The RSA House is hosting London Mayor Boris Johnson today. So it would be impolite and bad business for me to criticise him in my blog.
But I can’t resist raising a couple of questions about the leadership of this great city.
The first goes back to a theme I wrote about last winter: sporting participation and the Olympics. I won’t go back to the whole affair. Suffice to say an initiative at the RSA had lined up a very impressive group of sponsors and supporters for the idea of an independent campaign to deliver on London’s pledge to make these Olympics a catalyst for mass participation in sport. Our idea was rejected on the grounds – surprising given Conservative national policy – that the Mayor didn’t need an independent campaign; it could all be done by local government. Instead Labour MP Kate Hoey (Boris’ sporting advisor) announced the establishment of a new committee, the London Community Sports Board.
That was April and as far as I can see it hasn’t thus far met. Assuming it won’t meet in August, this looks like a lead-in time for a committee meeting of a minimum six months or, to put it another way, a fifth of the time left between now and the Olympics. But have I got this wrong? Is the strategy out there and already making a difference to sporting participation in the poorer areas of London (which, last I heard, was stuck at a level way below most other parts of the UK)? If not, it is not clear how London will live up to the pledge of social inclusion and mass participation that it made when the bid was won.
The second issue is broader. What is the big plan for London? Maybe I’ve missed something but I don’t sense what the capital’s story is, aside from delivering the actual Olympic events. Whether it’s the economy, the environment, community relations, young people or old people, there are big changes and challenges ahead. But I would be hard-pressed to articulate the London vision. Some people say this is Boris’ strength; that he pragmatically goes about things like the abolition of bendy buses or the building of Crossrail without resorting to overblown visionary language. There is something to this but isn’t it also important for places to have an account of where they are going to which residents can relate at some level or another?
Boris can be a brilliant communicator and he has real star appeal as he goes around meeting the people of London. But maybe it will take a little longer to show he can be the leader London needs.
A return to the past seems implausible. Exhausted as we are, a dash to the future seems unlikely. Nonetheless, however weary, we cannot stay rooted to this moment.