Boris Johnson: a list of gaffes and controversies

8:37 am - July 4th 2008

by Boris Watch    

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Boris Johnson[Editor’s note: It has barely been two full months and Boris Johnson has already been involved in a long list of gaffes and controversies. Below, we want to keep an updated list of of mis-steps so far and record his flip-flops because we can guarantee you certain newspapers won’t.]

This list will be updated regularly. (Last updated 19/8/08, 22.30.)

Help us build it up into a comprehensive Gaffopædia by submitting suggestions for additions and improvements in the comments below (or by e-mail).

Cronyism and other problems with his appointments

  • Deputy Mayor Ray Lewis forced to resign

    After a range of allegations of financial and sexual misconduct were raised, the Deputy Mayor for Young People, Ray Lewis first came out fighting. When the story started falling apart he was forced to resign. The inquiry into the allegations has now been cancelled.

  • First Deputy Mayor, Chair of Transport for London and Chief Executive of the GLA Tim Parker resigns

    Despite it being obvious all along that transport was one of only a few areas in which the Mayor can make the most difference and must therefore take lots of key decisions, Boris decided to delegate his responsibilities in this area to bob*-a-job [* well, pound] asset-stripper Tim Parker. Just five days after his appointment to the chair of TfL was confirmed in a news release, Parker unexpectedly resigned. The official reason given was that Boris had suddenly realised that the chair of TfL needed to take too many political decisions for him to delegate the role, although that doesn’t explain why Parker had to quit the Chief Executive job too.

    Rumours of power struggles and personality clashes, particularly with Sir Simon Milton, abound. He was also extremely reluctant to release his register of interests, so another line of speculation is whether something was omitted when this was finally published, leading to conflict within the administration if this had been discovered. All speculation, of course – but what else are we to do when the official explanation is so incomplete and illogical?

  • ‘Independent’ Forensic Audit Panel

    The IFAP was to investigate how much money Ken Livingstone had wasted during his tenure. This panel of Tory axemen was headed by the ex-editor of the Sunday Telegraph, a woman most well known for censoring criticism of David Cameron in her paper.

    Why didn’t they choose anyone with ‘forensic audit’ experience to be a part of that team? It produced an interim report only three pages long that found little wrong-doing, but the press statements spoke very differently. It wasn’t supposed to cost any money but has now been allocated £50,000.

    Update: The final report was a damp squip too. The Tory Troll gave it the coverage it deserved.

  • Policy Exchange

    Policy Exchange has not only played a huge part in pushing Boris, but also supplied him with staff once in power. Nick Boles and Munira Mirza, two of the most visible people in his team, are both strongly connected. Policy Exchange has not only been shown to produce research later exposed as dubious, but is led by the highly controversial Dean Godson.

    Update: Boris’s new Director of Policy is also from Policy Exchange. Anthony Browne‘s writings are of the Melanie Philips School of Ill-Informed Ranting and it’s no surprise that the BNP recommend his book in their bookshop.

  • Transport for London board

    As with so many of Boris’s appointments, the TfL board is full of Conservatives and Conservative-sympathetic businessmen. Controversially, there’s no political opposition representation on the board, unlike under Boris’s supposedly less inclusive predecessor.

  • Ian Clement

    Clement was a key cheerleader of Boris during the election campaign in Boris’s Bexley heartland, as the then leader of the council. He’s been appointed Deputy Mayor of Government Relations, responsible for liaising with the boroughs. We can only speculate as to which boroughs he might show bias towards, given his previous job.

    Clement himself has recently come under scrutiny for his own brand of ‘value for money’ when leader of Bexley council, allegedly wasting over £10,000 on travel and office refurbishment for himself, while axing meals on wheels for vulnerable elderly borough residents.

  • Simon Milton

    Milton, of Dame Shirley Porter fame, was given the role of Director of Planning, a title and salary that he was soon to lose after it was pointed out that his continuing roles as head of Westminster Council and Chairman of the Local Government Association precluded him from the job. This law of politically restricted posts, established by Margaret Thatcher as an attempt to prevent conflicts of interest and corruption was dismissed as a minor edict by our new broom Boris Johnson under questioning from the assembly (see also Lack of respect for rules and procedures).

