The Thick of It


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

David Cameron calls for broken Britain

I always said the Tories wanted to break Britain's social fabric. Now we have the evidence from the independent BBC.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

With Ken Livingstone on LBC

On Saturday I appeared on Ken Livingstone's LBC show to talk about the week's news and that day's newspapers. It was good to see him much more relaxed than he'd appeared in the mayoral elections a few months ago.

We discussed the arrest of Damien Green. Ken was interested to know why Boris Johnson had been informed when he didn't see it as a matter for the mayor. Clearly this depends on the role of the mayor in the Metroplitan Police Authority. This has become rather ambiguous and disputed. It looked like Johnspn had abused his power over the resignation of Sir Ian Blair, while he now has a job on his hands to keep the Met onside. The Deputy Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has been heavily involved in Green's arrest and now it looks like Johnson won't want to work with him either.

There is a simple solution. That is for politicians not to get involved in day to day policing. They must remain independent to protect them from political interference and protect us all from any sort of mob rule.

Read further on Tory Troll.

I also discussed with Ken the future of New Labour. It has been widely reported that he sees New Labour as dead as a result of banking crisis. He likened me to Peter Mandelson. I laughed. Thing is, I agree with Mandelson that New Labour is still alive. People often forget that Gordon Brown was central to the whole New Labour project. Without him it wouldn't have been possible at all.

I hope to pick this up with Livingstone again soon. LBC, 97.3, London's conversation, Saturdays, 10:00.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Can a recession ever be a good thing? Richard Bacon show discussion

Yesterday Andrew Lansley, Tory Health Spokesman, was forced to withdraw a blog entry stating that "Interestingly on many counts, recession can be good for us. People tend to smoke less, drink less alcohol, eat less rich food and spend time at home with their families." Last night I spoke from the panel on Richard Bacon's BBC Radio Five Live show about this. Saying recession is a bad thing. David Kuo said it can be.

Lansley was both misguided and insensitive. It shows that many of the Tories haven't changed. At the 1997 election the Tories said of the harsh economic climate a few years earlier "yes it hurt, yes it worked." Their premise is that job losses are a price worth paying for a stronger economy. Kou agreed, saying that many jobs are worthless. I disagree.

Our economy is based on work providing enough to pay for our living costs. Without that most people's lifestyles will fall apart. We saw in the 1980s that many families and whole parts of Britain never recovered from the closure of industry.

I accept that many people naively thought the economy, house prices and the stock market would grow continuously. This is clearly not the case. However, a recession will be bad for families, under financial pressure and facing the threat of losing their homes and jobs.

The side effect of recession is poverty, often higher crime, family breakdown, higher alcoholism and drug taking.

Of course there will be some positive side effects of recession. People will become more frugal, use less energy and waste less. This is a good thing. However, this is a nasty lesson to learn and one most people would rather avoid. I'd like to have the same discussion in a year's time and see whether the callers to the show still agreed that recession would be OK, once they'd had to suffer the effects.

You can listen again to the show here and clicking on Wednesday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pre-budget report

My first thoughts on Alistair Darling's Pre Budget Report are that it clearly presents the country with clear water between Labour and Tory.

Labour has put together a package that at the very least seeks to stimulate the ailing economy. This is set against a Tory Party that cynically states the solutions won't work. The Tory solution is minimal action because they don't believe in government as the answer to problems. The Tories have retreated to their ideological home ground of minimal government and laissez-faire economics.

It is simply not acceptable to allow banks to go to the wall or to leave the poor and low earners without any help when help is available. Labour is certainly trying. Peeling back the surface and starting to look at the details and the picture becomes a little murky. Clearly high levels of public borrowing will have to be paid for over many years. Borrowing increases to levels higher than in previous recessions. However after previous recessions, such as in the 1990s, the government of the day didn't seek to stimulate the economy like this. The economic threat globally was not as great. Darling has sought to make higher earners pay for the borrowing, in future years. This could work and is certainly fair, however is dependent on Labour winning the next election.

Brown and Darling have taken a huge political gamble. It was one worth taking because it offers a glimmer of hope at a time when the Tories have offered nothing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Time for a change in Islington?

With chaIsli A

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ken launches Progressive London

Ken Livingstone was never going to go quietly. Not content with a regular slot on LBC radio and newspaper columns, Livingstone has now formally set up Progressive London.

The stated aim of Progressive London is to keep together the coalition of anti-Tory votes that Livingstone sought to keep him in office. Uniting politicians and activists across party lines is ambitious. There will be some who see this as Ken's declaration of candidacy for the 2012 elections. Mobilising a campaign for 2012 it might be, mobilising a campaign for Ken, I'm not sure. Ken might want that, I don't think it is that feasible. Labour will need to make a new choice and do so in two ore three years time.

For any alliance to work will require a common enemy. Boris Johnson will therefore need to keep antagonising those who didn't vote for him. Increasing transport fares in January will help, as will the bungled handling of Sir Ian Blair's stepping down as head of the Metropolitan Police. If BJ hadn't exercised powers he didn't hold in making Blair's position untenable, there would be no row over how much he is being paid to quit. I'm confident that the common enemy will remain, however an alliance also needs common solutions.

Common solutions stem from a shared vision. So far Ken's alliance looks like one that can run. It should do because so far the backers are predominantly Labour, with a smattering of Lib Dems and Greens. I'll be interested to see if the alliance can really take on a cross party feel. If it does, it will stand a chance of being listened to as something more powerful than simply Ken Livingstone's mouthpiece.

Further reading:
Pippa Crerar's Evening Standard blog
Tory Troll: one of the speakers at the Progressive London conference in January
Dave Hill
Liberal Conspiracy

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Is Andrew Gilligan sockpuppeting?

