Boris talks to West Hampstead businesses

Boris Johnson is either an ambitious and gifted politician or an incompetent buffoon. Whichever side of the divide you sit on, he is, indisputably, the Mayor of London and the blondest man you’re likely to see this side of Scandinavia.

This Thursday he made a relatively low-key and very short notice visit to West Hampstead to take part in a roundtable discussion with local business owners, under the banner of the relaunching West Hampstead Business Association (WHBA).

It stands for “White-haired Boris ambushed”

Local Conservative Party candidate Simon Marcus had managed to persuade his BoJo-ness to come along (lets remember this is by far London’s most marginal seat), so The Wet Fish Café was half-full of local businesses and half of local Tory supporters and hangers on. And me.

I was tasked with chairing the debate, which in reality meant trying to keep some control of Boris. To his credit, he did actually try and answer almost all the questions that I and other local business people put to him. And to their credit, the local Conservatives didn’t interrupt or whoop or make a nuisance of themselves. The result was a meeting that although predictably light on meaningful dialogue, was both entertaining and engaging.

We opened by asking the Mayor what City Hall could do to help small businesses. Boris of course takes the extreme laissez-faire approach to economics, putting him to the right of many in his party (by contrast, he’s socially relatively liberal). So the answer to the question – if you read between the lines – was really that local businesses needed to help themselves.

That of course is exactly what forming a business association is all about. He also suggested the WHBA looks at forming a BID (Business Improvement District), although West Hampstead would be quite small for a BID, and the scheme has come under some criticism for ultimately driving rents up. But it’s something no doubt the WHBA will look into.

There were questions of course about the extent of development in the area – and the type of development. With such a heavy focus on small one- and two-bed flats being built, it’s hard to see how the area’s weekday daytime economy will benefit as the occupants of these flats will be off to work. Boris countered that there was a mandatory quotient of three-bed properties in any new development and that Camden must be delivering this. Of course, one only needs to look at West Hampstead Square or the Mill Lane Apartments to see that the 3-bed properties are more “luxury penthouses” than “family homes”.

Boris also returned to a theme he’d addressed in his controversial speech the night before. He suggested that there was too much paranoia about foreign investors buying London property and that the money coming in was helping fund major schemes such as those around the Olympic village, Battersea, and Brent Cross. None of which particularly helps businesses in West Hampstead of course.

It’s not helpful to be over-parochial about such things, but high streets generally need support so they’re well placed to rise as the economy recovers. One of the mayor’s more practical thoughts was that some high streets – and he clarified this didn’t apply to West End Lane – were simply too long. If, he said, councils sought to concentrate long strung-out high streets using planing and zoning laws, then it would be easier to keep them vibrant. This strikes me as generally being a good idea – it might even help make a tiny dent in the housing shortfall if property on the fringes of these high streets could be converted into residential. Kilburn High Road is probably about as long a high street as is viable without splitting into separate sections, but it’s possible to think of others in the wider area that lack any defined central point – Harrow Road, for example.

Lorraine from Mamacita asked Boris what City Hall could do in terms of reducing red tape for smaller businesses. This turned into a bit of a convoluted conversation, but ultimately the mayor said he was in favour of loosening employment restrictions for businesses that had five staff or fewer. He struggled to understand why any business owner would have any problem firing anyone though. “I fire people all the time”, he said with gusto.

And with that, he trotted off with his entourage down West End Lane, first calling into West End Lane Books, where he (reluctantly, apparently) bought a copy of Zadie Smith’s NW. He was heading for St James’ Church where he met with Father Andrew Cain who explained how the post office was going to fit into the buidling. He then detoured to café Wired and Rock Men’s Salon on Broadhurst Gardens, where despite owner John’s best efforts, Boris couldn’t be persuaded into a chair for a trim of his white locks.

Photos by Andre Millodot and David Matthews

Boris in, Brian out

The votes from both Barnet & Camden and Brent & Harrow constituencies were counted at Alexandra Palace on Friday. Sadly it seemed no-one mentioned that to the construction crews working on the historic building. The result was a power cut early in the day, which held up counting. Then, at the end of the day, a couple of ballot boxes from Brent turned up containing damaged papers and these had to be counted by hand. It was already clear by this stage that incumbent mayor Boris Johnson was going to beat Ken Livingstone, but Brent is die-hard Ken country, so there was always that slimmest of slim chances. After all, at the Hampstead & Kilburn vote in 2010, it was boxes arriving from Brent that gave Glenda the late and very very narrow victory.

