The suite of offices for the 2008 Boris Campaign was tucked behind a Star Wars exhibition. In order to get to the offices, you had to walk through a prop store. Each day, staffers and visitors alike were greeted with giant Darth Vaders, model aeroplanes and clown costumes.
At particularly stressful moments of the campaign, Boris would occasionally disappear. At first, no one knew where he went. But then one day, someone discovered his guilty secret – he would hide behind a giant coffin in the prop store like a naughty cat.
As if the grave importance of our work were not apparent enough, the theme from Star Wars played on a loop, seven hours a day. They say campaigns can drive you mad, but this was something else.
Boris came under pressure right from the start. The media and other Tory politicians were clamoring to know more: what was his pitch to the London electorate? Why did he want the job? What would he do as Mayor? These were questions we were asking too. The trouble was, he hadn’t yet come up with the answers.
Soon after I joined the campaign, Boris called me to discuss how things were going. He was being overwhelmed with advice about everything – what his message should be, what policies he should prioritise, how he should attack Ken. It was apparent he was starting to realize what a mammoth enterprise he was letting himself in for.
I told him we needed a clear steer from him as to what he wanted his priorities to be. We had less than two months to develop a whole policy platform from nothing, so we needed him to engage early so we didn’t waste time going down blind alleys. We needed to establish what his position was on the things Livingstone had already done, and what the new initiatives would be. Above all, Boris needed to do some serious swatting up on what the Mayor was actually responsible for.
Right from the start, I felt the biggest threat was the charge that Boris wasn’t serious about the job. Therefore, this had to be neutralized by getting him up to speed quickly on the basics. He was never going to become an expert on London government overnight, but by demonstrating a basic grasp of certain things we could at least show people that he was really committed to making it work.
Boris was agitating for ‘big ideas’. He enthused about a new Routemaster bus at length. The idea contained perfect political symmetry for him – it was something to get excited about, and it was a way to highlight Ken’s ‘miserablist’ attitude to ‘‘elf and safety’.
I told him the big ideas would come – but first he needed to do the hard grind of knowing the boring details and having strong arguments on the issues Londoners cared most about. It was like I had pricked a bubble. You could almost hear the air deflating on the other end of the line. But people are expecting big ideas, he appealed. I retorted with a challenge; “Ok then, if you were Mayor for a week, what is the one thing you would do?” The line went silent for a moment, before he went into full Boris mode; “Uuuh, errrmm, gosh…..” After a few more silences and spluttered noises, he eventually said; “Can I get back to you on that?”
from "Victory in London - the inside story of the Boris campaign" by Alex Crowley
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