I'm amused to see the blog "furore" over suggestions that Journalist of the Year Andrew Gilligan has been posting comments on blogs both anonymously and under other names. Whenever I've written any post mentioning his name, or to that matter most posts about Boris Johnson, I get at least one hit from Associated Newspapers.

After some posts about bendy buses and transport fares in London "anonymous" commented on my blog. The timing of the comments coincided with a hot on my blog from the Associated Newspapers IP address. "Anonymous" had used a Technorati blog feed with the key words "Andrew Gilligan" as the search terms. Coincidence? During the Mayoral election I frequently got hits from the same IP address and with the same referrer. The use of language by "anonymous" also bears great resemblance to Gilligan's writing, using terms such as the "Ken Livingstone fan club."

On a personal note I've never been an ardent fan of Ken, though I came to believe that on balance, London was a better place after eight years with him in charge than if someone else had won.

I used to ban anonymous comments for this very reason. I'd much prefer an open and honest debate where people can agree and disagree. I don't see what there is to hide. Not least from a high profile journalist when his views are well known. I'm also quite prepared for people to point out if I am wrong, though I'd rather never be wrong...

Read on:
Media Monkey
Dave Hill's blog
Tory Troll's current discussion. Previous accusations, including mention that Gilligan was up to it in 1995 as a student can also be found.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Wherever Peter Mandelson has been there is sure to follow a media storm. The Prince of Darkness has been known as a master of spin, however his abrasive style has always attracted mud. The Tories fear Mandelson so will attack him. The media dislike Mandelson so they will attack him.

Mandelson will always give as good as he gets. George Osbourne was naive to think he could make Mandelson's criticisms of Gordon Brown public and get away with it. Bringing Mandelson back was still a good move by Brown. At the very least the media is now talking about the Tories and about Mandelson and has left Brown to get on with his job.

I expect Mandelson to survive the current maelstrom of media attention. It doesn't look like he has done anything wrong. He hadn't broken any rules previously with the loan from Geoffrey Robinson or the Hinduja passport "affair." Contacts between powerful businessmen and powerful politicians may look distasteful but it is naive to think they will never happen or never did.

Osbourne has now apologised: "To be honest this didn't look very good and that's something I regret." Both parties have slung mud at each other. Nothing can be proven either way. Mandelson can live with the attacks. It is going to be interesting to see how the Tories deal with their first real public scrutiny in some time.

State funding of political parties would of course remove many of the suspected underhand deals between business and politics. Neither of the main parties want this as they both seem to be infected by the desire to woo big business and big donations.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Cameron's speech: "I am a fiscal conservative" .

Yesterday David Cameron came across well without wowing me. He comes across well because he is a natural speaker and PR man. Gordon Brown is not one of those. Brown's speech was as good as one could expect, likewise Cameron looked better.

Cameron's focus was very much traditional Conservatism. His focus was on the family and small government as the remedies to the so called "broken society." This was predictable and showed Cameron appealing to his core vote, socially and economically conservative with a big and a small c. Brown's speech was a similar appeal to his party who needed reassurance that he was up to the job. Cameron didn't need to do that, but still touched on the Tory hot spots.

By stating his priority to be low taxes and praising Thatcher's economic revolution Cameron was appealing to a Tory party that hasn't changed its values. The Tory part has changed, but only in that it now has the confidence to appeal to the country and behave like they expect to govern.

The lack of belief in government to enact positive change is the sort of Thatcherite mantra that dominated the 1980s of my childhood. "People create jobs, not government" stated Cameron. couple this with tax cuts and falling tax revenue in a declining economy and this signals severe cuts. Cameron won't say that now, but if the Tories win we'll see it happen. The Tories have shown this in local government in Hammersmith and Fulham.

The claim that the Tories are the party of NHS is laughable. However, t many in the Labour Party and on the left play into Tory hands and prepare the ground for Cameron to make that kind of claim by constantly complaining about details when the NHS is substantively better than it was ten years ago. When do you hear of patients left to die on trolleys each winter? That was commonplace when I grew up and simply doesn't happen anymore.

I was angered when Cameron claimed that Labour doesn't believe in community, that we only believe in government and individuals. By the end of his speech Cameron was aggressive and in his pomp. I've no doubt he'll rise to whatever challenge Brown sets. What is clear is that Labour has been divided and introspective, while the Tories are united and talking to the country.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Boris and bendy buses

Since the GLA's Labour group garnered a pro-bendy bus article in Monday's Evening Standard article, Boris Johnson has remained firm in his desire to get rid of them. I've posted many times about the folly of this and I'm pleased London's Labour assembly members have picked up on this.

BJ has vowed to rid London of bendy buses by 2015 even though his term ends in 2012. BJ is aiming to sign new contracts for new buses running past his term in office. This year I've travelled around Europe a little and have seen the same buses on the streets of Helsinki, Tallin, Hamburg, Berlin and Brussels. In the UK we have them in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.

This whole bus obession is little more than the euqivalent of the vanity projects BJ and his team criticised the previous mayor for. Political Animals provide a great breakdown of these. The Cross River Tram would make a tremendous difference to parts of London like Peckham and Camberwell, which suffer from dreadful transport links at present. The cost of this against the potential costs of a new bus that doesn't yet exist or an airport on an island in the Thames Estuary doesn't compare.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gordon Brown's speech

Now everyone has had time for reflection and I've had time to speak to other people across the Labour Party about Gordon Brown's speech to conference yesterday it is a good time to pass judgement.

