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Blues for Boris
Eight weeks into his tenure Boris Johnson has lost a second senior adviser in controversial circumstances. But with four years to go, BBC London's Special Correspondent Kurt Barling argues that Londoners can't afford for him to fail so soon.
In the end it didn't take long for Deputy Mayor, Ray Lewis, to fall victim to his own misused words. In his resignation statement he claimed that he had not been schooled in the high arts of the political class. That much was self-evident.
But to claim you are something you are not, a Magistrate no less, is foolhardy and betrays a significant absence of judgement. One wonders whether there are other claims that could be figments of Mr Lewis' imagination.
It seems naďve for Mr Lewis to claim, as he did during his first press conference, that he did not know about the Church of England barring him from ministering over parishioners. The Church of England may have a habit of being low-key, even on occasions being silent on sensitive issues, but it is certainly not in the habit of brazenly lying on television. Too much contradictory information without explanation was bound to unleash journalistic inquisitiveness.
The latest twist in the saga comes from an acknowledgment from church records that Mr Lewis actually contested his ban back in 2000. The fact that none of this information was discovered by Boris Johnson's team is deeply embarrassing and potentially damaging to the Mayor's credibility with voters. Surely appointed public servants must be subject to the same checks as anyone who has responsibility for public finances or the welfare of young people?
Relying on Mr Lewis
Boris had put a lot of store by Ray Lewis' specialist experience in dealing with those young people most vulnerable to becoming involved in crime. At the first State of London debate a few weeks back the Mayor repeatedly deferred to his former Deputy when asked questions by members of the 2000 strong audience.
Boris Johnson was relying on Mr Lewis' expertise to deliver a radically different approach to dealing with youth crime in general and knife and gun crime in particular.
Within four weeks of being elected the new Mayoral team had begun discussing its strategic programme to prevent gangs and youth violence based on the vision that Ray Lewis had championed at his Eastside Young Leaders Academy.
A 'Bottom Up' appraoch
Lewis had laid out "The Excellence Agenda" focussing on raising expectations within disadvantaged communities of young people and the aspirations of young people themselves. Rather than adopting a government knows best approach he had flagged a "bottom up" approach, putting young people at the heart of creating the solutions to the problems they face on the streets.
The central thrust of what Ray Lewis was proposing planned to draw on the private and voluntary sectors much more than in Ken Livingstone's administration. The Mayor's Fund for London has already been set up as a vehicle for private resources to support projects targeting young people. Of course the success of this will depend initially on the private sector trusting the Mayor's ability to deliver something different from the government.
In addition to that there are plans afoot to give young people a greater voice through an oversight committee into policies and programmes supported by the Mayor. Several conferences drawing together experts in the field have already been planned for the Autumn.
Filling the vacuum
The big question now is how much of this was dependent on Ray Lewis' personal vision and drive? Lewis' demise has created an immediate vacuum. Given it took several attempts to persuade him to throw in his lot in with the Conservative administration; it is unlikely others like him from a practitioners background will want to be put in the hot seat. I've spoken to several potential candidates and all of them are resistant to the idea of taking up a post of Deputy Mayor. That now seems an unsustainable appointment.
Boris Johnson's connection to some of the most disadvantaged communities in London has been seriously undermined. Meetings had already been planned in the so-called Trident boroughs (Hackney, Haringey, Brent, Lambeth and Southwark) to listen to those communities most affected by the immediate problem of the 18 murders of teenagers so far this year. The new Mayor can hardly let them down now without suffering further loss of credibility.
Ray Lewis had also made a number of promises to draw the voluntary sector more actively into the decision-making process at City Hall.
For example at the State of London debate he made it clear that the GLA's Practitioners Forum on Gun and Knife crime was going to be critical to finding out what interventions work with those most vulnerable to getting involved with gangs and street crime. Evidence of best practice is the only cure for lazy thinking and avoiding simplistic answers to a deep seated problem.
The need for leadership
Now there are concerns that in the political vacuum created by his forced departure, the Mayor will be forced back into using the infrastructure of enforcement which is already in place. But even senior police officers freely admit the Metropolitan Police don't have all the answers.
All this has come at a time when government money that had been available through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund has stopped. Community Safety teams in several boroughs have complained that they could lose momentum and contact with vulnerable young people while local authorities are looking hard at their budgets. It hardly needs reiterating that this is all happening precisely at a time when the problem of murderous violence appears to be escalating.
The capital is in desperate need of clear leadership. The harsh reality is that in the current climate, if Boris Johnson is stymied by party political battles intent on point scoring, it is Londoners who will suffer, particularly young Londoners.
last updated: 08/07/2008 at 13:02
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