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.