London Mayoral Election: Boris’ Manifesto, Four Years On (Part 2)
With just a few hours remaining until the new Mayor of London’s identity is revealed, Tom Buxton concludes his two-part investigation into how Boris Johnson’s tenure affected the borough of Islington…
So, where were we?
Having examined in detail the first four promises made by ex-Mayor of London Boris Johnson in his nine-point plan yesterday, and on the eve of the announcement of his successor, it is high time that we move on to analyse the five remaining pledges from the Conservative politician’s 2012 electoral manifesto.
Keeping in mind our own pledge to reveal whether these goals were achieved and how Johnson’s efforts affected life on a local level, let us leave behind our previous discussions of City Hall trims, GLA precepts and housing crises, shifting our focus now onto the other issues that faced the city of London – and thus the borough of Islington – in 2012…
Point 4 – An additional 1,000 police on the beat.
When Johnson first returned to his office back in May 2012, approximately 31,540 members of the British public were – according to a report by the Home Office – employed as members of the Metropolitan Police Service, with the force’s officers accounting for 24 per cent of the 134,101 full-time law-keepers working in England and Wales at the time. Fast forward four years, and – thanks to the Home Office’s latest report – it becomes clear that an increase in the city’s police workforce has indeed occurred, with the Metropolitan Police Service’s ranks having grown by 253 to reach 31,793 last September.
Of course, that Johnson had been aiming for a bigger shift in numbers cannot be denied either, nor that the slighter-than-expected rise in Metropolitan policeman failed to prevent recordings of knife crime hitting a five year high in 2015, as reported by the Islington Gazette in February. Yet even if the latter statistic in particular indicates whomever takes up Johnson’s mantle tonight still has room for improvement in terms of counteracting crime rates in Islington and beyond, they cannot deny that their predecessor managed to at least bolster London’s police force – especially during a period when the national number of employed officers slipped by almost 6,000 to 128,597 – rather than overseeing its decline.
Point 5 – Restoring 300 acres of green space and planting 20,000 street trees.
This environmental aspect of Johnson’s original 2012 (re-)electoral manifesto was inexplicably omitted from BBC News’ list of the then-Mayor’s pledges at the time of its publication, yet the hundreds of Islington Council staff members who serve as Green Liaison Officers (GLOs) for their borough on a daily basis would surely have considered this to be just as significant an issue as the others listed in the Corporation’s coverage, if not more so.
Although his office has yet to release figures detailing the precise amount of green space “restored” during his tenure, Johnson has certainly taken steps to achieve both parts of this promise, commissioning the plantation of 20,000 street trees across the city in March 2015 as well as providing nine green spaces – such as Sutton’s Poulter Park and Merton’s Watermeads – with £900,000 worth of funds to help them “improve access to London’s green spaces and waterways”.
Between these developments and their Council’s recently unveiled plans to improve the football pitches and footpaths of Barnard Park (pictured right), Islington’s GLOs might at first have considered the 51-year-old leader’s second term of office to have been a qualified success. Even so, however, just as the Garden Bridge project he developed to create further green space over the Thames met with a mixed response in March, so too might his successor still have work to do in terms of bettering the state of local parks, at least if last Summer’s reports of some visitors to Highbury Park “urinating and defecating” on its grounds were any indication.
Point 7 – Investing £221 million into local high streets, helping small businesses.
Somewhat ironically, much as London & Partners reported the creation of the Mayor’s International Business Programme as a means by which to “help the capital’s high growth firms break into new international markets or grow their existing operations overseas” earlier this year, it is fast becoming to seem as if the majority of Johnson’s work to help local commerce will take place after today’s election results rather than having taken place during his tenure.
Not only will the overall impact of Olympicopolis, a scheme which he set up as part of the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics whilst still hoping to “[create] job opportunities and [keep] the character of the [Olympic Park] area”, remain to be seen long after Johnson steps down, but his continual claims that Britain voting to leave the EU in its upcoming referendum would result in local businesses prospering may never even be verified if the votes swing out of his Brexit legion’s favour.
Nevertheless, the latter eventuality might well be welcomed by some Islington residents: Nick Turton, who works in the energy industry and is leading the local ‘In’ campaign, for instance, was adamant that staying in the EU would greatly benefit local commerce when questioned on the subject by the Islington Gazette last month. Mr Turton (pictured left), 43, told the Gazette: “A lot is at stake for people in Islington, where businesses small and large from access to the single market. Students, tourists and workers benefit from the ability to move freely across the EU and we all benefit from lower prices and stronger protections.”
Points 8 and 9 – Reducing Tube delays 30% by 2015, building Crossrail and orbital rail to link our suburbs, extending the Bike Hire scheme and securing a better overall deal for London from 10 Downing Street.
In some cases for better and in others for worse, evaluating whether Johnson met his promises regarding transport in particular in 2012-2016 represents a remarkably simple task. For instance, far from reducing delays on the London Underground in stations like Farringdon and Barbican by 30 per cent, under the Mayor’s watch, the 2014-15 financial year saw the highest recorded number of delays on the tube in half a decade, according to Caroline Pidgeon, former Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson and now the party’s London mayoral candidate.
Those hoping for a brighter outlook on London’s present transport situation have still had some reasons to celebrate, however, as evidenced by the unfazed commencement of the Crossrail project, a new railway line running through local stations like Farringdon which was projected in March 2013 to create 55,000 full time jobs between that year and its December 2019 opening. The ex-Mayor’s Cycle Hire scheme, meanwhile, seems to show no signs of slowing down, particularly since Santander announced last February a seven-year collaboration with City Hall and Transport for London to further develop the initiative.
As for his aims of “securing a better deal for London from No 10”, Johnson claimed in his original manifesto that this would entail “deliver[ing] new affordable homes and upgrading existing council-owned homes”, with the result being that his city’s property market would, from 2012 through to this year, “continue to deliver affordable homes for low and middle-income Londoners”.
Unfortunately, that the Islington Gazette revealed Islington’s most affordable home to be a £250,000 flat based atop Holloway Road’s branch of McDonalds (pictured right) and that the Green Party claimed Islington Council was only granting “priority need” status to 32 per cent of homeless applicants only supports the sense that further progress will need to be made by whomever takes Johnson’s seat this evening in order to beat back the much-vaunted London housing crisis.
Indeed, when one looks back on the Nine Point Plan laid down by Mr Johnson at the time of his re-election, that each of the issues tackled – rising property prices, contentious council tax rates and the amount of green space in the city – will still be of concern for his successors, in spite of his efforts to the contrary, seems difficult to deny. All the same, what with the strides forward he took in terms of developing Crossrail, the Met and other services during his second term of office, there is equally little doubting that Johnson leaves behind a tangible legacy for the new Mayor to match just as much in terms of his achievements as his failures.