Boris has made a playground for billionaires, and ignored homelessnessby Ben Judah / February 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
There are huge figures in British politics, and then there is Boris Johnson. Enormous, hilarious, stupendous—every word that comes to mind is huge. Now listen carefully. London’s mayor is the true sloganising heir to Tony Blair. Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron now sound little like New Labour. But Johnson keeps dropping Tony’s capital message—“London is the greatest city in the world.” Blair’s Olympics, became Boris’s Olympics. Blair’s Cool Britannia, became Boris’s Billionaire Chic. It’s one and the same thing—London boosterism.
Boris has made the London of Mayfair boutiques, luxury apartment sales in Asia, and organic-eating cyclists his own. But there is another London—a city of Nigerian nightcleaners, Polish scaffolders and Romanian beggars. The city where nearly one-third of Londoners live in poverty—as do nearly four-in-10 of its children. There is little discussion of politics here in this mostly migrant London. Instead, Boris cuts an enormous, eerie, absence.
For my new book, This Is London, I spent two years in this city. To understand the new London, I lived it—sleeping rough with Roma beggars, living in Romanian doss houses, and working on Polish building sites. Building sites teem with chat. But never did the name Boris Johnson come up. Putin, Ukraine—the scaffolds are witness to never ending debate. But British politics, especially the London mayoralty, was never raised.