A statement from the Mayor's office, just in:
"It is with great regret this evening that I have accepted the resignation of my political adviser, James McGrath. James has been a loyal, committed and highly professional colleague. I will always be grateful to him for his skills, advice and support in helping elect me as Mayor of London. Unfortunately, his remarks in a conversation with an Internet journalist, published this weekend, made it impossible for him to continue in that role. James is not a racist. I know that. He shares my passionate belief that racism is vile, repulsive and has no place in modern Britain. But his response to a silly and hostile suggestion put to him by Marc Wadsworth, allowed doubts to be raised about that commitment.
London is blessed with a rich ethnic and cultural diversity. It is one of the main reasons why I regard it as the greatest city on earth, and I am determined, as Mayor, to serve each and every community with equal passion and commitment. James's remark was taken out of context and distorted, but he recognises the need for crystal clarity on a vital issue like this. We both agree that he could not stay on as my political adviser without providing ammunition for those who wish to deliberately misrepresent our clear and unambiguous opposition to any racist tendencies.
I wish James well in the future, thank him for his contribution and urge everyone not to misrepresent his view or misinterpret his intentions any further."
The mayor's press office has nothing further, but confirms the problem lies here, in the following passage from an interview with Marc Wadsworth:
"I brought along to the meeting copies of the Black community Voice and New Nation weekly newspapers covering the fortnight since Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London, and pointed out that Johnson was getting a bad press in these publications. I put this down to a ‘problem of perception’.
McGrath was far from politically correct, David-Cameron-new- cuddly-Conservative Party, when I pointed out to him a critical comment of Voice columnist Darcus Howe that the election of “Boris Johnson, a right-wing Conservative, might just trigger off a mass exodus of older Caribbean migrants back to our homelands”.
He retorted: 'Well, let them go if they don’t like it here.' McGrath dismissed influential race commentator Howe as ‘shrill’."
Queenslander McGrath was Deputy Chief of Staff in Johnson's Transition Team. As with the damage limitation following the Rise row, Johnson's statement shows that he - or whoever's been managing this situation for him - remains edgy about his reputation for not taking racism seriously and being seen by some as racist himself.
UPDATE: Conservative Home comes to McGrath's defence. Apparently it's all Wadsworth's fault.
UPDATE, 21.57: McGrath was one of the strategists loaned to Johnson by Conservative Central Office. Here's a senior Tory's opinion of him, as told to The Australian:
"Francis Maude, the former chairman of the Conservative Party and now a shadow cabinet secretary, told The Weekend Australian that McGrath was 'one of our real big hitters He has brought a fresh perspective to Conservative Party thinking. He played a major role in getting Boris Johnson elected Mayor of London and has done a large amount to restore the party's fortunes at a national level.'"
UPDATE, 23.08 Iain Dale is not impressed...by Boris:
"I'm told that McGrath honourably fell on his sword. But I am not sure he was given any choice in the matter. All Boris has done is attempt to appease people who are quite frankly not capable of being appeased. What he should have done is stand by the man who has stood by him through thick and thin over the last eight months. Instead, Boris has hung James McGrath out to dry - apparently either with the connivance of or at the behest of the Party leadership - in the most despicable and and cowardly manner possible...
Having defended Boris over his 'piccaninny' and 'watermelon' comments I am now wondering why we all bothered. What he has done today is create a rod for his own back. All anyone needs to do in future is for anyone to shout 'racist' for the most spurious reason and the subject of the accusation will be toast."
UPDATE, 23.12: Pithy sign-off, Boris Watch. (Thanks, Leon).
UPDATE, 23.46: Westmonster's take.
UPDATE, 23.53: No official response from opposition parties yet, but Labour sources are questioning the mayor's apparently finding more fault with the journalist who quoted McGrath's remark than with McGrath for making it. The point is also being made that a clearer condemnation of McGrath would have been appropriate in light of concerns raised by the Rise affair.
UPDATE, 23.56: Time for bed!