He started well and themes of fairness and being on 'your' side worked well. Brown needs to keep on at this as a key differentiator between Labour and Tories. There is a gulf but nobody will know if Labour never make it explicit:

"Just think where our country would be if we'd listened to them. No paternity leave, no New Deal, no Bank of England independence, no Sure Start, no devolution, no civil partnerships, no minimum wage, no new investment in the NHS, no new nurses, no new police, no new schools.

"So let's hear no more from the Conservatives - we did fix the roof while the sun was shining."

Gordon, where have you been? The rabble rousing, tub-thumping, robust policy laden speeches of the past seemed to have disappeared but there were glimpses yesterday of the Prime Minister we all thought we were going to get. Jonathan Freedland writes well about this.

Focusing on himself as the only person to steer Britain through troubled economic times was expected but important. This unique value proposition marks him against Cameron-Osbourne well. Brown took decisive action last week to allow Lloyds TSB to take over HBOS and for me, that was the start of the Brown fight-back.

BBC's John Pienaar, together with The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh on Five Live after the speech yesterday stated today that Brown's speech served it's primary purpose - to get the party back onside. Telling the party that"fairness is in our DNA" was an easy, but important point scorer. So far it appears to have broadly brought the party back onside. This was a stay of execution, Brown has more time now.

According to The Sun:

"This speech won Mr Brown precious breathing space. But his exhausted face revealed the strain this battle for survival is inflicting.

His ‘great clunking fist’ still managed to land a blow on David Cameron. Mr Brown portrayed the Tory leader as a carpet-bagger selling snake oil and patent cure-alls.

Mr Cameron must respond next week by filling the gaping holes in Tory policy — on Europe, taxes, spending and the NHS."

Ruth Kelly's resignation from cabinet shows there are still murmurs of discontent within and was either timed for maximum damage - diverting attention from Brown's speech - or totally misguided. Brown's forthcoming reshuffle is now the next most important challenge. He needs a cabinet to both support him and to promote his agenda - a cabinet with positive policies to improve Britain, not a sniping, critical opposition. Voters don't want to listen to a party tearing itself apart in public, they want a government to govern.

With a stronger team and (hopefully) showing the robustness of yesterday to the country, Brown needs to attack the Tories and to show the country why he said yesterday of the Tories:

"And when salesmen won't tell you what they are selling, it's because they are selling something no-one should buy."

For now, the challenge is with the Tories, but Brown will need to respond.

Yesterday the old Brown was back. I hope he stays.

Boris cuts bus capacity in London

I was pleased to see that the GLA's Labour Assembly members agree with my concerns about Mayor Johnson's decision to start taking bendy buses off London's busiest bus routes. This was picked up by yesterday's Evening Standard.

I'm worried that this gimmicky policy hasnb't been thought through and that the consequences for London are manifold:
  • Longer journey times: buses will take longer to board so will spend longer at stops
  • More blockages at bus stops: spending longer at bus stops means buses will block spaces at busy stops, such as those at Angel, creating more congestion
  • More carbon emssions: using smaller buses than at present means more buses on our streets to keep the same capacity, this means more emissions
  • Higher costs: more buses and more staff will be more expensive
  • More overcrowding: smaller buses on the busiest routes will mean less pleasant journeys. The bendy buses are already full, so replacing them with smaller buses seems a lunacy

MySpace Impact

A version of my last post "Labour = mess" was featured on MySpace UK's Impact page yesterday. Impact promotes networking in the Third Sector, helps fundraising and is a hub for politicians and comment on current affairs. In the USA, the Impact page hosts profiles and updates from all the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

In my opinion, MySpace has the edge over Facebook in hosting content, which should mean it becomes a hub of activity during November's elections.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Labour = mess

Labour has a few problems at the moment:
Under Blair Brown was happy to use junior ministers to stir up trouble and had them writing to the press or resigning to call for Blair to quit. He is now suffering the same treatment from his opponents. While it is easy to say Brown has laid the ground for an ill disciplined party, the party should know better. Further, all these people calling for a "debate" or leadership election were very quiet a little over a year ago when Brown received his coronation. Very few outside the left called for a leadership contest.

No political party will ever be successful if it is preoccupied with naval-gazing and in-fighting. The electorate only ever takes notice of political parties that offer solutions to their problems, look disciplined and cohesive. Labour offers none of these at the moment. Laying the blame for this might be fun but is futile. Labour would look even worse to the electorate by triggering a leadership election and engaging in even more naval gazing and blame laying.

In the 1970s and 1980s Labour tore out itself apart and the country wasn't interested. In the 1990s the Tories tore themselves to pieces and the country switched off. Why hasn't the Labour Party remembered this primal lesson?

However, both Labour and the Tories learnt to change their leader to make themselves more popular, but only when an alternative leader was more popular with the public. Labour switched to John Smith in 1992, then chose Blair. The Tories were quick to dump Thatcher when it looked like they would lose.

Conversely, there wouldn't be any of this bickering if people were happy with Brown's performance. He needs to start behaving like the political bruiser he was made out to be. He is meant to be an expert on finance and economics so it would be good to hear Brown offering solutions to the meltdown of our under-regulated financial sector. The economic woes fill the news at the moment but there is very little comment from Brown or Labour about what we are going to do about it.

"At our best when at our boldest" Blair once said. If only Brown would listen.

Mayor's question time

Boris is cutting capacity on London's key bus routes.

Interesting notes from the Boris Johnson's recent Mayor's question time. He is carrying out his pledge to banish bendy buses from our streets. As the contracts expire on each route they will be replaced. First will be the "Red Arrow" 507 and 521 buses between Waterloo & Victoria/London Bridge. There doesn't seem to be any explanation yet as to how the overall capacity on these routes will be made up with running smaller buses.

