Of Boris Johnson’s wharfed view of democracy

The Doge of Greater Londinium, His Most Serene Excellency Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, has in the past couple of days been pontificating over transport workers and industrial strife, calling for a ban on tube strike action unless it is supported by more than 50% of union members involved. With Johnson being such a great intellectual leader, there is of course a caveat…

“And people say, oh well you know, you only got elected on 40%. I just think that there’s a difference between a local electoral or political election and the operation of a vital public service.”

That is an interesting quote, coming as it does from a man who throughout his political career has never commanded a plurality of votes, yet in his current position as Mayor of London wields executive power comparable with that of a prince of a city state.

Take the example of Convoys Wharf in Deptford: site of the first royal dockyard, commissioned in 1513 by King Henry VIII to build warships for the Royal Navy. Convoys Wharf, which is located in the modern day London Borough of Lewisham in which I reside, has been derelict for years. It is now owned by Hong-Kong based investment holding company Hutchison Whampoa, and the subject of a highly controversial £1bn, 16 hectare high-rise luxury housing development.

In line with accepted best practice in the design and implementation of such high-value property developments, the original plans for the site included an proportion of “affordable housing”, for the benefit of those with limited means in this largely working class district of southeast London. There was also a restriction in the maximum allowable height of the apartment blocks.

The developers took issue with such restrictions in their freedom to do as they please, and so lobbied Johnson to remove planning authority from Lewisham to his office. This the mayor did, following a much-publicised jolly in which the ever ambitious right-wing conservative politician courted Chinese capital and communist state interests, and furthered his personal and political rivalry with Tory colleague George Osbourne.

Following Johnson’s arbitrary executive action, Lewisham has no say in the development of Convoys Wharf, and the needs and wishes of the local community are falling on deaf ears, despite the protestations of the mayor and Greater London Authority over which he presides. Building work is proceeding apace along the riverside in Deptford, and there is an on-site showroom flogging apartments off-plan.

I cycle past the back of the development on an almost daily basis, and in recent weeks the showroom visitors have included large numbers of well-healed Chinese. Given how fixated these people are with the glowing maps on their goldie-looking bling phones, we are not talking about locals looking for somewhere to live. For them is all about property investment.

Boris Johnson is railroading the Convoys Wharf plan in order to appease his monied mates. Critics of the London tube strikes should take note of this cronyism the next time they go on about sweat-panted rail union leader Bob Crow and his Caribbean holidays, complete with legions of tabloid paparazzi in train (pun intended).