Amid all the talk of ungritted roads, broken bones, and minor car accidents, a blond whirlwind struck West Hampstead on Friday morning.
Tory PPC Chris Philp
had invited Mayor of London
Boris Johnson to come and visit the neighbourhood ostensibly to have a “coffee and a chat” with locals about some of the issues that vex them. In reality, the Mayor artfully dodged most of the important questions with the wit and bluster that has carried him so far. He did manage, however, to give fellow Conservative Philp a ringing endorsement in far more direct terms.
Announcing the Mayor’s itinerary in advance is slightly unusual, but had the desired effect of generating buzz among residents – both positive and negative. Cynics mused that the sudden appearance of grit on the pavements on West End Lane was linked to Boris’s planned walkabout. Even the choice of Moment as the café was controversial, with many long-term residents still boycotting it due to its lack of planning permission when it first opened.
Digest sadly didn’t receive a personal invitation to sit at the feet of BoJo, so rocked up to Moment at the appointed time to find a gaggle of local Conservatives outside, including deputy leader of the council Andrew Marshall
, and an astonishing number of people inside. As I couldn’t get in, I briefly pressed my nose against the glass and saw a shock of hair at the back of the room holding forth.
Unable to get up close and personal with the Big B, I retreated to The Wet Fish Café and followed the various tweets from those inside. Both @bubela
were present and their accounts of the excitement follow.
@bubela “Boris and his entourage breezed into Moment on West End Lane, shaking hands all the way to his table at the back. With his self-deprecating manner and colourful (inventive, even) language,he kept the laughs going and it was all very good humoured. He started by congratulating Chris Philp on his work keeping the police station open, and said he looked forward to working with him when he’s on the “green benches”.He asked what locals felt about the bike hire scheme and was met with general murmurs of approval. “Some people aren’t keen, but I have serene confidence: it’s clean, green and…what else is it? Oh yes, healthy!”
Questions also covered a wide range of local issues, starting of course with the Jubilee Line problems. “The delay is intellectual”, said Boris confusingly, before going on to blame Brown for the “crackpot” PPP initiative that was “a licence to steal for the contractors”, and means “Tubelines can effectively funnel huge sums of taxpayers’ money down the gullets of its own shareholders”.
He had received a residents’ petition at the station concering the Jubilee Line closures, but was “sorry to say the stoppages won’t end until Autumn 2010”.At that moment a waiter started the noisy fresh juicer. “Even the orange machine objects!” interjected Boris. Given the icy streets outside, he said that he had spoken to Lord Adonis (Secretary of State for Transport) about the lack of grit in London and that “Brown should personally be sent to the salt mines to bring some back”.
Someone asked whether a pedestrian crossing could be put at the top of West End Lane? “I’ll look into it,” said Boris, “but every successful local campaign to hold up traffic for pedestrians has an equal adverse effect on drivers”. After a couple of other questions, someone congratulating him for protecting Hampstead views (“Now that’s the kind of question I like!”) and some photos outside with Chris Philp, it was on with the bike helmet and off on the bike, followed by the entourage in a car.”
@kerrypolka “When Boris Johnson addressed West Hampstead on Friday morning – or at least, a coffeehouse packed with those in West Hampstead who were free on a weekday 10:45 am, namely, Concerned Citizens, the retired, the freelancing and the unemployed – he was clear on three things:
1. He was earnest.
2. He was sincere.
3. Whatever it was, it wasn’t his fault.
He pinched the air in front of his navel between thumb and first knuckle with the gravitas of a public-school lecturer. A petition was passed to him before the talk began concerning the seemingly endless Jubilee line upgrades. “I understand your pain,” he informed the throng sincerely. However, he added earnestly, the problems were really all down to a contract Gordon Brown had arranged, as well as some “communist freesheets.” Glad to have cleared that up.
The Mayor also highlighted the importance of environmentalism, by saying the word “green” a dozen times regardless of context, and played up his office’s initiative in doubling the number of police patrol beats by reducing patrols from two officers to one. Could Livingstone have pulled off that kind of arithmetical coup? Doubtful. Nicknamed “The Bicycling Avenger”, Johnson of course showed off his own green crime-fighting skills in November, when he saved environmental activist Franny Armstrong from pipe-wielding thugs.
He answered the brief Q&A session that followed his talk with a potpourri of couldn’t-possibly-comments and I’ll-do-the-best-I-cans, all delivered with an unshakable air of earnest sincerity. We would expect nothing less.”
* * *
So, that was the view from two whampers inside. Here’s the text
of the speech from the Camden New Journal; the bells and whistles Web 2.0 “Vote Chris Philp” version
; the Boris-can-do-no-wrong version
; and a piece from Richard Osley’s blog
Sadly, there was no mature, considered response to the Jubilee Line fiasco; nothing to suggest he was helping broker some sort of agreement between the various parties to give passengers clarity on the closure programme for 2010. Finger-pointing politics once again ruled the day, whether the target was Gordon Brown, Ken Livingstone or TubeLines.