Pro-Israel Conservative sworn in as London mayor

Boris Johnson beats Labour's incumbent Ken Livingstone, capping disastrous performance for Brown's governing party in local elections.

boris Johnson 224.88 (photo credit: )
boris Johnson 224.88
(photo credit: )
London's new mayor, a pro-Israel Conservative lawmaker, was sworn in Saturday after ousting the left-wing incumbent in a vote that capped the worst local election results for Prime Minister Gordon Brown's party in four decades. With a clump of unruly blond hair sticking up during his victory speech after midnight, the idiosyncratic ex-magazine editor Boris Johnson said his triumph over Labor's incumbent Ken Livingstone offered a glimpse of Britain's political future. The result - Johnson polled 1,168,738 to Livingstone's 1,028,966 - capped a disastrous performance for Brown's governing Labor in their first electoral test since he assumed power when Tony Blair quit last June. Johnson won 53.2 percent of the vote, compared to Livingstone's 46.8%. "The Hair of London" read the headline in Saturday's edition of The Sun newspaper above a photo of Johnson from the forehead up, comparing his tousled coiffure to a golden crown. Johnson's self-deprecating sense of humor showed as he joked about nearly tripping on his way to the podium after signing the declaration of office on Saturday afternoon. He officially takes over as mayor at midnight on Sunday. "Until that time, I imagine there are shredding machines quietly puffing and panting away in various parts of the building," Johnson said. Brown - dogged by accusations of dithering and incompetence - was forced to make a humble pledge to heed the scathing verdict from voters after his party lost both London's City Hall and more than 300 municipal council seats. His main political foe, opposition Conservative Party chief David Cameron, said his party's gains in the capital and in a longtime weak spot in northern England represented a key moment on the path to ousting Brown in the next national election. Results from the 159 local councils that held ballots in England and Wales on Thursday showed the Conservatives gaining 260 seats and Labor losing 333. But no Conservative victory was more symbolic than the one in London. Johnson becomes the first Conservative to hold a high-profile national post - controlling a budget of billions and charged with planning for the 2012 Olympics - since his party's thumping 1997 national election defeat by the Labor Party, then led by Blair. Johnson's record in support of Israel is clear. He backs a swift solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while understanding Israel's security dilemmas. Last year he opposed a call by the University College Union to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Writing on his blog, he said: "Where is the UCU denunciation of the Palestinians who have been detaining a BBC journalist for more than a month? I do not notice UCU voting to sever contacts with Iran, where students have recently been hanged for opposition to the regime. Come to that, I don't see any condemnation of the leftist tyrant Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has just taken a hostile TV station off the air. What kind of point is UCU trying to make?" Johnson toured Israel in November 2004 with the Conservative Friends of Israel, and visited the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv hours after a suicide bomber killed three people and seriously wounded 13. He also went on a tour of the West Bank security barrier. Writing in The Spectator magazine, a popular weekly current affairs magazine of which he was editor, he wrote: "And who can deny that the Israeli government has a perfect right, a duty, to use such means to protect its citizens from the insanity of the suicide bombers?" Trying to make sense of the suicide attack, Johnson said: "What made him [the 16-year-old suicide bomber] leave the Askar refugee camp near Nablus, pass through the Hawara checkpoint, and kill himself and three blameless Israelis, including Leah Levine, 67, a Holocaust survivor? How could anyone persuade a child to do something like that?" In a brief speech on Saturday, Johnson paid tribute to Livingstone's role in guiding London through the 2005 transit network bombings. But he said his victory may suggest Britain's future political direction. "I do hope that it does shows that the Conservatives have changed into a party that can again be trusted," Johnson said. An emotional Livingstone, the city's first elected mayor ever, and in control since 2000, said the blame for his defeat must rest at his door, not Brown's. Livingstone is a staunch leftist who courted Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and frequently embarrassed his party's national leadership. Johnson's own erratic outbursts mean he may have a similar relationship with Cameron. He once caused huge offense by labeling people in some Commonwealth countries "piccaninnies" - a derogatory term for black children - and also referring to Africans as having "watermelon smiles." As editor of The Spectator, Johnson survived the embarrassment of an affair with one of his writers. With typical panache, he called the adultery reports "an inverted pyramid of piffle." But he was removed from the Conservative front bench when party leaders decided that was a lie. He has mounted attacks on gay marriage, campaigns promoting healthy eating in schools, and the city of Liverpool. In 2003, Johnson claimed to have looted a cigar case from the ransacked home of Tariq Aziz during a visit to Iraq. After his victory, Johnson said it is likely "there will be the odd ill-chosen expression" in future.