    However, despite losing his salary and title, Simon Milton still retains his same position in City Hall. A position which remains in conflict with his continuing chairmanship of the local authorities’ chief lobbying group and his ongoing ‘pillow talk’ with the planning supremo at Westminster Council.

    Update: Milton has now resigned his Council responsibilities in order to take the role under Boris properly. This certainly puts to bed any legal doubts (and suggests our concerns were very well founded) but doesn’t deal with the pillow talk issue, nor the fact that many of the planning decisions he’ll deal with will be Westminster-related.

  • James McGrath

    Was sacked after racially insensitive comments made to an online journalist. Much debate ensued in mainstream and online media about this decision. Our Sunny thinks it was the right thing to do.

  • Transition team

    There was a complete lack of the transparency we were promised during the election campaign over Boris’s so-called ‘transition team’.

    For a start, there is to this day no clarity at all about what any of the 14 employees (some now no longer there) have been doing, leading some of us to question whether the ‘team’ really amounts to a way to provide a publicly funded cash bonus to those who helped Boris get elected (pretty much everyone in the ‘team’ was also in his campaign team). No job descriptions were ever published or advertised.

    It also took repeated media enquiries before the amount being paid to these people was finally disclosed on the Mayor’s web site, despite his oft-repeated pledge in the campaign to publish details of every pound spent by the GLA “from day one” of Boris’s Mayoralty. (See also Wasting money.)

  • Bob Diamond

    The Barclays investment banker was the only member of Boris’s Mayoral team (apart from Kate Hoey) unveiled before the election. He was trumpeted as proof that Boris would have big names queuing up to join his administration. But a month after Boris became Mayor, Diamond left the country (let alone London) and it sounds like something of a generous exaggeration to suggest he’ll still play a part in the Mayor’s Fund he was supposed to be leading.

  • Sidelining of women

    Boris’s tenure at City Hall has seen the axing of countless jobs and funding related to and held by women. There are now no women at the top level of his administration, he has no adviser on women’s issues, and the future of the Capital Woman event is in serious doubt. Ken Livingstone has written for MayorWatch® on this subject.

Bad decisions

  • Doubling bus fares for the poor

    Because of Boris’s scrapping of the discounted Oyster scheme for Londoners on Income Support from August, anyone whose half-price card expires between August and January (which the card’s six-month duration and the law of averages suggest will be the vast majority of users) will definitely experience a doubling of bus fares at that point.

    He has repeatedly tried to avoid confirming the doubling will be permanent by adding ever-expanding non-commitments to “look into” alternatives. This process has now been pushed back to the next fares settlement in January.

  • Rise Festival rebranding

    Dave Hill first noticed that the explicit anti-racist branding for London’s long-running Rise Festival was dropped. This led to a hurried response from Boris Johnson’s team, including an article on CiF by cultural advisor Munira Mirza (debunked here).

  • Drinking on the tube

    Banning drinking on the Tube: this was controversial but obviously not a u-turn or unexpected. It does however contradict Boris’s repeated claims to be a libertarian.

  • Press conferences

    Ken took questions every week until the journalists had run out of questions to ask. Boris avoids as much questioning as possible and takes only one question per journalist with a strict half-hour cut-off time at his press conference, once a month. Likewise, he cut the State of London Debate from a day at a weekend to two hours on a weekday an evening.

  • Water for London

    Giving the go-ahead for an energy-hungry desalination plant while allowing Thames Water to slow down their leak repair programme to appease motorists.

  • Cancelling the CO2 charge – but continuing with the cycling scheme it was to fund

    As promised in his manifesto, Boris cancelled the planned £25 CO2 charge for cars with high emissions, thereby losing TfL a projected revenue stream of £30-60 million per year. Yet he claims he’ll still press ahead with the planned £500m, ten-year cycling programme that was to be funded from the CO2 charge revenue – how will this now be funded?

Wasting money

  • Transition team

    It eventually emerged that over half a million pounds had been set aside to pay this so-called team (see Cronyism and other problems with his appointments) for work already done by City Hall staff.

