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London takes a no-nonsense spin class with Boris

Date

Mark Textor

London mayor Boris Johnson ... "Boris’s messy hair, the rumpled suits, the offbeat, high-brow humour and the cycling passion were a positive."

London mayor Boris Johnson ... "Boris’s messy hair, the rumpled suits, the offbeat, high-brow humour and the cycling passion were a positive." Photo: AP

Much has been written about the winning London mayoralty campaign for Boris Johnson, a campaign directed by my business partner Lynton Crosby. But there has been little to enlighten us here in Australia about the wider political and social landscape in London during the contest. Separate to the media sexiness of daily campaign tactics and ''gotcha'' moments, the wider context of an election is a critically important consideration for political duels. And it's a lot more interesting, too.

The context to the London campaign, and to politics right across Britain at the moment, was and is about the brutal reality that life is hard in Britain, with the true legacy of the Labour years being significant pressures on the family budget, stagnant or falling pensions and wages, limited employment opportunities to look forward to, transport quality issues, crime concerns continuing (even though on some measures crime levels are falling) and the lack of vibrancy of local high streets.

Despite these tough times, however, it is clear that working people across Britain are making no excuses and are using their skills and know-how to respond to the challenges of a poor economy with dignity, determination and good humour. Two world wars have shown that the British are best when their backs are to the wall, and they are drawing on that spirit to adapt - whether that is by making changes and compromises to their lifestyles, taking jobs with long commutes, sharing flats (even for older single people) or taking on part-time work in retirement. All this while still enjoying what their communities still have to offer, and contributing to them.

But in turn they expect the big end of town, including media and business leaders, to reciprocate; to show the same level of serious commitment to their own roles and responsibilities to their communities.

Voters became well and truly tired of the ''nonsense'' that came in the latter years of Labour in Westminster; the slick and shallow catchphrases, their patronising, irrelevant programs. But the distractions continued, even in the London campaign. Lynton says the Leveson inquiry into News Limited, for example, is irrelevant to most people who are more concerned with petrol prices and paying the mortgage. He believes people particularly want action taken on the economy, an area in which Boris had a not insignificant advantage over his Labour opponent because of his personal position on lowering taxes to promote growth.

Critically, despite a desire for a back-to-basics approach in government, Boris's messy hair, the rumpled suits, the offbeat, high-brow humour and the cycling passion were a positive. That's because these traits are not inconsistent with a man they also know to be very intelligent, resourceful, inventive and successful.

Voters have a deeper affection for Boris than we have measured for any other politician in any other place. They like him not only for his intelligence and resourcefulness, but because they differentiate him from the cookie-cutter politicians of the Brown-Blair era and they admire his focus on vision and outcomes, such as the cycle hire scheme, preservation of green space, crime prevention and cross-city rail. He has turned that vision into reality, but has also cut through the media games and made these issues personally relevant to Londoners. Just watch the YouTube clip of him reprimanding BBC reporter Tim Donovan.

But what is even clearer in the aftermath of Boris's victory, is that voters now have zero tolerance for political nonsense from Westminster and also Britain's ''media club''. Focusing on secondary issues, indulging in stories of political fancy, engaging in ''fluffy talk of social action'' and promoting schemes or ideas which have no relevance to their everyday lives will continue to cause blowback from voters.

And despite Labour's poll lead, doubts remain that have yet to come to the fore: Labour's legacy of wastage, debt and spin, as well as its sometimes cosy relations with radicalised unions; all witnessed by the nature of Ken's Livingstone' s mayoral campaign against Boris. These concerns are all there, but will not be central to voters' decision-making until they face a choice in the nation's future.

There is a lesson in leadership for Australia too: voters are in a mood to support leaders with many layers to their character, who are energetic and focused on addressing the real issues, who have real intelligence and a penchant for the hard work ahead for them, and for us all. A passion for the future, not survival.

Mark Textor is a director of Crosby Textor Fullbrook, which was engaged by Boris Johnson for the 2012 mayoral campaign.

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