Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Leadership Crisis for Boris Johnson

I've borrowed the phrase 'leadership crisis' from Mark Ames, who writes the admirable ibikelondon blog, but I feel that he's really hit the nail on the head. This really is a leadership crisis for Boris Johnson.

Six Londoners in two weeks have been killed while cycling (something Johnson, and the rest of TfL, constantly actively encourage Londoners to do through, among other things, a series of costly PR schemes). Boris Johnson could have tried to take something constructive out of the tragedy of these deaths. He could have reiterated how important actually delivering his 'Vision for Cycling' was (rather than just talking about future consultations), and how necessary it was to accelerate the road layout changes he wanted to achieve. He could have immediately installed temporary cycle lanes using bollards or cones of key routes in the capital. He could have imposed an immediate 20 MPH limit on all of London's most dangerous junctions. He could have highlighted the intransigence of certain local councils (Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea) in getting on board with his cycling vision and used the media attention around these deaths to force difficult councils to come to heel and embrace segregated routes and 20 MPH limits.

Richard Muzira, the sixth Londoner in two weeks to be killed while cycling. The road were he was killed has neither a cycle lane nor a 20 MPH limit. Did the Mayor suggest providing either of these to prevent future killings? No, he blamed the victim instead. Photo courtesy of Evening Standard.
Boris Johnson could have done any of these things. He chose to do none of them. Instead, he engaged in vile and despicable victim blaming. First he said publicly that cyclists need to obey the law and implied that the six recent killings were caused by law-breaking. One of them may have been. But what about the other five Londoners that were killed who were without a shadow of a doubt behaving completely lawfully? What is Boris Johnson doing for them? Absolutely nothing.

Moreover, Johnson then went on BBC London and described people that cycle with headphones in as a 'scourge', again implying that cycling with headphones in has something to do with the last six Londoners to be killed while cycling in the capital. It doesn't. Indeed, none of the almost 80 Londoners that have been killed while cycling since Boris Johnson came to power lost their lives due to headphone use. It's the equivalent of six Londoners being stabbed to death by gangs, and Boris Johnson telling people not to flash their cash in public, rather than doing anything to improve street safety and crack down on crime. Appalling.

One of key elements of 'Brand Boris' (to borrow another phrase, this time from Dave Hill) is his 'cycling' image. And this is important not just to Londoners, and Brits, who cycle. Many people who don't cycle like Boris Johnson partly because they feel he does 'stuff' for cycling, which seems like a good thing in general. However, over the past few weeks Johnson's credibility among all Londoners on cycle safety has been completely eroded by his utter refusal to act in a constructive manner, and his decision to victim-blame and stir up prejudice instead. 

The wider British public now see Johnson failing on one of his key policies: cycling.  This will undoubtedly have very negative implications for his future political career, and prevent voters from trusting him on any other issues he chooses to get behind. 

You can almost hear Londoners saying: 'if he betrayed the cyclists and did nothing to reduce how many of them were killed or maimed each year that he was in office, then he'll probably betray me'.

This blog has been very supportive of Johnson in the past, but his victim-blaming actions over the past few weeks have been despicable, vile, and offensive to the memories of those who have lost their lives while just trying to cycle from A to B. All Londoners are reacting negatively to this appalling hypocrisy by the Mayor, not just those that cycle.

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Also, if you want to make your voice heard in protest about TfL and the Mayor's non-reaction to the recent spate of killings, please try and come to the TfL Die-In, taking place Friday, 29 November 2013 17:00 until 18:30, outside TfL's headquarters on Blackfriars Road.