Routes 38, 29 and 73 are to follow. Whatever replaces them will be slower and carry less people. Has this really been thought through?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tube PPP mess

As has been mooted for several months, London's tube upgrade faces spiralling costs and could run out of money. The PPP was meant to take these sorts of risks away from the public purse, but as we have seen with the collapse of Metronet, if the private contractors can't make money out of a project, the risk ends up in public hands.

In my first post-university job I screened PFI bids. PFI bids were normally deemed "better value" than direct public investment because of the transfer of risk to the private sector. The risk of delay and spiralling costs was with the private, not public sector.

The Guardian quotes tube boss Tim O'Toole as stating that without full funding for the PPP, "The infrastructure is so old and unreliable that we are going to see a contraction in capacity," - London cannot cope and needs more capacity, not less.

Boris Johnson has stated he will go to the Department for Transport to seek additional funding. This represents a test of how the Labour government will work with a Tory mayor - or not. For London's sake I hope that Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly opts in the best interests of Londoners and pays up. I worried political point scoring might win and our tube may crumble.

Read more:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Creative accounting from Gilligan again

According to Andrew Gilligan in yesterday's Evening Standard, Ken Livingstone was responsible for raising London's public transport fares by one third in 2007 (when a zone 1 cash single increased from £2 to £3). Of course, this ignores that cash fares were increased to persuade more people to use Oyster Cards instead. Oyster fares were frozen last year.

By 2005 (three years ago) over 80% of tube and bus journeys were made on Oyster cards, report contractor Transys.

Gilligan has fired a political shot at the former mayor in trying to bolster the current one after Boris Johnson announced large rises in public transport fares.

Update: information on former mayor Ken Livingstone's fare changes for the start of 2008, when cash fares did not increase. Season tickets did rise, though this is because they include payments to the rail operators in London, who are not regulated by the Mayor.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A new bus for London? Why bother?

Is anyone going to design this new "Routemaster" bus for London that was such a hallmark of Boris Johnson's mayoral campaign to the suburbs? TfL recently issued a reminder to budding designers, though I wonder what the hurry is when going from conecept to public service is going to take years anyway. Perhaps nobody is interested?

After seeing BJ hike pulblic transport fares at the first possible opportunity, it is foolhardy to spend £100m on designing a new bus. BJ's specification will result in less capacity on London's busiest bus routes. It could also cause more delays. Bendy buses can stop, load and unload very quickly because there are three sets of doors and a single deck. Double deckers can be very slow. Just compare the 38 (bendy) and 19 (double decker) at Angel.

This is hardly efficient. This is pointless. This is also unfair on people who need public transport most. Less buses, higher fares. Tory all over. It didn't take long.

Ken Livingstone put it succinctly:

"London has a Mayor who transfers millions of pounds from ordinary Londoners who use public transport to drivers of gas guzzlers and residents of Kensington and Chelsea."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Mayor = big picture; London Mayor = no plan

I'm slightly surprised that rumour has it Tory "Central Office" bigwigs agree with me that Boris Johnson's first few months in office have been a disappointment. Again, not because of the resignations and sacking, but because of the total lack of vision presented.

What is Boris in City Hall for? What does he want to do? So far all we have are increases to public transport fares at the expense of every Londoner to curry favour with the Chelsea set and their gas guzzlers. I'm disgusted. I'm not surprised at all.

Transport and environmental projects like the Oxford Street Tram (which he claimed to support in his manifesto), Cross River Tram and instead wasting money on replacing the much needed bendy buses with something smaller and less adequate on our busiest bus routes.

Boris' only plans before he was elected were to sort out crime and make City Hall more efficient. Crime is an almost impossible problem to fix, at least in four short years. Efficiency - he has made cuts, though has also spent heavily on staff and employing a chauffeur for himself.

BJ has plan for London. I'm worried. Central Office should be too.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Lammy on the money

Writing in the latest Progress magazine, David Lammy admits the obvious, that the Tories' language under Cameron has wooed the public. There is nothing startling about that to anyone who has lived in the UK for the last year. There is if you are The Daily Mail. The Mail has triumphantly dubbed Lammy's article "Labour minister publicly admits David Cameron has 'touched a nerve" like it is a revelation that someone in the Labour Party has admitted that Cameron's Tories are leading in the opinion polls. Lammy's glasses must be good.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No such thing as a broken society

In his Telegraph column yesterday, Mayor Boris Johnson dubbed Tory leader David Cameron's claim that British society is broken, "piffle." Conservative Home rightly pointed out that this high level disagreement was overshadowed by Tim Parker's resignation yesterday. Some other titles picked up on this (Daily Mail, Paul Waugh at the Evening Standard).

Cameron wants to denigrate today's society and is positioning himself as best placed to fix it. Aside from my view that the Cameron/Osbourne proposals (supporting marriage, being tough on crime, fewer tax credits) to fix the breaks are likely to make things worse not better, I think we really need to highlight how this analysis is wrong in the first place. Therefore BJ's intervention is most helpful. Of course there are social problems in Britain, but to claim that Britain is socially broken is both cynical and wrong.

Cameron needs to tar British society with the brush of failure because governments lose elections and for Labour to lose they need to be shown to have failed. However, aside from political necessity I think this analysis is more dangerous. In the same way that talking of a looming economic recession can damage business and consumer confidence leading to lower spending and investment and recession, talk of a broken society can make people feel less safe, more cynical and negative about their neighbourhood.

I don't always agree with him, but on this occasion Jack Straw is exactly right:

Boris Johnson has exposed David Cameron's mantra that Britain is broken for what it is: Piffle.

