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February 28, 2011

Independent Boris fought government on Crossrail.

If you haven’t read Iain Dale’s ‘In Conversation with Boris Johnson’ interview¬†yet, I’d strongly recommend you do so. It’s in this month’s edition of Total Politics magazine and is also now available online. It’s really a cracking interview – entertaining, insightful and eminently quotable. It’s a lengthy piece, so I won’t cover it all, but there was one particularly interesting bit I want to highlight.

When talking about budgetary tensions between himself and George Osborne, he describes how he was told by senior ministers that Crossrail was not going to be deliverable given the funding constraints. He was told to stop talking about it – to stop championing it – as it was going to create political problems for him when it couldn’t be delivered. He was also told that the tube upgrades wouldn’t be happening either. Boris deemed that to be ‘complete madness’ and refused to stop advocating the schemes. He fought the government on both measures – and won both arguments. Both Crossrail and the tube upgrades were protected in October’s Comprehensive Spending Review – as I wrote about here.

Not only was it a huge achievement for the mayor, it was also a great indicator of his ability to influence government policy. Barring a collapse of the coalition, the government will be in power until at least 2015. As such, at least three years of the next mayoral term will be under a Conservative-led government. It seems incredibly obvious to me that a Conservative mayor would be in a far better position to lobby Downing Street than a hostile, divisive, factious Labour mayor would.¬†One simply can’t imagine Ken Livingstone engaging in fruitful talks with George Osborne on the big issues that affect London.

In fighting for Londoners’ interests, Boris shows a willingness – a keenness, even – to act independently and autonomously from the government, despite being of the same party. This is a key point. At a time when voters are looking to give the Tories a kicking in any way possible (I’ve written before how I fully expect them to be at least 20 points behind Labour in the polls by the end of the year) it is important to highlight Boris’ willingness to run practically as an independent. He can in no sense be held responsible for the actions of the government – indeed he disagrees with a number of the things they’ve proposed.

Essentially Boris has managed to convince the government that ‘London is the motor of the economy’, and that the rest of the country relies hugely on London leading us out of these difficult economic times. Londoners should give him the credit he deserves for the vision, and for arguing it with such success.

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