Boris Johnson triggers fresh cronyism claims with Andrew Gilligan job

Journalist who helped London mayor topple main rival, Ken Livingstone, is offered post of cycling adviser

Boris Johnson has triggered a new row over alleged cronyism after it emerged that he has offered the post of cycling adviser to Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who did more than any other to topple the London mayor’s main rival, Ken Livingstone.

Gilligan is expected to take up the post part-time while retaining his current staff position at the Daily Telegraph, but curtailing his coverage of London issues. It is understood he will be paid the normal adviser rate on a pro-rata basis. Most of the mayor’s advisers draw salaries of more than ¬£90,000.

The two have a long-standing relationship. Johnson was the first to hire Gilligan, for the Spectator, after the award-winning journalist lost his job following the BBC’s war with Alastair Campbell over the dodgy Iraq dossier and the furore over the death of government scientist David Kelly.

In 2008, investigative articles by Gilligan about Livingstone, his associates and the running of the London Development Agency were said to have inflicted serious damage on Livingstone and his election campaign, allowing Johnson to seize the mayoralty. In 2012, Gilligan played another prominent role, airing accusations about Livingstone’s tax arrangements which seriously hampered the Labour candidate throughout his ill-fated campaign.

The mayor has the power to make a limited number of direct appointments without reference to the normal recruitment processes of city hall. But the arrangement is bound to cause disquiet, with Labour sources already questioning whether Gilligan, a keen cyclist, has the policy and municipal experience to have been chosen above any other possible candidates.

Critics have already raised concerns about other appointments. Despite misleading him and resigning in disgrace, Johnson’s former deputy mayor Ray Lewis has been brought back into the fold to help the London mayor boost mentoring.

Veronica Wadley, Johnson’s former colleague at the Telegraph and editor of the Evening Standard during the 2008 campaign, has an arts and volunteering advisory role. It is said she first suggested Johnson to David Cameron as the man to win the mayoralty for the Conservatives.

A spokesman for Johnson said: “It has always been the mayor’s intention to appoint a cycling commissioner. Final discussions with Andrew Gilligan have been taking place regarding a part-time role but at this stage no formal announcement has been made.”

Johnson has been under pressure to dispel claims that he has not been taking the issue of cycling seriously. Campaigners have been critical of his vision for the use of road space and have raised angry concerns following a string of fatal cycling accidents in the capital, most involving lorries.

Gilligan himself has been critical in the past, describing Johnson’s network of “cycle superhighways” as pointless. But on Thursday he told the city hall blog The Scoop that there was much more logical thinking now and that Transport for London was “moving in the right direction”.

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