In the end, although Ken got 6,500 more second preference votes than Boris in Brent & Harrow, BoJo’s overall winning margin across London was fairly comfortable.

We don’t have the ward breakdown yet for Barnet and Camden, so I can’t tell you how West Hampstead’s vote compared to that in 2008, but across the two borough here are the results

A couple of notable stats: Barnet & Camden gave more 2nd preference votes to the Green Party’s Jenny Jones than to any other candidate, and voters here also gave Boris less than 400 more second preferences than independent Siobhan Benita. Nevertheless, Boris was more popular in Barnet & Camden than he was across London as a whole. So, a good night for the Conservatives? Not entirely.

As was widely reported, Barnet & Camden’s London Assembly vote was between Conservative Brian Coleman and Labour’s Andrew Dismore. There was a strong campaign to oust Coleman, and indeed his sizeable majority was completely reversed as Labour saw a 14 percentage point swing in their favour as Coleman’s vote fell away.

The CNJ’s Richard Osley was at Alexandra Palace but neither he nor any other journalist could get an interview with Coleman, who arrived for the count but vanished before giving a speech.

Farewell Brian.

The election stats from 2008

For the final part of my pre-election coverage, here’s a breakdown of how West Hampstead and the wider Barnet & Camden constituency voted last time around for the mayor, our local Assembly Member, and for the London-wide assembly member.

First up – the four Camden wards that make up West Hampstead (sorry Brent folk, but you can access all the data).

What does this show us? Well, a fairly strong Labour showing, even in Swiss Cottage, which came down in favour of Boris overall. Despite the Lib Dems’ popularity here as councillors, Paddick’s performance was pretty poor and roughly in line with the London-wide result.

Across Barnet & Camden, you can see the full breakdown on three separate sheets. The Conservatives took all three ballots fairly comfortably – showing the relative weight Barnet has over Camden in this inner/outer London constituency

Boris Johnson is back

Just three short months after his last visit to West Hampstead, Mayor of London Boris Johnson was back in West Hampstead with a gaggle of local Conservatives around him including of course Chris Philp. Boris wandered up West End Lane, before ducking into The Wet Fish Café much to owner André‘s surprise (although they didn’t buy a coffee).
Boris and Chris then emerged to applause from the Tory supporters

And then made their way over to The Alice House, where various locals, party faithful, journalists and #whampers were waiting. Robert Webb turned up too, but studiously (and sensibly) ignored all the hullabaloo and had a smoothie tucked quietly out of the way.

There followed the obligatory entertaining, rabble-rousing speech from Boris about how we had to choose between Conservatives or a hung parliament; how West Hampstead (as opposed to Hampstead & Kilburn) was a “hinge of fate”. “He who holds West Hampstead holds London,” said Boris, hyperbole flowing as usual. He spoke of the fears of a hung parliament and the potential for Brown and Clegg to be “dickering and bickering”. To emphasise each point, Boris seemed to hit Chris in the chest. Which can’t have been pleasant.

Ashford MP Damian Green was also on hand and gave a slightly less verbally dextrous speech about erosion of civil liberties while Boris and Chris had a coffee.
There was some Q&A, although when the panel are on first name terms with the audience, one wonders quite how impromptu some of the questions were. There were few challenging questions, although Boris did tackle briefly the issue of funding for Crossrail.
Boris then did a few interviews with some weary looking journalists, who seem to know that there’s little chance of getting anything meaningful out of him, while I was introduced (for the second time) to Brian Coleman and asked if I wanted to interview him. I didn’t, which is just as well as he told me that “I don’t do bloggers.”
Tamsin Omond turned up, some blue cupcakes with pictures of David Cameron turned up, and slowly people began to disperse and eventually Boris too was on his way.

Boris comes to West Hampstead

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 and @kerrypolka 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.