'Only this week, the Tory leader was again saying our country is broken. Yet today the mayor has been frank in his opposition to his leader's claim, which has always been the most cynical nonsense.

'Whatever David Cameron might say, Britain is a decent, compassionate and vibrant nation, and on almost every measure it has got better in the past decade. No one has broken Britain and no one ever will.'

Our country is not broken like Cameron wants to claim, far from it. We should not write off our young people otherwise we may get the response we deserve. Hopefully our mayor can show the leadership where he has so far failed and ensure London's young are not written off.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another of Boris Johnson's deputy mayors quits

BBC London radio and others are reporting that another of Boris Johnson's fabled deputy mayors has quit. This really is getting a little careless. Latest one is union buster Tim Parker, a canny double for BJ's sports commissioner, Kate Hoey. And yes, I do think she should be kicked out of the Labour Party.

Parker has apprently resigned as he thought it inappropriate for an unelected official to hold the positions of First Depurty Mayor and Chair of Transport for London. I couldn't agree more. London may have elected Jonson, they elected him to lead London, not a team of co-opted Tory cronies.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Do we need a new captain?

Does Labour need a "captain" in charge to arrest the slide in the polls as most media comment suggests, or do we need to back the one we already have?

Writing at Labourhome, John Prescott claims that "it wasn’t the Captain that sank the Titanic – a ship they claimed was unsinkable - it was the iceberg. The best way to avoid disaster is to manage your way around the problem...For me, it’s all about setting the right course. That’s why I’ve always favoured policy over personality and why I believe Gordon’s the right captain."

Favouring policy over personality is a virtuous ideal but politics isn't ideal. New Labour's success was based on pushing a slick, well branded personality politics onto the country when politics had become tired after the Major years. In London recently Boris Johnson won a battle of personality politics over Ken Livingstone. This is the battleground on which political fights are won. Without the personality the policy doesn't matter.

Gordon Brown has become a victim of this. Media commentators have decided that the Tories are credible for the first time in a generation and that Brown is not. Once momentum is lost and is running against you it is impossible to regain. However, a new leader might not be the answer, as last week's polls showed that Labour would be just as unpopular with David Milliband at the helm. Labour cannot afford a leadership election financially, let alone a general election that would become impossible to resist if a new leader were elected.

Labour is faced with Hobson's choice. It would be far simpler if the party showed discipline. To backed a Brown leadership the party and country needs to see him offering strong leadership and fresh ideas. At the moment that isn't the case. I fear that the party could end up in the worst of all positions, new leader, new elections and yet the same result than if Brown stays = defeat.

This is likely because Labour feels rudderless with the party and country reacting to the media fervour for blood. Following the media rather than leading it, new Labour was once famed for doing the latter, is exactly what put Labour in this mess in the first place. The nonsense over the election that never was permanently damaged Brown's leadership credentials and he has never recovered. At the time I thought a general election unnecessary yet the speculation was only nipped in the bud when the damage was already done.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

DUP: "minority views are more important than the majority views"

This blogger has been on holiday in Finland and Estonia. More about that another time perhaps. It is good to be back. As much as I enjoy travelling, I always love being back in London and the UK. When I'm away I sometimes think of "England" with rose tinted spectacles about how advanced my country is.

DUP MP Iris Robinson is one such example of why my thoughts that the UK is a progressive country can be mis-guided. After recently suggesting that homosexuals should be referred to psyhchiatrists fro "treatment" she has gone one better and has now publicly likened her abhorrence for paedophilia to homosexualty. She said:

"I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable. I feel totally repulsed by both."

I'm totally repulsed by Robinson. She has apparently felt the need to act becuase:

"“I am speaking out more now because we are getting it more and more rammed down our throats that the minority views are more important than the majority views. I am not trying to alienate anyone. Anyone can come to me with any problems. I do not turn anyone away."

I can't see any children in her consituency who have suffered homophobic bullying feeling like their MP will provide the answers they need. This sort of vile hatred simply makes that sort of behaviour more acceptable.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

City Hall = circus

While I've been away I've missed lots of action at City Hall.

BJ's team, in training before they (hope to) move to Downing Street after the next election is depleted and is continually defending itself from multiple accusations. At first sight it looks like little planning went into the construction of BJ's team, Ray Lewis' background clearly wasn't looked into, otherwise I can't imagine he would have been appointed. His planning deputy Sir Simon Milton had to step down after the legality of his role was questioned while at the same time as leading Westminster City Council.

Today Boris Johnson announced that he wants to cut 15% of the GLA's spending. He has tried to pass all his powers to unelected deputies or back to the boroughs. The GLA was established to take strategic decisions that the 32 boroughs (+ the City) couldn't take by themselves. Johnson is trying to degrade the post of Mayor. Before the election I spoke of the need for city mayors to take bold decisions, build capital projects, host festivals and build pride into city life. Very quickly Johnson has shown he has no interest in this.

Charges that can easily be levelled at Johnson are many of the same that his team and the Evening Standard leveraged against Ken Livingstone to get him elected in the first place:
  • Cronyism - his "independent Forensic Audit Panel that "investigated" the spending of the LDA under Livingstone was nothing but a Tory whitewash
  • Waste - Brain Coleman's taxi bill, Johnson's use of a Government Car Service private chauffeur, all the wages for his "interim team" and legion of deputies
I've been away too long to list them all, The Liberal Conspiracy does a much better job anyway, or you can read Dave Hill's well referenced Guardian article.

The problem we face is that most Londoners no longer care about this now the election is over. Boris is doing his best to do nothing as mayor, why be mayor if he doesn't believe in the office?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is the mayoral system accountable enough?

