Why Boris is remembered for introducing congestion charges and Boris bikes

August 22, 2014

Charismatic leaders attract myths which help constitute their public persona. A case in point is that of Boris Johnsonboris bikes

I was reminded of the myth-making process phenomenon after a meeting yesterday [August 22nd] with two LWD contributors. We were discussing the final draft for a post about Boris Johnson being planned for the near future.

They seek him here, they seek him there

But how to pin down the Boris effect? One instructive episode at the meeting was when we began listing what Boris was known for. Bendy busses. Public gaffs. Teflon-like survival of public gaffs. Boris Bikes. London’s congestion change.

London’s congestion charge?

Well, no not really, but they were added to the list of Boris’s political achievements. Only later did a little research reveal the historical fact that they were introduced by Ken Livingstone, Boris’s predecessor as Mayor of London.

An explanation?

Charisma operates by inducing a state of suspended disbelief. Boris is believed to do big bold controversial things. The congestion change is a big bold controversial thing. I don’t think Boris has tried to abolish it. We assumed he had invented it.

The Guinness effect

A possibly unrelated effect? Some years ago I attended a meeting at which new ideas were being discussed for the drinks company then known as Guinness. A rather nice idea was suggested by a colleague, someone we will call Susan. The idea was hardly greeted with enthusiasm, but at the end of the meeting two unexpected things happened. The idea was accepted as worth further testing.

“That’s a nice idea you had” one of the Guinness executives told me, to general agreement.

Did I insist Susan got credit for the idea? Not loud enough to make a difference to the myth being built. I could argue that the ‘creative ideas’ meeting was structured so that ideas were deliberately left unclaimed and not associated with any one team member. That is hardly the point. I had accrued the social credit for something I hadn’t done. It happened to fit my (then) social identity as the outsider brought in because of his creative skills.

Susan became known in her own right as a successful creative leader. The idea (which involved a re-branding of a well-known product) was followed through. The incident has remained with us as a reminder of what we think of as The Guinness Effect.

Postscript

Even the Boris Bikes are technically branded as Barclays cycle hire scheme for the moment (but a new sponsor is likely) . And even the Barclays/Boris bikes were proposed by Ken Livingstone and implemented during the reign of king Boris …


Who spoke out this week against heartlessness and why was the speech reviled?

December 2, 2013

Answer: It was Boris Johnson, the charismatic mayor of London, whose other remarks in the same speech were the focus of its negative reporting

I could have begun this post by stating: “Boris Johnson spoke out about social injustice and heartlessness this week [Nov 2013]. His words in this vein were reported as follows:”

“I also hope that there is no return to that spirit of Loadsamoney heartlessness – figuratively riffling bank notes under the noses of the homeless,” he said.

”And I hope that this time the Gordon Gekkos of London are conspicuous not just for their greed – valid motivator though greed may be for economic progress – as for what they give and do for the rest of the population, many of whom have experienced real falls in their incomes over the last five years.”

The outcry

The speech was mainly however an attempt to re-invent competitive capitalism. The article offered another perspective on Boris’s political philosophy, captured in the speech, and which led to a flurry of critical comments:

Boris Johnson, the flamboyant, self-mocking and ambitious mayor of London, has put his gilded foot in his mouth once again, suggesting that the poor of Britain are victims of low IQ and that greed is good.

Mr Johnson, who many believe wants to succeed David Cameron as prime minister and Conservative Party leader, has created an image that is both bumbling and endearing, based on bluster, wit and fundamental competence.

He has survived missteps, including various affairs and a love child, that would have sunk ordinary politicians, but he is a fiercely intelligent debater and funnier than most comedians.

But his comments on Wednesday night in the Thatcher Lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies have created an uglier fuss, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accusing Johnson of discussing humankind “as if we are a sort of breed of dogs”.

Boris and a clue to charismatic leadership

Boris Johnson is regularly described as charismatic. He illustrates the survival of a leadership style that refuses to die away to confirm the arrival of a post-charismatic era. He conveys, as the article suggests a bumbling style, but he conveys also intelligence and charm. Brand Boris is consistently inconsistent.

He defies the assumption held knowingly or not by almost every other politician, that to look foolish is career damaging. This is an almost impossible act to sustain (not looking foolish). The majority of mainstream politicians struggle with the dilemma of appearing authentic, as their mask of omniscience slips.

Will Boris achieve his political ambitions?

Not if the fate of his beloved classical tragic heroes is pertinent. Boris’s destiny is to replay the fate of those who would defy the gods.

In the meanwhile he appears to demonstrate the possibility that ‘we the people’ deserve the leaders to whom we give our unconditional admiration and good will. The leaders we deserve.

