The UK General Election - 4th July 2024


Situation Vacant: Deputy Mayor of London

Boris Johnson is rapidly running out of credible understudies

US Senator Daniel Webster, when declining the post of Vice-President in 1840, famously declared that “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead”. It was probably a witticism Webster came to regret when William Henry Harrison, the President who offered him the post, died within a month of his inauguration, and Webster missed out on becoming the 10th President of the United States of America.

As Harrison was the first President to die in office, perhaps Webster can be forgiven for having failed to see the full potential of the Vice-Presidency. (No fewer than 14 Vice-Presidents have gone on to become President, with nine of them inheriting the post by accident following the death or resignation of the incumbent President). Certainly, had Webster benefited from watching the first two seasons of ‘House of Cards’, he might have formed a different view.

Perhaps Victoria Borwick – London Assembly Member and now prospective parliamentary candidate for Kensington – has made the same rash analysis of the post of Statutory Deputy Mayor of London that Webster made of the Vice-Presidency. Kensington is a safe seat but her almost-inevitable election to Parliament in May will force Borwick to give up her post as Boris’s official deputy.

Whilst current Mayor Boris Johnson appointed no fewer than 7 Deputy Mayors to support him in 2012, only the post of ‘Statutory Deputy Mayor’ is enshrined in law and able to become ‘Acting Mayor’ in the event of the resignation or incapacitation of the serving Mayor. Whilst such an eventually has previously been unlikely, it could be a different story this summer. If the Conservatives lose the General Election and Boris is elected Leader of the Opposition, then he would be forced to resign the mayoralty. Under the GLA Act of 1999 – which created the post of Mayor – in such circumstances the Acting Mayor can serve for a period of up to six months or until the next set of GLA elections (whichever is sooner).

So who Boris appoints to replace Borwick is potentially a big decision – but he is running out of realistic candidates. The GLA Act stipulates that the Statutory Deputy must be a serving member of the London Assembly. That immediately limits the field of candidates to just 25 eligible individuals – only nine of whom are Conservatives.

Worse still for Boris, that pool of nine eligible Tories is shrinking fast. Borwick is not the only Tory Assembly Member to have been selected for a safe parliamentary seat. Kit Malthouse and James Cleverly are both set to enter Parliament this May and have only recently given up their own positions – Deputy Mayor for Business and Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) respectively – within Boris’s senior team in order to focus on their campaigns. A fourth Tory Assembly Member, Gareth Bacon, has just taken over the chairmanship of LFEPA, and it may look like this appointment was a tad hasty if he was now elevated to replace Borwick. Andrew Boff, the leader of the Conservative Group on the Assembly, has announced his intention to run for the post of Mayor in 2016 and appointing him to replace Borwick could be seen as favouring Boff’s candidacy for the Tory nomination over that of fellow City Hall candidate Stephen Greenhalgh, the Deputy Mayor for Policing (who is not a serving member of the Assembly and thus ineligible for the post of Statutory Deputy).

So that leaves just four eligible Assembly Members: Dick Tracey, Steve O’Connell, Roger Evans and Tony Arbour. Chances are, unless you are a dedicated follower of City Hall politics, you haven’t heard of any of them. But there is a very real prospect that one of these four men could be running London before the year is out.

James Ford is a Senior Consultant at PLMR, specialising in transport, environment and digital policy. He was formerly the Adviser to the Digital Chamber of Commerce at the London Chamber of Commerce and an aide to Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

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