  • Abandonment of Venezuelan oil deal

    As the world faces an oil price crisis, Boris cancelled a deal ensuring a large guaranteed discount on oil for TfL’s buses. He now needs either to throw more public money at oil, or to take the money from the poorest bus passengers by doubling their fares (see also Bad decisions). Tom at Boris Watch has been keeping a Venezuela cash watch to see how much money Boris has thrown away here: £17.2m at time of writing.

  • Rise Festival

    Following the dogmatic, counterproductive decision to drop the anti-racist message (see Bad decisions), various Trade Unions withdrew their funding for the event, meaning more money will need to be found from elsewhere, most likely the GLA’s own publicly funded budget.

  • Porsche pay-off

    Boris dropped Ken Livingstone’s planned £25 CO2 charge (see Bad decisions). Porsche were intending to challenge this in the courts if it had gone ahead, so you might think they’d’ve been delighted by this news and walked away delighted that their huge profits were safe. No, instead they insisted the GLA funded their legal costs of around £400,000 from public funds. Boris agreed to their request.

  • Bluewash

    Having mocked the ‘Mayor of Lond-ON’ logo a ridiculous number of times during the election campaign, one of the first decrees from Team Boris upon gaining power was that said logo should be turned 100% blue on everything from now on. No figure was released to indicate how much this change will ultimately cost.

Policy U-turns

  • Fourth Plinth on Trafalgar Square

    Earlier this year Boris Johnson signed an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling for a permanent statue of Sir Keith Park on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Once elected, he reneged on his promise.

  • Thames Estuary

    Claiming a Thames Estuary airport was his big idea with one breath and assuring the Dartford Council leader of quite the opposite with another.

  • Air conditioned tube

    Wriggling out of his ‘air-conditioned tube’ pledge, suddenly noticing once elected what we’d all been saying all along about this being impossible on deep lines.

  • Levelling the playing fields

    The Burbler points out in the comments:

    Private Eye reports 8-21 August 2008 that Boris vehemently opposed the sale of state school playing fields in 2004 but has now approved the sale of the Holland Park Community school’s playing fields to build 72 residential units with parking.

    What he actually said in 2004 in the Telegraph was: “The trouble we have – and it is one of the few things in politics which makes me almost wild with anger – is the sale of the playing fields, above all the sale of the playing fields in state schools”

Who really runs London?

  • Unaware of Olympic cost memorandum

    In an interview on Radio 4, Boris said he did not know about a key document relating to the funding of the Olympics. He said he doubted it even existed. The document not only existed, but had been published online a year previously amid publicity, and added to the House of Commons library while Boris was an MP.

  • Unaware of important delegation

    Boris delegated responsibility for planning matters to Ian Clement without knowing he’d done so, and despite the fact that this is one of the Mayor’s key personal strategic responsibilities. Planning was not even in Ian Clement’s job description: he is Deputy Mayor for Government Relations.

  • Unaware of Rise Festival rebranding decision

    Despite the controversy (see Bad decisions) having already reached the national press, after two days’ press releases and online coverage, when Boris was approached by BBC London and asked about it, his reaction made it clear he had had nothing to do with taking the decision. He even explicitly said he couldn’t see a problem with continuing with the anti-racism message.

  • Transition team

    When questioned by Andrew Marr about the large amount of money being paid to his ‘transition team’ (see above), Boris wasn’t aware of the figure or any other information about their pay, despite this having been one of the media stories of the week about his Mayoralty, again suggesting he simply isn’t being briefed about what’s going on.

  • Sacking decisions

    Rumour has it that Boris did not want to sack James McGrath (see above), but after a day or two’s hesitation Conservative Central Office overruled their ‘independent’ Mayor, who ‘is his own man’. Media coverage also suggests that it was central types who played a big role in both appointing and sacking Ray Lewis.

Lack of respect for rules, laws and procedures

  • Flouting the law on political appointments to local government

    As mentioned above, Sir Simon Milton’s appointment as a planning advisor is highly controversial, because the law does not permit local politicians to serve in senior paid executive roles in local government. Rather than obeying the clear intention and spirit of this law, Boris is seeking to evade the legislation by employing Milton on an unpaid basis. He has also not asked Milton to sign up to the GLA’s code of ethics, or indeed to sign anything much (beyond some sort of basic confidentiality agreement), meaning there is very little legal accountability attached to Milton’s casual (non-)employment.

