Sunday, 4 May 2008

Who Will Hold Boris Accountable?

IMAGE: Newsbiscuit, via Liberal England

Despite the misgivings of the likes of Neil Harding, Boris Johnson won Thursday's London Mayoral Election in a democratic vote.

At the same time, it is almost certain that the media, in particular the Evening Standard, played a significant part in convincing Londoners that Ken Livingstone presided over a corrupt adminstration, was a friend of extremists and a supporter of dictators. Throughout the run-up to the election, barely a day went by in which the Standard didn't carry at least one article or opinion-piece attacking Livingstone.

As DonaldS writes on Liberal Conspiracy, the Evening Standard gave Boris "almost unqualified support". Standard reporter Andrew Gilligan explained that he was "not working to get a Tory elected [but] to get Ken unelected". Of course, the inevitable result of the latter made the distinction rather meaningless.

Over the past six months, London's only paid-for newspaper clearly went beyond keeping the Mayor accountable into actively campaigning against his re-election and, as election day neared increasingly making clear its support for Boris:

"Honesty and competence are the overriding issues in tomorrow's mayoral election. Democracy cannot properly function if our elected representatives have not proved themselves to be the guardians of integrity. Ken Livingstone has comprehensively failed that test. Londoners should vote for change and make Boris Johnson Mayor." - Evening Standard, 30/04/08
That the Standard, a right-wing tabloid owned by the same company (Associated Newspapers) as the Daily Mail, threw its weight behind the Tory candidate's campaign is not exactly headline news. And, despite the complaints of left leaning commentators like Peter Wilby, it is not required to be impartial, any more than the Daily Mirror or Independent.

What should, I consider, reasonably be expected of a newspaper in the position that the Evening Standard is in is that it hold the elected Mayor, his administration team, and the Tory-controlled London Assembly up to scrutiny. On the basis of the one-sidedness of its pre-election coverage, there has to be some doubt as to the paper's preparedness to do so.

In the absence of a competing, Boris-opposing London newspaper with any sort of circulation, who will take up the task of making sure that Boris makes at least a passable attempt at living up to his manifesto commitments - from the outlandish headline-grabbers, such as the introduction of a new generation of Routemasters, to the relatively mundane? Perhaps, that is where the blog comes into its own.

Although their bid to prevent the Tory's election was unsuccessful, the Stop Boris campaign showed what can be done. Essentially a one-man campaign run from a single " room", Stop Boris attracted around 4,000 readers and considerable praise in the seven weeks running up until the election. However, the anonymous Mr. Stop Boris has (not unreasonably) declined to take it up...

UPDATE (05/05): It would appear that someone, namely Birkbeck politics student Naadir Jeewa (who blogs at Random Variable), has already stepped up to the plate by setting up Boris Watch.

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