So far we have only had two London mayors, Ken Livingstone and now Boris Johnson. Early signs are that Johnson will take a very different approach to Livingstone. This matters because the political structures are still quite new and established practice, which forms the basis for much of British democracy, hasn't yet settled down.

The mayor is meant to be scrutinised by the assembly. This is supplemented by media scrutiny. The assembly's role is set by law and is quite limited., largely to investigation of issues. Scrutiny of the mayor is tempered because politically the assembly needs a two thirds majority to veto the mayor's budget. With 11 of 25 current members Tory (44%), this is unlikely.

The media's role isn't set by law but is more important in brining City Hall closer to the electorate. The Evening Standard's high profile campaign against Livingstone at the recent election brought the whole event a much higher profile. Johnson campained on the basis that he would be a more transparent, accountable mayor. So far the evidence is that he is being less open and less accountable. This goes against what he campaigned for and makes a little understood institution more distant from Londoners.

Johnson has limited journalists to a single question, while Livingstone, widely known as a master of detail, stayed available until all questions had been answered. Even the Standard are pointing this out. One London's Damian Hockney isn't impressed and neither am I:
"one question per journo, Boris? Come on, you're not Madonna or David Beckham - that's how anyone who doesn't want to answer a question deals with accountability."

During the election Johnson was certainly kept from talking to the press and it looks like this is set to continue.

Johnson pledged to bring in people's question times, a great idea, however only two are planned per year. My feeling is that the overall level of scrutiny will be far less under this mayor. This isn't a good start, though hardly a surprising one.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

City Hall a waste of money?

The GLC was abolished in 1985 because, it was claimed by Thatcher's government, city government was a waste of money and simply duplicated the work already done by the boroughs. Fast forward to 2008 and much of the local coverage of the GLA mayoral elections focused on possible wasted money. The inference of this campaigning was that Ken Livingstone wasted public money and that Boris Johnson would be more careful.

Therefore I was shocked to find that BJ's "handover" team is going to cost at least £465,000. This team is simply there to aid the transition to a new administration, not to actually run it. When much fuss was made over the salaries to officials like TfL's Peter Hendy, this revelation is at least a surprise and at most a disgrace.

ToryTroll reports that this is 70% of the cost to pay BJ's full time team for a whole year, while these "consultants" and Tory activists will only be working for between one and six months.

I sat at several mayoral election debates where BJ constantly berated Ken for the type of people he had employed and how much he paid them. He clearly doesn't feel the need to apply the same standards he expects of others to himself.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Conrad Black just can't help himself (enough)

Conrad Black really does have some guts. Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague's buddy has had his legal fees paid by the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, despite him being in prison for defrauding that company. Someone please explain that.

Black and his three co-convicts have collectively received $70m in legal fees defending themselves from charges of defrauding $6m from the company. I will be watching this carefully as Black's appeal is due to be heard next week (June 5) with a ruling on the Sun-Times' fees to follow later, presumably after they've paid out more for the appeal.

What a wonderful concept. I rob Peter to pay Paul and then get Peter to pay for my trial.

Crime really does come free.

TfL take over Metronet

As the new Mayor takes over the failed Metronet PPP contract for the tube upgrade I do wonder what happened to the private sector taking on the "risk." If only all that extra money wasted on lawyers had been spent directly on upgrades...

Indeed, the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee reported in 2002 that "it is however apparent that the position on risk has moved dramatically in favour of the private sector companies" - this is obviously what happened.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bendy buses and London

Transport for London introduced bendy buses to London's streets primarily to transport large numbers of people on busy routes quickly. These buses can legally carry 150 people, though I'm sure more usually pack on in rush hours. If Boris' transport team can come up with something better I'd like to see it. Perhaps they could try Mercedes Benz even bigger articulated bus, carrying 193 people?

I don't have a problem with bendy buses. This whole debate is a smokescreen for what London's transport really needs. More capacity, more high speed transit, tubes and trams.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Boris bus bunkem part 2

The Boris/Evening Standard campaign for Mayor focused on the pledge to get rid of bendy buses and replace them with a new Routemaster, which I repeatedly pointed out doesn't exist. In today's first Assembly questions the Mayor faced criticism from Labour members of the vagueness of his plans.

I also picked up from the Standard itself (great to see some balanced reporting) that BJ's transport advisor Kulveer Ranger admitted that a hop on - hop off bus might not be possible. Now the idea seems to be to bring an iconic design to London, a slight departure from the original Routemaster pledge.

I'm delighted that my assembly member Jennette Arnold took the Chair today. I heard her on LBC's breakfast show this morning and I know she is very proud to be the first female to chair the assembly. It has also given her national press exposure. Early reports seem to show that the wit and quips mostly absent from the election campaign are back from Boris. I hope he doesn't use these to divert attention from the seriousness of the job.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lib Dems = Tories

When reading the papers for LBC yesterday I was not suprised to read that Nick Clegg has decided he will support the Tories in the event of a hung parliament. Thanks to Tom Miller for reminding me.

I've often said that a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for the Tories, not just because we have a two party system. In 1979 the Liberals voted with the Tories to let in Thatcher in the vote of confidence. In local government there are plenty of examples of Tories supporting the Lib Dems and vice versa. Southwark, Lambeth , Birmingham...

When people claim the Lib Dems are a left wing party they should think about this first and realise their vote goes straight into the Tory pocket.

Ken and me on LBC

Perhaps not at the same time. I made my LBC debut yesterday morning reviewing the newspapers for the LBC News 1152 breakfast show.

