SORRY to be vulgar, but I call bullshit. After Boris Johnson had cycled away from what was, if we are honest, an old-style newspaper ambush, his press officer told us that if we had only just asked, oh, if we had only just asked, well, then of course the Mayor would have been happy to sit down and talk to us, and answer all our questions. To that, there is only one appropriate response: take your index finger and thumb, create an ‘L’ shape, place it against your chin and scratch an imaginary goatee beard.
For it’s all very well offering us such an opportunity after we’ve just resorted to running after him on his bike, but why did it need to come to that? We did ask for a comment in the wake of Choi Yip’s death last month, but the Mayor’s office declined to comment, so, come on, why would we really expect to get a sit-down interview. Here’s the thing, a guy died at a fire which the London Fire Brigade admit they did not reach within anywhere near their target time, the firefighters through their union reps blame cuts to manpower, engine and stations for the delay – and the Mayor’s office responds by simply saying he won’t comment. Go talk to the Brigade, was their only advice.
We did talk to the Brigade, but we also wanted to know Boris’s view too, for it was under his watch that the axe fell, leading to that emotional day when the Belsize and Clerkenwell stations shut up shop and we saw firefighters on the forecourts welling up with damp eyes.
But no – the Mayor’s office declined to comment.
It didn’t even say condelences were offered to Mr Yip’s family, which you might’ve thought would be the first rule of press office school. There was no comment about how any loss of life being tragic or how there would be a review of the circumstances, and as such the Mayor could not comment further until after a coroner’s inquest. It’s not hard.
Instead, we got, and I hope there wasn’t an oh it’s only the Camden New Journal flavour to this, a message that the Mayor’s office would not be saying anything.
That’s the real context to what happened this week; it wasn’t let’s play at chasing Boris down the road for a laugh, as curious as the moment was. Some readers may have thought: what did those CNJ reporters really think Boris was going to do when they popped up next him on the pavement? Give them chapter and verse while he was unlocking his bike and trying to cycle to his next job. That would have been nice, but not really.
We just thought being told ‘no comment’ was a cop out and we should at least try, however limited the opportunity was likely to be, to ask him the question face to face. You may call it a stunt – on one level it is – but really it is about not taking no for an answer, as journalists and members of the public. It’s about saying if you are elected to represent us, you should be accountable and explain yourself.
Later in the day, we finally did get responses to our questions but here’s the rub of this story and the New Journal’s investigation over the last few weeks: Boris, the Brigade and others who defend the cuts to our city’s thin red line insist that London can still cope with two major fires on the same day. In the case of the hold-up in getting to the Camden Town fire last month, however, they say that the crews were delayed because of the immense manpower devoted to the Finchley Road fire, which as we know burned for two days. The two responses don’t tally. Surely they can’t keep saying that London is equipped to deal with two big ones at the same time, but then blame the delays in reaching Mr Yip on the fact that firefighters were somewhere else.
That’s how we ended up running after Boris.