Honeymoon ends for London's Tory mayor

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2008, 12:00am


Former British prime minister Harold Wilson famously declared that a week is a long time in politics. Two months, then, must be an eternity for the London mayor, Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson, a Conservative, became mayor on May 4, ousting left-winger Ken Livingstone on a strong turnout in the 'blue doughnut', London's outer ring of Tory-inclined suburbs.

He was helped by the often ludicrously pro-Tory London Evening Standard, the stablemate of the true-blue Daily Mail, which campaigned against supposed cronyism and corruption in the old regime.

The Mail's front-page headline on Thursday revealed how quickly Mr Johnson's honeymoon had faded: 'Boris: The wheels are falling off already!' The story referred to the resignation of Ray Lewis, hired by the mayor as one of many deputy mayors to save London from the perceived plague of violent crime, especially among teenagers.

Mr Lewis, wrote The Guardian, 'advocated tough love and strict discipline for the capital's wayward teenagers' and 'seemed the perfect foil for Boris the Etonian desperate to improve his reputation among London's ethnic minority communities'.

On Friday, Mr Lewis resigned amid allegations of financial misconduct and inappropriate behaviour, including falsely claiming to be a justice of the peace.

It turns out that Mr Lewis was probed three times for blackmail in 1997; twice in 1999 for alleged theft; and in 2000 for alleged deception. No charges were ever brought. He was also barred from holding office as a vicar for allegedly failing to repay GBP41,000 (HK$631,700) to parishioners.

The Tory assumption was, wrote The Observer, 'that someone who had been a vicar, and who had worked with children, would have been vetted at some stage. He wasn't'.

Mr Lewis also claimed to have been a prison governor; he was, a junior governor for two years.

Perhaps the reason why Mr Lewis rose so smoothly up the Tory hierarchy was the party's desire not to be seen as full of white, middle-class, old Etonian types clustered in wealthy Notting Hill - Mr Lewis is black, and was born and raised in Brixton, south London, by a single mother.

And the drills and order of his academy for wayward youth - the Eastside Young Leaders' Academy - chimed with Tory philosophy. It would not be so bad for Mr Johnson if he had not had another high-profile aide quit over alleged racism two weeks ago; James McGrath, for saying black people who don't like London under his boss should leave.

Mr Lewis was meant to help stem teenage violence, especially knife crime. His departure came the same week that two teenagers were knifed to death. A 15-year-old boy died on Monday, three weeks after being rushed to hospital. He was the 19th teenager to die violently in the capital so far this year, compared with 27 for all of last year.

Shakilus Townsend was knifed to death in south London on Friday, five days after Ben Kinsella, brother of an actress on the television show EastEnders, was killed in Islington, north London, after celebrating his GCSE exams. What happened after Kinsella died perhaps holds more hope for London's youth: a spontaneous march by hundreds of youngsters, calling for a crackdown on violent offenders.