I highlighted the backlash over Labour sending supporters around the Crewe and Nantwich by-election dressed as toffs. Not a wise move when one of them was privately educated. I know the "other one" and he was not. Perhaps a few checks there might have been wise. The Daily Mirror was the only newspaper to cover David Cameron's professional huntsman being the first person to be taken to court over fox hunting since the 2004 Hunting Act. Cameron a toff? Lord no!

I also mentioned the potential black hole in the Crossrail finances. It will be interesting to see whether Johnson chooses to raise fares for any cost over-run or if he will persuade the Treasury to help out. I just can't see a Labour run government helping him out. Forcing Johnson into raising fares would potentially make him unpopular so I think that might be forced upon him. The private sector has already invested heavily in the project so I can see any further requests for funds falling on deaf ears. The East London Advertiser reports that Gordon Brown might choose to shelve the project. This would be disastrous for London.

I enjoyed the radio slot and hope to be featuring again soon.

Ken Livingstone has today agreed to host a phone in show on LBC 97.3 FM. It'll be great to have Ken back in the public sphere. Whatever people think of him, I think most Londoners respect his career commitment to the city and his wit. In the election he seemed tired so I look forward to hearing his wise cracks again.

Indeed, BBC quoted LBC programme director Jonathan Richards: "Ken Livingstone brings unique insight to LBC.

"After eight years as Mayor of London, no-one knows this city and its people better."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Facebook censors Boris Watch

I'm disappointed though not surprised that Facebook has banned the Boris Watch group. This was set up after the election to promote debate about London's new mayor and sparked a great deal of interest from the 3000 plus members, both positive and negative.

Apparently the group was a violation of the sites terms because it attacks a group or individual. This seems to be very heavy handed when a quick search of any major company name brings up scores of groups dedicated to criticising them.

An acquaintance of mine was banned from Facebook when a friend of his had jokingly flagged his account as having "objectionable content." He was banned automatically and is now on Facebook under a false name.

I have joined the "Bring Back Boris Watch" group - lets see if BJ's team get that banned too. This saga could really roll on...for about four years...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Trots on the election

Whenever I want to amuse myself I take a look to see what rubbish Leon Trotsky's disciples are spouting. Apparently, Ken Livingstone lost the mayoralty because "by promoting policies that centred on building the capital as a centre for world finance." This is obviously why the Tories won and the Left List candidate only polled 22,000 votes. If anyone seriously thought Ken was too right wing there cannot have been too many of them using that statistic.

You can read the rest of the Socialist Workers Party "analysis" for yourself. Like all their prose it was far too long winded for my short attention span.

Friday, May 09, 2008

What Brown should do next: me on Five Live

I managed to record my appearance on Tuesday's Simon Mayo show on BBC Radio Five Live thanks to TV Eyes and Gareth Owens. Listen away. So far this year I've managed to feature on The World at One on Radio Four, so just the Today Programme to do now...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Bold Labour

I wrote yesterday of how I spoke on BBC Radio Five Live of the need for Labour to be bold, mark its territory set out a clear Labour vision.

I am a big fan of James Purnell and in the latest New Statesman he argues the very same thing. It is another as to whether Labour will successfully do so. Set out a bold vision showing that Labour really wants to remove children from poverty to open up opportunity. Because we believe this to be morally right, not because we think it will make people vote for us, like Cameron's Conservatives.

Be bold, be Labour, then make a concerted effort to show why a Labour government will be better and different from a Tory government that pays lip service to social justice. It pays lip service because New Labour has shifted the centre of political gravity after ten years in power. Don't forget that. Otherwise, why would the Tories even be talking about poverty? When I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, they denied it was even an issue.

Marking out clear divisions between Labour and Tories might also help recapture voters who have become cynical of political parties and have ceased to engage in the political process. This is the challenge for Brown. He needs to meet it, otherwise I fear for the future.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Election post mortem on BBC Radio Five Live

I admit to having spent the weekend out of London, which helped stave off the depression of defeat. My words here have been sparse after weeks of intensive campaigning. Finally, my life seems to be falling back into place. I'll leave Ken, BJ and Gilligan for another day.

Labour needs to avoid an internal massacre, now is not the time for root and branch change. The recent elections were always likely to be tough, being in the third term. However, Labour needs to take a few relatively easy steps towards salvation. I even find myself agreeing with Ann McElvoy on this.

I was asked to speak (as a follower of Progress) on Simon Mayo's BBC Radio Five Live show yesterday lunch time about where Labour should head from here. There was some common agreement between the guests, Graham Stringer MP, Khalid Mahmoud MP, Michael Meacher MP, Lorraine Davidson and Gavin Hayes (Compass) that Gordon Brown doesn't have much more than six to twelve months to show strong leadership. Views differed about how exactly Brown should improve his and Labour's fortunes.

Brown needs to communicate a clear and consistent message. At the moment I find it difficult to crystallise what his leadership is trying to achieve. The same couldn't be said for Blair, whether right or wrong.

Brown needs to make public services more responsive to peoples' needs, making their lives easier, not more complicated. This means simplifying the over bureaucratic (but redistributive) tax credits system and better communicating the changes to (particularly) the NHS. Longer opening hours for GP surgeries is a fantastic change, making the lives of many much better. However, like the Young Fabian mentioned in McElvoy's article, many of those potential Labour voters who I speak to, do not correlate changes like this, the minimum wage, or better buses in London, with Labour.

Labour also needs to talk about aspiration and talk to the whole country, not retreating to the core vote. This is dangerous and will only lead us towards the nadir or 1983, much as the Tories did in 2001.

