It’s hard not to be flattered by the attention Ken Livingstone’s official campaign team have given me today. They’ve set up a Twitter account – wittily called Boris Johns-Hen (geddit?) – the central premise of which is that Boris should attend debates whenever Ken requests one. In what is an interesting tactic, virtually its sole actions thus far have involved spamming me with tweets (just the 21 times so far today).
Bear in mind that this stuff is officially endorsed by Ken Livingstone himself…
I ignored them initially because I have a busy job (something which I imagine the intern who’s been given the task of tweeting at me for the next hundred days can only dream of). And then I ignored them because the longer I went without replying, the more flustered they became, climaxing with some frankly sublime hyperbole…
Ah yes, of course, that parallel universe in which not chatting to a hen with barely any followers on Twitter shatters your credibility. Anyway, here are some points which Ken Livingstone and his team might like to reflect on:
1) Ken’s pledge to cut fares has been proven to be completely unfunded, as confirmed by both Brian Paddick and Channel 4′s FactCheck. It’s a dead policy. The request by Ken to “debate it” is nothing but publicity-seeking. Similarly, if Ken said he could build two million new homes, and pay for them with nothing but Venezuelan cocoa beans, Boris would rightly ignore any loony request to debate it.
2) There will be loads of mayoral debates between now and May. To suggest that Boris will not defend his policies, just because he hasn’t agreed to Ken’s specific request, is clearly absurd.
3) Boris is Mayor of London. He’s running the city, ensuring Londoners get value for money, securing government investment, ensuring the build-up to the Olympics is as smooth as possible. If he ran off for a debate every time Ken called, he would get nothing else done. And as much as Ken’s supporters like to portray Boris as lazy or “part-time”, even his biographer Sonia Purnell – herself often contemptuous towards Boris – admits that he’s a “workaholic”.
4) Boris explains and defends his actions all the time. Just today, he spent over two hours being quizzed by the London Assembly on his proposed 2012/13 GLA budget. The suggestion that Boris is in some way not accountable is not only ridiculous, but also an offence to the good work performed by the London Assembly.
5) Boris has been a far more accessible mayor than Ken ever was. Remember those stats back in the autumn which showed Boris had visited almost every borough in London more in three and a half years than Mr Livingstone did in his eight years? Remember Mayor Ken visiting Bexley just once in eight years? Remember Ken visiting Cuba more often than he visited Hillingdon during his eight years as mayor? He, not Boris, was the mayor who hid away in City Hall.
6) Ken’s debate record as mayor was hardly shining. Remember the time, just before the 2008 election, when he turned up to a BBC Asian Network debate half an hour late because he’d decided to have a lengthy breakfast?
7) It’s interesting that when Boris hasn’t been able to attend a debate (because, you know, he’s been doing his job) Ken has often withdrawn from the debate too. It suggests that he’s far less interested in explaining his policies to the London electorate and far more interested in slagging Boris off.
8) Sometimes when Ken withdraws from a debate, it all goes horribly wrong. Remember when he sent Val Shawcross to represent him at the Limmud Jewish Conference? She went completely off-message and refused to defend Ken for welcoming Yusuf al-Qaradawi to City Hall. Even as Ken’s running-mate, she couldn’t support his decision to associate with someone who defends Palestinian suicide-bombers, condones wife-beating, favours female genital mutilation, and advocates the persecution of Jews and homosexuals.
You could say Ken ended up with egg on his face. Cock-ed up, even. And as for this new Twitter account…well, it’s a pretty poultry effort, isn’t it?