A right mayoral job ahead

Boris Johnson will need more than personality to make his second term in office a success, says Jonny Popper of London Communications Agency.

The re-match is over. After another seismic 'battle in the capital' Boris Johnson defeated Ken Livingstone and has returned to City Hall as London Mayor.

Johnson's victory bucked the trend of defeats for Conservative councillors the length and breadth of the UK on the same night and in doing so underlined his unique appeal and ability to garner supporters from all parts of the political spectrum.

The reasons for Johnson's victory and Livingstone's defeat have been pored over by journalists and political commentators, but for those living and working in London the question is now this: how will he meet the huge economic and social challenges?

His first term was arguably still dominated by the same agenda as Livingstone's - the Olympics, securing Crossrail, changing congestion charging, implementing the bike scheme and cutting crime.

Policing and transport will remain ever-present priorities for Londoners, but for Johnson to be seen as a successful Mayor his second term will be key, especially post-Olympics. And this will be ever more challenging as the spending cuts bite and the economic future remains so uncertain.

So where can he focus attention and how does this impact on the public affairs agenda? Two areas will be key - housing and the economy.

Until now, housing has remained on the periphery of the Mayor's work, exercised mainly through his planning powers and complicated by regular changes to housing quangos.

But now the system has been simplified. As of 1 April, the Mayor takes full responsibility for housing and regeneration in the capital, together with a £1.6bn budget transferred over as part of the change.

Johnson has taken a brave position by stating he would deliver 55,000 new affordable homes by 2015, including 16,000 affordable homes in 2011-12 - the most in a financial year since the mid-1990s.

It will be a ready target for him to be judged against and the practicalities of delivering these numbers will test his abilities to the full. It will require full use of the Greater London Authority's land bank of more than 530 acres; new approaches to working with housing associations - especially in the era of housing benefit caps; bringing forward stalled schemes; and doing deals with developers. His relationship with the boroughs will also be key, especially with the Localism Act now in place.

This presents its own challenges because London is now dominated by Labour, which controls 17 of the capital's 33 local authorities and 12 of the 25 seats on the London Assembly.

On the economy, Johnson has been similarly brave - campaigning on a pledge to create an additional 200,000 jobs over the next four years. With limited real powers in this area he will need to find a way to deliver on this rather than riding on the back of business success.

It is also likely to require additional targeted investments to pursue a growth agenda. But this will be a tough ask given the sums already committed to both Crossrail and High Speed 2.

So he has a real challenge on his hands and one which his personality alone cannot carry him through. One thing is for sure - he will need the input of the business community to help him and he will be receptive to new ideas and initiatives.

The next four years will be very different from the last. By 2016, the Mayor will need to have delivered on some serious policy agendas to really cement 'Brand Boris'.

Jonny Popper is managing director of London Communications Agency.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

Which MPs will be setting parliamentary agendas in 2017?

Let's focus on the 2016 London Mayoral contest instead. Ken Livingstone won't stand again. Boris Johnson may well be in Westminster. Both main party nomination battles will be fascinating. For Labour, we could see Chuka Umunna, David Lammy, Oona King and possibly Alan Johnson all in the ring. The Conservatives have a tougher job following Boris. Names in play could include Zac Goldsmith, Kit Malthouse, Stephen Greenhalgh and possibly some 'big beasts' from the current Government. We could also see a major independent business figure.

From PRWeek's public affairs supplement, May 2012

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