion passed by the London Assembly this week.

Mayor Johnson is on the right track, not least with his recognition of the needs of the outer London boroughs which were neglected by the previous mayor
Dean Cohen, Conservative councillor

But just how much substance is there to the accusation that London's Mayor lacks a grand vision for the city?

There might not have been any radical ground-breaking policies that weren't part of his campaign but Mr Johnson certainly hasn't been a stumbling liability for London has many had predicted.

A steady string of mild and predictable policy announcements have taken the place of the gaffes and mistakes many critics had been hoping for.

Policies in action

Boris Johnson has spent his first 15 months busily trying to fulfil the pledges he made during his campaign.

'Quality of life policies' such as banning alcohol on the tube, planting more trees, scrapping the western extension of the congestion zone after public consultation and this week's start of the phasing out of bendy buses have kept the mayor out of trouble.

But critics who say he lacks a grand vision can point to other pledges which have been broken by a change of mind.

These include failing to protect London's historic views by withdrawing his objection to the building of three new tower blocks in Waterloo and failure to get more Londoners cycling after he halved funding for the London Cycle Network Plus scheme.

Bare cupboard

Opponents on the Assembly felt that the Mayor's evasive answers to their questions about his broader strategy were indicative of a lack of a joint-up vision and took the chance to put their feelings on record.

Labour's John Biggs feels that his amendment, pointing to a lack of coherence, was justified because after more than a year in charge he feels the mayor's policy cupboard is "pretty bare".

He feels there has been a particular lack of detail in the three key strategy areas of investment, planning and transport.

Although Boris Johnson has produced perfectly sensible policies, all of which make sense, they lack a powerful overall story and it is pretty important to have such a story
Tony Travers, London School of Economics

There have, says Mr Biggs, been "wishy-washy" announcements but "what you would expect by now is an explanation of how London would be different under his leadership".

For some, London is different under Mayor Johnson's leadership. It was a 'blue doughnut' of suburban voters that swept Mr Johnson into City Hall last year.

Does this core electorate think that the mayor has been bold enough so far?

Dean Cohen is a Conservative councillor in the outer London borough of Barnet and he says that residents in his north London ward don't have any grievances with the mayor's wider approach to the job.

The sentiment of the motion, he says, "would not find support in the streets of Golders Green".

Councillor Cohen's own view is that: "Mayor Johnson is on the right track, not least with his recognition of the needs of the outer London boroughs which were neglected by the previous mayor".

He points to the way funding has now been approved for a pedestrian crossing at a busy local road junction after years of heated debate.

Party lines

This party political division of opinion corresponds with the way Assembly members voted.

All those in Mr Johnson's own party backed his leadership; however they are not in the majority at City Hall, holding just 11 of the 25 seats.

So when your opponent's gang up against you is it best to just focus on what you're doing and get on with the job?

Tony Travers is an expert on the capital's government at the London School of Economics and he thinks it inevitable that the Assembly's non-Conservative majority would accuse the mayor of not delivering the goods, but he also acknowledges that there is some truth to the Assembly's motion.

"Although Boris Johnson has produced perfectly sensible policies, all of which make sense, they lack a powerful overall story and it is pretty important to have such a story".

Telling a story

In this regard the mayor's narrative is being compared to the one his predecessor told.

Boris Johnson
The mayor's office insist he does have a vision

Travers says that "Ken Livingstone ran a very clearly articulated story". Mayor Johnson, he feels, has been handicapped by approaching the job from somewhat of a "standing start", adding that coherence will come as the mayor's adolescent administration gains in maturity.

Boris Johnson's office insist the mayor does have a vision and that it is one "committed to delivering those changes that Londoners, and visitors to the city, tell us they want to see: a cleaner city with safer streets, better transport, and good quality affordable housing" but the question remains about how he will deliver these aspirations.

Wider considerations

The clock is, after all, ticking on his four-year term. In the autumn, a year and a half into the job, the Johnson administration will finally publish it's version of "The London Plan", a statutory document outlining the mayor's vision for the capital's development.

Tony Travers expects that this will give more "shape, stability and coherence" to the Johnson mayoralty.

However, with a general election just around the corner it will be interesting to see just how bold and ambitious the mayor will be.

After all, a man who has previously declared his ambition to be Prime Minister will not want to do anything to upset his party's chances of ending more than a decade in opposition.

On top of this, Ken Livingstone has already declared his intention to run for a City Hall return in 2012.

With his mayoral term getting ever shorter the pressure is on, and Boris Johnson knows he doesn't have long to tell London his story.

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