Later:

The Chancellor, George Osborne ‘distances himself’ from Boris’s remarks, [Andrew Marr show, Dec 1st 2013]


Boris Johnson, Feel-Good politician

November 10, 2013

TV Review

Unedited Notes on watching a repeat [Nov 9, 2013] of the BBC documentary of Boris Johnson

He tends to ignore ‘Network of social obligations’. Quote from His House master at Eton

The Darius Guppy affair. Friend who called to ask Boris for an address to help Guppy beat up a journalist

On challenged, sometimes presents his bumbling but endearing style in public rather than denying wrong-doing

Became editor of Spectator and broke his word not to stand for parliament in 2001.

Sacked for lying to Tory leader Michael Howard about an affair

Stood for London mayor backed by Prime Minister and school friend Cameron

Can show discipline when needed, but very chaotic otherwise.

Rivalry with Cameron intensifies after Cameron becomes PM

Another affair…”he’s our Berlusconi, only funnier” [Private Eye editor Ian Hislop]

London riots may have put his re-election as Mayor of London at risk

Said to be the only ‘feel good’ politician in land

Implies he is a serious contender for PM. Prospect offered with less than ringing endorsements

Missing: did I miss any mention of his unpopularity on Merseyside after ill-judged remarks over Hillsborough in a Spectator editorial?

What did we learn about Boris?

What did we learn about Boris? Not a lot that was not already in the public domain. Will he become Prime Minister? Probably not, but the public mood of disillusion of conventional politicians remains high.

The Boris publicity wave rolls on

In the days after posting the above, Boris continues to make media headlines. Click here for a video clip of his claim to be pro-immigation. [Warning: it may come with irritating plug ins]


As Olympics starts, Mitt’s blitz irks Brits

July 27, 2012

Mitt Romney arrived in Europe at the start of the 2012 Olympics to visit leading politicians. It was part of his Presidential campaign designed to raise his profile as an internationally-significant figure. He may have passed through London unnoticed, if he had not made a mildly critical remark to a US journalist

London, Thursday July 26th. One topic has distanced everything else from the nation’s attention. The Olympic Games.

Mr Romney might have arrived and announced plans single-handedly to rescue the Euro and bring peace to the Middle East and been largely ignored. Instead he chose to mention a few concerns based on news he had learned of glitches in the administration of the Games. Mr Romney is quite keen to remind American voters of leadership skills he showed in rescuing the Winter Olympics in the US in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Keep your nose out, they are our glitches

The British media had enjoyed its own frenzy of anger towards various glitzes. The head of G4S, a services contractor, had been hauled before parliament to agree that his organisation’s performance had been a shambles. Tweets by athletes complaining about bus delays were also reported and discussed. On the day Mr Romney arrived, the Olympics committee was forced to apologise to North Korea for mixing up its flag in its football game with that of, [oops] South Korea.

Ironic sympathy

Mr Romney might have won favourable attention by offering a few remarks in the tone of ironic sympathy that Bill Clinton was famous for producing. But Mitt does not do ironic sympathy. “Keep your nose out”, yelled the press. “These are our glitches”.

Enter Boris to fan the [Olympic] flame

The day ended with a concert in Hyde Park where the assembled party-goers were treated to a wide-screen presentation. Boris Johnson, the charismatic mayor of London, added his wit to the story, hugely enjoying the opportunity.

“There’s this guy called Mitt Romney” he began, to roars from the crowd. “He wants to know if we are ready. Are we ready?. The crowd roars back.

A retraction

The late news bulletins presented the mayor’s remarks, followed by an uncomfortable Mr Romney making what sounded like a retraction to his original line. He now takes the politically-correct (but factually incorrect) position offered by the Prime Minister and just about everyone else, that this was a glitz-free Olympics – until Mitt blew into town.


In a season of setbacks for charismatic leaders, Boris Johnson’s star is in the ascendant

May 5, 2012

The newly elected mayor of London is presented at his most Churchillian in a post-election image. If Francois Hollande [and Roy Hodgson in sport] have had the better of more charismatic candidates recently, Boris scraped through against Ken Livingstone

The results for election of Mayor of London was held up until late in the night, before news of the victory for the incumbent, Boris Johnson was confirmed.

The polls always had Boris ahead of Ken, although there was a narrowing of support in the final days of the campaign. The eventual winner emerged on second preference votes. This seems to have reflected a swing in national sentiment towards socialist candidates.

Both main candidates, conservative Boris Johnson, and Labour’s Ken Livingstone are controversial individualists who have repeatedly shown independence from party loyalties. That may explain a difference between Johnson’s success and the wider political failure of the conservative vote to hold. There is a mood afoot that rejects politicians of all three major parties.

