To the London mayoral business hustings in the City tonight. The suits were always going to be a quiet, well-behaved gig after the massed ranks of walking-stick-wielding pensioners last time – and so it proved. More Punch and Judy politics, please!
Unlike at the elderly hustings, Boris fairly clearly beat Ken this time. Even Livingstone only claimed it as a “score draw.”At one point, he was decrying health’n’safety rules that stopped his children jumping into their local swimming pool. There was too much overcoddling: “I would let people take the rational choice,” he said. “Like an open-platform bus!” interjected Johnson, to much laughter.
Ken sought to be less partisan than usual, at several points agreeing with Johnson. “I follow exactly that line and won’t waste your time talking about it,” he said once. “You should do that more often!” broke in Boris, winning a big laugh.
I still didn’t think Boris was sharp enough, though – as I wrote in the Spectator last week, he needs to hit Ken harder on the fantasy economics behind his plans. No doubt Boris would like to go round London, as Ken has been doing, offering free money to every voter he meets. But there is no money and there are no free lunches. Ken is risking projects vital to London’s long-term future for a short-term electoral bribe. That sort of thing.
The best speaker of the night was the Lib Dems’ Brian Paddick, who went down rather well with a simple, focused message: businesses will not come to London if they don’t think it’s safe. Crime, he said, was going up and he, the ex-copper, was the man to tackle it. Paddick also had the two best jokes – a lovely dig at Ken’s exotic tax arrangements (Paddick, like Boris, pays full income tax on his freelance earnings – another contradiction of Ken’s claim that “everyone” in his position avoids this tax by turning themselves, like him, into a personal company.)
My favourite Paddick joke, though, was about the new Borismaster bus. “Boris likes his bus because it’s like his house – it has two staircases and three doors,” he said. That got the biggest laugh of the night.