Ken has discovered Croydon – terra incognita during his mayoralty – and has been visiting regularly since realising that outer Londoners have votes. In an interview with the Croydon Advertiser, he sprays round the usual soundbites and fantasy promises – £1 billion of investment in the town, new tram lines funded from that ever-elastic “TfL surplus,” free gold jewellery for every third caller (sorry: that last one was made up by me, rather than Ken). “Croydon needs attention,” is his undeniable pitch.
But when required to deviate from the script, and asked anything specific, Ken shows quite how much “attention” he’s really been paying to the places he aspires to represent. A key plank of his manifesto is more police – but when asked how many police officers was a good number for Croydon, he couldn’t say. Asked what Croydon’s main theatre was, he replied: “I don’t know.” Asked the name of Crystal Palace’s ground, he said: “I’m sorry, if I want to do a quiz I’ll go on Radio 4. I mean seriously, this is trivial nonsense.” Asked what Croydon’s population was, he replied: “Very large,” and walked out of the interview.
I haven’t got the slightest interest in football – but I do know what Crystal Palace’s ground is called. Part of Ken’s pitch has always been that he is the detail man, the guy who knows London. That’s not really true – he’s good at coming up with authoritative-sounding facts which often turn out, under close scrutiny, to be lies. But when faced with something you cannot busk, he can’t cope.