  • Lack of proper background checks against those being employed

    Had the normal types of checks (e.g. Enhanced Criminal Records Bureau) been done when employing Ray Lewis in such a senior post (and one which was focused on young people), many of the allegations against him would have come to light at that point and his appointment and resignation need not ever have happened.

  • Breaking bike law

    Being filmed breaking the law numerous times on his bike, then denying he ever does so under questioning from the London Assembly.


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Reader comments

I don’t feel that banning alcohol should be on this list as it is. Sure, it’s controversial, but the mere fact of the implementation of the policy isn’t a gaffe.

Perhaps rewording that bit to point out how it was implemented without any consideration of how workers are going to enforce it?

Simply as it is, that one looks out of place and could be seen as us Boris watchers being simply bitter.

The Rise Festival farrago, of course, grew out of the Olympic memorandum boo-boo.

There’s his inability to count wine bottles.

And the moving target that is the bill for the Forensic Audit Panel.

His PR minders seem to employing the news cycle management technique of edging out a negative story with an even more embarrassing one.

“I don’t feel that banning alcohol should be on this list as it is. Sure, it’s controversial, but the mere fact of the implementation of the policy isn’t a gaffe.”

I agree – it was doing it on a Saturday night after a Twickenham rugby match without adequate consultation with staff that makes it a gaffe.

With Tom and Jack—implementing a manifesto commitment can’t be a gaffe. Implementing it badly, with no real implementation plan, and with poor timing, can be.

Any list of ‘failures’ that includes ‘fulfilling a promise to voters’ without any caveats is going to be dismissed both by supporters and the more important undecideds.

Do think I’m rather glad to not be in London though.

Some of these aren’t gaffes at all, they’re just things you don’t agree with him doing. How is ‘withdrawing from Mayors For Peace’ a gaffe?

On the other hand, you missed “backtracking on his pledge to bring back the Routemaster”.

“Some of these aren’t gaffes at all, they’re just things you don’t agree with him doing. How is ‘withdrawing from Mayors For Peace’ a gaffe?”

I think that it comes under controversies.

But yes, the Memorandum has been missed.

A Conservative mayor stopped receiving cheap oil from a far-left dictator. I don’t see how that’s controversial or a gaffe. Other points, like ‘Mayors for Peace’ seem like a policy you might disagree with, but not particularly controversial. And his press conference time? Scraping the barrel, non?

I don’t feel that banning alcohol should be on this list as it is. Sure, it’s controversial, but the mere fact of the implementation of the policy isn’t a gaffe.

In this case I’m not so sure…

It might be a policy cooked up as a populist measure for the Boris campaign manifesto but it’s still very much at odds with his usual laissez-faire brand of classical liberalism.

It’s a Tory policy, not a Boris policy and, arguably, that makes it a gaffe as it adds the general impression that he’s not actually running the show so much as much being run as a bit of glove puppet.

Update on the Ray Lewis investigation and this morning’s press conference now on my blog.

Hi everyone,

As has been mentioned above, the brief for this list was both gaffes and controversies, which is perhaps a little confusing when they’re all lumped together. Perhaps Gaffopaedia v1.1 should have them separated into two lists (although then you might find overlaps I suppose and end up wishing they were all in one list after all).

As for the rather obvious omission of the Memorandum of Understanding, in my defence, I did write this list, half off the top of my head, in about 20 minutes last night when Sunny e-mailed a few of us 😉

Synergy6: while one or two of these may be scraping the barrel a tad (I could be persuaded that label applied to Mayors for Peace, for instance), I certainly don’t think that it can be applied to criticising someone who ran on a ticket of supreme openness, accountability and so forth, for cutting the time spent answering questions from the press to a tiny, tiny fraction of what it was under his supposedly opaque predecessor.

Ken took questions every week until the journalists had run out of questions to ask. Boris avoids as much questioning as possible and takes only one question per journalist with a strict half-hour cut-off time at his press conference, once a month. If that’s new improved accountability, my name is actually Mr. Stop Boris.

