‘I am London incarnate’
The JC is asking London mayoral candidates where they stand on Jewish issues. This week, Boris Johnson talks to Jan Shure
ACCORDING TO Mayor Ken Livingstone’s campaign website, racist attacks in London are “down more than 50 per cent over eight years”. To the fury of Conservative mayoral candidate Boris Johnson, this claim was repeated by Jonathan Freedland in a column in last week’s JC. But the MP for Henley and former Spectator editor is not buying.
“It’s absolutely not true,” he says, as he searches his papers for a briefing document pointing to a rise in antisemitic attacks in London and the UK generally. “I have definitely seen figures that say there has been a rise in antisemitic attacks in London.”
He cannot find the paper, but an aide reminds him of the parliamentary cross-party report which left no doubt that there had been a substantial rise in antisemitic attacks across the UK, including London.
Just 24 hours earlier, Johnson has been on a tour of Jewish North-West London aboard the Boris battlebus. He recalls for the JC several of his encounters: “I talked to one kid yesterday as I was travelling round London, and he said it was increasingly frightening for him to walk around London wearing a kippah on his head. It is a phenomenon on the rise whatever the statistics say. It is the job of mayor to show complete intolerance of race crime in any form.
“There’s no doubt that people feel more scared than they should. I was talking to another kid, a 14-year-old, yesterday who was telling me he had been repeatedly mugged on his way to school.”
He is in politico mode as he declares: “I am keenly sensitive of the needs of the Jewish community, and I will be a champion for them.” But he slips out of it to add, somewhat pensively: “I do worry that the kind of attacks that would have been very rare in London 20 or 30 years ago are now quite common, and I find it utterly loathsome and repugnant. And I won’t tolerate anything like that.”
Then he is back on the soap-box: “Nor will I invite people to London who promote homophobia or antisemitism. It seems to me an extraordinary thing to do, to try to use City Hall as a platform for geopolitics. That is not the function of the mayor of London.”
For anyone who has not been following the career of Mr Livingstone, Mr Johnson is referring to the incumbent’s 2004 invitation to extremist Muslim cleric Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and to his fraternal hugs for virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
In addition to antisemitism in the capital, he says, there were “loads of issues” raised during his tour of Hendon, Golders Green and Edgware. “I had people asking me about crimes against business and police presence on the streets. We should have more police on the streets.
“In Camden, for instance, there are 800 officers, but fewer than 80 out on the streets at any one time. And people say to me, ‘if we do catch criminals, there is no punishment, no comeback’.
“I think the job of mayor is also to speak up for shop-keepers suffering assaults and shoplifting. These are not insignificant crimes, and the perpetrators should not go unpunished. We need to criminalise what we call antisocial behaviour and drive it out.”
Referring to his policies for making public transport safer, he talks about Daniel, another person he met the previous day, who has been a victim of street crime.
“He told me he had been roughed up on the bus and mugged, and his mobile phone was stolen. This type of thing is happening every day; it is a pandemic in London. But the mayor has decided it is the price we pay for free travel for kids.
“I am finding a lot of support for my policies to deal with this. For instance, if you are a teen and you lose your freetravel privilege, you should have to earn it back, by doing some community service.”
Fare-dodging is not only costing London £50 million a year, he says, but is “habituating” people to minor crime, and thereby “encouraging them to commit more serious crime.
“I think there is a complacency by the mayor; a detached quality. It is as if he is in denial about what is happening in London’s streets.”
As well as telling the Conservative candidate about their safety fears, people apparently ask him how he would afford the extra personnel to police the buses. “I would reallocate the mayor’s publicity budget to get more personnel on buses,” he says, taking a swipe at Livingstone’s advertising and publicrelations spend.
As mayor, he says that he would also be keen to help London’s young people, both by supporting the voluntary sector — what he calls “faith-based groups”, which “do fantastic work” — and by creating a Mayor’s Fund for London.
“There are people who are earning shedloads of money in London. They can contribute to the life of London kids and to the wider community and make a huge difference to kids in London whose lives are going wrong.”
He is deeply unhappy with the government’s recent run-in with Barnet’s faith schools over entry demands, as reported in recent editions of this newspaper. He declares that, “given that we have some wonderful faith schools in London, it is wrong that they are facing the kind of political attacks — unjustified attacks — that seem to be going on. It is quite monstrous that the government has attacked them and named schools for charging parents for security.”
On the issue of security costs, he says: “There is a need to ensure London’s children are properly protected. The mayor isn’t solely responsible, but the mayor can speak up for those schools if they need more security and better provision.”
On charges of a lack of seriousness from opponents — and, by implication, a lack of competence — he says that his brand of humour “reflects a facet of my personality. I sometimes use humour to get a point across. I am what I am, but I know I can do a much, much better job than the incumbent.
“I am thoroughgoing and determined, and determined to change the administration of London.”
Asked about the support by the Mus- lim Association of Britain for Ken Livingstone, in a ringing endorsement on its website which links the mayor and George Galloway as candidates for whom the Muslim community should vote because of their support for, interalia, “the Palestinian people”, Johnson repeats his belief that the mayor “just should not be involved in foreign policy.
“As mayor, I would work with all communities and work tirelessly to promote understanding between all communities. I am a product of Mus- lims, Jews and Christians,” he adds, “so I am the plurality of London incarnate.
“And I reject the idea of saying one or other of candidates is better for this or that group. I will be mayor for all groups.”
Boris Johnson makes his way down Brent Street while out canvassing in Hendon, North-West London, on Sunday