It had been an acrimonious campaign, but in the end Johnson was hailed by his rival conceding defeat as probably the next leader of the conservative party.


Leadership as it happens: Notes as David Cameron addresses his party

October 5, 2011

The following notes were made as David Cameron was addressing his Party, in October 2011. My immediate reactions are included

15.07 Its start suggests careful ‘both anding‘. Each assertion being made is carefully balanced. The moral rightness of acting in Libya, and it also in our best interests. Some humourous references made to a story from yesterday of the cat who kept an illegal immigrant in the UK; and to Boris Johnson’s popularity as a leader in waiting.

15.08 warms to theme of leadership. Illustrates with themes of “leadership works”.

15.12 Why the only way out of the debt crisis is ‘Plan A’ and living within our means (Is this the re-draft of the leaked suggestion about trying to pay off credit cards?).

15.14 ‘This country will never join the Euro’ (Applause).

15.18 ‘We are the party of the NHS’. (Compared with both Labour and Lib Dems).

15.20 (There is a main theme emerging. It is about sticking to Plan A. Polished asides add interest and glitter).

15.22 Workers rights are less important than having the right to a job

15.24 Seems a bit more confusing with its lists of why ‘this country’ is innovative and great, and assertions about the need for various radical ways to release innovation

15.28 We are going to get this country back to work…(not the feckless labour party).

15.29 Education has been infected by an ideology..I understand ..we can tranform education by good leadership. Leadership works

15.32 We have great private schools. let it be us be the party that deals with the apartheid of Pivate and State schools

15.34 we will clamp down on illegal immigration.

15.36 we are going to spend over 1000 pounds to get people back to work. No previous Government did it (i.e. £1000 per person for some unspecified number of people).

15.38 Acknowledges our great leaders esp Margaret Thatcher. We don’t boo our leaders (reference to Miliband and the Tony Blair boos. ‘But didn’t you sack Margaret Thatcher?’ I wondered)

15.40 Still seems to be mostly operating in low gear.

15.42 Leadership (again) in the family. Spoke for ‘support of gay marriage not despite being a conservative but because I am a conservative.

15.44 Spoke about social gains in nearby Wythenshaw. (Not an unqualified view it seems to me).

15.46 Making things happen. That is what we do. That’s what leadership is about.

An immediate reaction

That’s it. The theme of leadership ran through the speech. It was rather a surprise.


The Guardian’s brilliant map-testing and map-making in Murdoch meltdown

July 19, 2011

The crisis at NewsCorp has been produced in no small part by brilliant investigative journalism from The Guardian newspaper. Their analysis of Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation demonstrates how a story can be read and tested for its credibility to help reshape public beliefs

Journalists are attempting to create new stories all the time. This is a process which metaphorically examines what is known (map reading), tests its credibility (map testing) and offers re-interpretations (map making).

As the crisis unfolded [in July 2011], the Guardian’s daily accounts became the first ‘go to’ for many who had not been regular readers. A nice example of its approach can be found in its treatment of the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson
as chief of the Metropolitan Police.

An interpretation

The piece was presented as ‘an interpretation’ of the resignation statement. The map was presented as provided by official sources. Its contents were scrutinised to get behind the text (map-testing). By focussing in such a way, a story behind the story emerges. For example:

When Sir Paul writes that he has no knowledge of the phone hacking in 2006

The Guardian notes: Reminds people that the original inquiry happened on Sir Ian Blair’s watch… nothing to do with him

When Sir Paul writes that his meetings with the NOTW deputy editor Neil Wallis were a matter of public record

The Guardian notes: Between September 2006 and June 2009, Stephenson had seven dinners with Neil Wallis. That’s a lot of dinners for a deputy editor. The meetings weren’t “public” until this weekend.

When Sir Paul notes that unlike former NOTW Editor Andy Coulson, who had been employed by Prime Minister David Cameron, deputy Editor Neil Wallis had never been convicted or associated with the phone-hacking issue

The Guardian notes: Stephenson is effectively saying to Cameron: Your guy is smellier than my guy. It leaves Cameron vulnerable to the question: if the Met chief is willing to take responsibility and resign, why don’t you?

The map-making continues

The last piece of map-testing had become part of the questioning of those interviewed about their insights yesterday [July 18th 2011], including London’s mayor Boris Johnson. Boris was announcing the resignation of Sir Paul’s deputy, John Yates, the latest casuality in the crisis. Quizzed on Sir Paul he was somewhat less ebullient than usual, and rather unenthusiastically refused to agree that David Cameron should resign for lack of judgement in the Andy Coulson affair.

Making sense of a complex story

The Guardian method of analysis is worth studying by any student wishing to test the accuracy of some text. It can be extended to ‘reading’ of situations of all kinds.


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