I just remembered a few more. Reversal over the fourth plinth… and then the 50k that was allocated towards the “forensic” audit team that was meant to be free

I’m not getting into a tedious back and forth argument here, but can I just briefly state that describing someone (Chavez) who has received more democratic mandates than anyone else in the electoral world, (in a context of continual, unrestrained and vociferous press hostility) as a “dictator” is pathetic. Carry on.

I’ve re-organised the post under different headings. I think that makes it clearer…

14. Synergy6

I’m not getting into a tedious back and forth argument here, but can I just briefly state that:

1992 – Failed coup d’etat.
1998 – Elected President.
1999 – National Assembly barred from sitting, to allow a seven-man “Emergency Committee” to draft a ‘constitution’, starting the expansion of presidential powers.
2000 – Banned unions from holding votes not ‘monitored’ by the state; condemned by ILO.
2000 – Enabling Act, allowing Presidential ‘rule by decree’ for one year.
2003 – Charges Sumate, an organization which organized a petition against his 1999 constitution, with treason and conspiracy.
2005 – ‘Libel or slander’ against public officials criminalized, with up to 40 month prison sentences.
2007 – Second ‘Enabling Act’, giving Presidential rule by degree to a number of areas.
2007 – Proposed another Constitutional Amendment, which would remove term limits and increase the power of the President. Luckily, defeated.

Wikipedia – “In modern usage, the term “dictator” is generally used to describe a leader who holds and/or abuses an extraordinary amount of personal power, especially the power to make laws without effective restraint by a legislative assembly. Dictatorships are often characterized by some of the following traits: suspension of elections and of civil liberties; proclamation of a state of emergency; rule by decree; repression of political opponents without abiding by rule of law procedures; single-party state, cult of personality, etc.” I can’t see any parts of that he doesn’t fit.

But, Mr. Livingstone liked him, so he must be a decent chap deep down. Carry on.

Gaffopaedia v1.1

Um shouldn’t that be Gaffopedia v1.1?

I like how you didn’t find room in that list to mention the coup against Chavez Synergy6, but carry on.

“A Conservative mayor stopped receiving cheap oil from a far-left dictator. I don’t see how that’s controversial or a gaffe”

Because the justification for it, taken to its logical conclusion, proved to be ‘I care more about the poor of Venezuela than I do about the poor of London’. If that’s not a gaffe (or a flip-flop, given his prior pledge to run London for Londoners) I don’t know what is.

“On the other hand, you missed “backtracking on his pledge to bring back the Routemaster”.”

To be fair, he backtracked on that one before the election, the ‘hold a competition’ message was well established (but not well reported) before the election in his transport policy. However, I calculate that today’s announcement that bendy buses will get phased out at contract re-award time means he won’t phase any of them out for about a year and won’t phase them all out before the next Mayoral election. In fact, he will go into that election with nearly fifty of the things on the streets every weekday. Should go under flip-flop, I think, along with ‘changing mind on putting Sir Keith Park on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, which is also missed off.

Has “Mr Stop Boris” considered changing his name given the election result?

Though (alas) Boris may be quite capable of stopping himsrlf!

A very confused list as others have suggested.

Rise and Mayors for Peace are only “controversies” amongst a tiny group of left wing bloggers as far as I can see.

Firing McGrath is listed under “bad decisions” supported by a link entitled, erm, “two reasons to fire (him)”.

I still think the “secret stash of over a hundred bottles” of “glittering” wine that turned out to be fewer than 40 bottles of variable quality plonk in a cupboard belongs in there.

Thanks to Sunny for tidying the list up (and indeed for fleshing it out and posting it in the first place!).

I’ll be getting a login to the site myself shortly so at some point this weekend I’ll give the list a bit of an overhaul in the light of some comments here – additional things people have pointed out etc.

