Senior figures in Boris Johnson’s administration have been accused of conducting a smear campaign against a member of staff who complained about a racist joke recounted by deputy mayor Richard Barnes.

The attempted cover up followed an incident last month, in which Boris’ aide was overheard telling a tasteless gag in the wake of the riots:

“Why did police put Persil in the water cannons? To stop the colours running.”

News of the quip sparked outrage in City Hall — and came just two months after Barnes was slammed for another slur against Irish builders made during a committee meeting. But a formal complaint from a staffer who overheard the remark prompted a vicious backlash from Boris’ aides.

Barnes’ could yet become the second race-related resignation of Johnson’s tenure: strategist James McGrath quit in 2008 after claiming black people could leave London “if they don’t like it here”. Faced with the prospect of losing a deputy mayor just seven months out from the election, senior aides, thought to be co-ordinated by ex-BBC man Guto Harri, are accused of conducting a campaign of intimidation against potential witnesses.

With other staffers reluctant to come forward, Unison’s City Hall branch wrote to members over the incident. A leaked memo stated:

“There has been a  concerted effort to smear the person who took out the complaint …  and to rubbish their motives for doing so … This  behaviour is intimidatory and  unacceptable.”

With the Standards Assessment Sub Committee expected to conclude their investigation in early November, this is an extraordinarily high-stakes game.

  1. “Calm down dear, calm down!” It’s either sheer stupidity or pure bigotry. oh, hold on I think it’s both!

  2. Surely they are going to get away with this, because for proper offensive / comic effect the punch line has to be told properly i.e. ‘to stop the coloureds running’ ?

    By mis-telling this already poor joke, the impact has been lost, and the moment has gone, and with ‘one bound he’s free’…

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