Boris Johnson v Bob Crow
- 6 February 2014
- From the section UK Politics
As Londoners battled through a second day of tube strike misery, two men had the power to bring it all to an end - London mayor Boris Johnson and the leader of the RMT union Bob Crow. They might seem chalk and cheese, but how different are they?
What's the beef?
Boris won't talk to Bob because Bob has called a strike to protest at the London Mayor's plan to close ticket offices on the underground. But the RMT leader says he only called the strike because the London mayor wouldn't talk to him. You see their predicament.
Are they secretly good friends?
Not exactly. They haven't met face-to-face in years, apparently. Bob showed up at City Hall on Monday seeking a showdown with Boris. But the mayor gave him the slip. So Bob decided to call in to Boris's weekly LBC radio show as "Bob, from Woodford Green".
It went something like this:
BJ: "You're holding a gun to Londoners' heads!".
BC: "You're putting a gun to our heads!"
BJ: "You're putting a gun to the heads of Londoners!"
What are their backgrounds?
RMT Union leader
Education: Left school at 16
Football: Millwall supporter
Education: Eton, Oxford University
Football: Prefers rugby
A native of the East End of London, Bob Crow, 52, left school at 16 to work for a London Transport tree-felling gang. He "fell in love" with trade union activism soon afterwards. He has described his politics as "communist/socialist," although he is no longer a member of the communist party. He supports Millwall football club (motto: "No one likes us, we don't care").
Boris Johnson, 49, is of Turkish descent and was born in New York - entitling him to run for US president, if the UK political stage starts to feel a bit small-time. He went to school at Eton and then to Oxford University before entering journalism. A former Conservative MP and editor of right wing magazine The Spectator, his best known football moment was rugby tackling an opponent during an England v Germany legends match in 2006.
Do they have anything at all in common?
They both share an uncanny knack for getting themselves out of hot water with a snappy - and occasionally shameless - soundbite. Boris's verbal pearls are too numerous and well-known to list here. But Bob also has a nice line in comebacks.
"What do you want me to do? Sit under a tree and read Karl Marx every day?", said the RMT man when the Daily Mail called him out over his recent holiday in "sun-kissed Brazil", before going on to reveal that he had booked the trip from an ad in that very newspaper.
Boris Johnson had his own holiday hell in 2011, when he came under fire for not initially cutting short a family break in Canada when rioting erupted in London - but the boos of traders turned to cheers on a walkabout in Clapham when he held a broom aloft.
Their take-home pay is virtually identical. Boris Johnson is on a salary of £143,911 as London mayor (but tops that up with about £200,000 a year from his newspaper columns). Bob Crow is on a salary of £145,000 as RMT leader. And they are both Eurosceptics - albeit for very different reasons.
What do their friends say?
Boris Johnson is a political one-off - a Tory politician whose disarming ability to make people laugh and speak his mind has endeared him to London voters.
Bob Crow is a working class hero - a union leader who really stands up for his members and succeeds in getting them better wages and conditions.
What about their critics?
Boris Johnson's carefully cultivated shambolic air masks a ruthlessly ambitious streak - he might deny it, but he really, really wants to be prime minister.
Bob Crow is a throwback to the bad old days of the 1970s, when communist trade union leaders regularly held the country to ransom.
Get the look
Easy, in Boris's case, simply buy a Boris wig from a fancy dress shop. They start at around a fiver. Cardboard Boris face masks are even cheaper. It's slightly trickier in Bob's case, unless you happen to be Bob Hoskins. (Yes, twitter fans, we did mean to publish a picture of the actor).
Where do you start? Boris Johnson was elected mayor in 2008 on a pledge to seek a voluntary no-strike deal with the tube unions. That proved to be a fond hope, as the two sides squared up to each other from the off. In Boris's first term, there were more than 20 walkouts on the network, an average of about seven a year. The RMT and other unions staged many a walkout during the reign of Boris's Labour predecessor Ken Livingstone too.
What the papers say
To The Daily Telegraph, Bob Crow is "the last dinosaur", a "socialist who lives in a council house, yet is paid £145,000 a year". The Times calls the RMT strike an "appalling abuse of power", but says Boris Johnson is "not entirely blameless in this", adding: "Both men appear to be spoiling for a fight. They have got one, at a shameful cost." The Independent dubs Bob Crow the "pantomime villain of modern industrial relations" but says he is the most effective trade union leader in Britain today. The Guardian refrains from commenting on the Bob versus Boris aspect of the story, preferring instead to publish a homily about the joys of walking to work.
What do the travelling public think?
The RMT have released a Survation opinion poll suggesting 65% of tube users feel that "lawful industrial action as a last resort was justified, with only 29% not sharing that view. A similar number (66%) were concerned at the Mayor's closure plans." But the union's critics have cried foul, suggesting the questions were loaded to get the answer they wanted.