On a couple of specific points:

leon: You say gaffopedia, I say gaffopaedia, let’s not call the whole thing off. Chambers has “encyclopedia or encyclopaedia“; strictly speaking, as readers of some of this week’s Guardian letters page may be aware, I think it should be “encyclopædia”. I do like a good diphthong.

cjcjc: any suggestions for a new name for me? The trouble with a name is that once you become known by it, it’s quite hard to change it without people not realising you’re the same person. I think it’s important that I remain accountable for what I’ve said online, as far as possible given my anonymity, so I don’t really want to change it if I can avoid doing so. I do have a new blog called “Pushing the boundary” which I intended to name myself after but in Boris-related contexts it’s quite hard to make that leap and abandon my Boris-stopping (or failure thereof) past. I’m sure this lengthy consideration of my own identity is just the sort of topical, political comment Sunny hoped Liberal Conspiracy would feature when he started it. I’ll shut up now.

Bloody hell, this looks quite long and impressive already.

At this rate, Sunny, you’ll be needing to buy a second server for LC to host the full list by the end of his term.

In his Telegraph column on Tuesday 1st July he moaned about all the paperwork that has to be filled out before hiring some public servants. Then on the Thursday its emerges that he didn’t do enough checks on Ray Lewis.

“..anyone who wants to help with grassroots sports coaching must go through an enormous Criminal Records Bureau procedure, and submit to 6in-thick files dictating exactly how the children can be exhorted to do better without hurting their feelings.”

It might be worth also recording that despite having the opportunity to explain the Lewis affair in his Telegraph column on 8th July, he chose instead to write in praise of the Wimbledon men’s final for which he was given a free seat in the Royal Box and brag about how he attended whilst Ken never did as Mayor.

I think you’re missing the Blue Wash, spending god knows how much rebranding everything in Tory Blue.

Private Eye reports 8-21 August 2008 that Boris vehemently opposed the sale of state school playing fields in 2004 but has now approved the sale of the Holland Park Community school’s playing fields to build 72 residential units with parking.

What he actually said in 2004 in the Telegraph was:

“The trouble we have – and it is one of the few things in politics which makes me almost wild with anger – is the sale of the playing fields, above all the sale of the playing fields in state schools”

26. Jeremy smyles

Boris Johnson should have spent more time at the olympics, and it seems that is not just my opinion.
But what if he had spent more time with the British teams, and got much more involve with the events, how would he have performed? See ;

Thanks for the link, Jeremy – there’re some great cartoons there. I’ve linked to you from Boris Watch.

This site is really thriving, isn’t it? Have you all given up and gone home?

“All”? There’s only one of me and I happen to be horribly busy at the moment. I update this periodically when I’ve time. Hopefully I’ll sort it out in about a week from now. It’s not like there hasn’t been a steady flow of material.

Mr. Stop Boris – I’m jolly glad there is only one of you, but you are not the only person to have posted here – indeed out of 38 posts you only wrote 5.

What have you been horribly busy doing? Watching the Labour party implode?

I really don’t know how you think you are going to stop Boris since he has been duly elected mayor by the people of London, and if there has been such a steady flow of material, let’s see it and judge for ourselves. Come on, let’s see these hilarious gaffes, shall we? Ha ha.

31. DePiffletracker

Great website!

I’m interested in why on all the local news, London Tonight and BBC London, there is an almost complete blackout of our Boris speaking/talking/commenting or simply being challenged about anything.

I feel very strongly that a co-ordinated campaign to encourage the local media to challenge this man needs to be an absolute priority.

Perhaps this needs updating?

The Boris, he don’t gaffe.

I envy that Boris, takes me weeks to get hair like that. Chaps that speak ancient languages that no one else uses understands, shares fashion tips with Jesse (Fast Show) can’t be all bad. Oh yes, before I forget ‘Get of my land!’

(tumbleweed blows across blog)

I’d never vote Conservative and i don’t live in London but Boris hasn’t been a bad mayor so far as far as i can see.

He’s condemned the Met for their incompetence and negligence in killing Jean Charles De Menezes – something that Ken Livingstone refused to do.

He’s also kept some of Ken’s better ideas – like the congestion charge.

Did a double-take there till I realised Synergy6 (15) was talking about Chavez: thought I’d missed Boris getting interesting.

I want to see him quit as Mayor and get back on Have I Got News For You? where he belongs. Ken was on it a few weeks back and he was boring as fuck.

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