Labour needs to rediscover under Brown the secrets of the success of the mid 1990s. There is a young team in the cabinet in Balls, Milliband, Milliband and Purnell who should be able to match Cameron's Tory team. The success of the mod 1990s was based on a young team, strong PR and communications focused on providing solutions to what people wanted. The young team needs to harness this approach. I also wonder what the PR experts recently appointed by Brown have planned. They need to act fast.

You can listen to my thoughts when I manage to upload the excerpt, or the whole debate (click on Tuesday, this will work until Tuesday 13 May 2008), I come on about 32 minutes in, after the sports news.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

People don't get it

It is hardly suprising that according to YouGov, large swathes on London voters don't understand how the voting system for mayor and assembly works. Neither is it surprising that a great number of voters, including many I have met recently, don't realise that they will have up to four votes on three different ballot papers.

The Electoral Commisson has spent a great deal of effort and money running ads in all of the London newspapers and at bus stops reminding people that there is an election. I'm sure everyone knows there is an election on. I'm also sure most people don't really get how the preferential Alternative Vote system works.

Voters get two choices as I'm sure my readership knows. Of course, those voting for Ken or Johnson for Mayor only really get one. The second preferences only count for those voting for candidates finishing outside the top two after the first choices are counted. Only in the last decade has Britain moved away from plurality (First Past the Post) voting to more proportional voting systems for regional and European elections.

It probably doesn't matter that much that some people might not make a second preference as most will vote Labour or Tory. What does matter is much of the effort in explaining the voting system has been left to partisan door-to-door canvassers and party literature. How about using some of the broadcast slots reserved for party election broadcasts for a spot by the Electoral Commission to actually explain this in a neutral way?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Boris bus bunkem

Even the Evening Standard was forced to print Johnson's admission that his plan to replace bendy buses was a total mess. I can't believe how Tory editor Anne McElvoy managed to allow him to be dubbed "Blundering Boris", though it barely detracted from another edition of biased and unbalanced reporting of the race for Mayor.

I'm pleased the total lack of substance to Johnson's "flagship" transport "policy" has finally been exposed. I have been writing for weeks that this new fabled replacement to the bendy bus doesn't even exist on a drawing board, let alone on any streets.

Dave Hill gives a fantastic account of the spiralling costs of the pie in the sky costing of this policy. This includes last week's Newsnight debate where Paxman persistently asked Johnson to cost his policy, which he could not do. Last month Hill quoted one of my posts and asked that despite the fact I am ""Labour-focussed," but does that mean a lot of neutrals aren't thinking the same thing?" Good question. I think they are thinking that.

Now that all polls show both candidates neck and neck, the real challenge starts for Johnson to prove himself. As polling day nears it will be almost impossible for Lynton Crosby to keep him out of the news and this must be a good thing for Livingstone.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


The Gilligan - Johnson campaign has sought to taint Ken Livingstone and his team as lacking in probity and integrity. The constant drip of allegations has been unhelpful of course. Ken has been in power for eight years so it is much easier for the mud to leave a smear even if it doesn't stick than if he was enjoying his honeymoon period in office.

The Gilligan - Johnson team has constantly attacked Ken's aides like Lee Jasper and civil servants, Peter Hendy of TfL. Surely this should open Johnson up for questions about his own team. Hypocritcally, he has refused to say who they are. That isn't fair game, though politics has never been fair. Johnson will not say because he is protecting them and becuase his master, Lynton Crosby has been working hard to keep attention away from Johnson and on Livingstone. The less exposure Johnson has the less damage he can do.

Ken seeks a third term just has he is becoming more radical and has really grown into what was an unknown job in 2000. London needs his vision and ambition and it looks like he is finally coming into his own.

Johnson is "flakey" according to Michael White. I agree. He has made much of his "plan" to replace bendy buses with a new Routemaster. On LBC this morning he admitted that "The bus we are going to bring in is not yet on the drawing board,'' so why make a play of something you can't deliver?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Will the green agenda win?

How green London can be is one policy area the Mayor has real power to make a difference in. Ken Livingstone has already moved London towards becoming a "sustainable city 2020" and introducing the low emission zone and Congestion Charge. I have documented my support for this previously and it needs stating again because it is so vital.

In today's Guardian Society John Vidal appraises the leading candidates, quoting numerous 'greens' who variously support Livingstone. Anyone who cares about London and who cares about the envirnment should read it.

London currently leads world cities in tackling climate change. Boris Johnson would see this end. Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth says that "(London) has emerged as a leader in the struggle to avoid catastrophic global warming. This is in large part down to the leadership of Ken Livingstone." Stephen Haile of the Green Alliance dubs Ken a "trailblazer (who) sets the standard for leadership and action matched by no one else in British politics."

This is fine praise. Coupled with progressive transport policies that will make a real difference to London, Ken really trumps it for those who can bothered to find out.

The Evening Standard's grossly biased coverage of the election makes it easy for Labour/Ken supporters to get pessimistic. I don't believe this is necessary and it certainly won't help get Ken re-elected. Thankfully The Ipsos Mori poll published today shows Ken in the lead, if only by 2% - though this is remarkably similar to last week's ICM poll. A significant number of Londoners are progressively minded and will back Ken. The Labour movement needs to keep reminding them why. A better environment and better transport are two great reasons.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Second preferences have it

Any form of opinion polling should be looked at with a careful eye. Whether by telephone or web, successful polls always need willing respondents and that will inevitably exclude some people. Nevertheless, Ken's campaign was still on risky territory by initially challenging the Evening Standard's YouGov polls, which showed at least a 10% lead for Johnson. This is based on the theory that many Labour voters are hard to reach.

YouGov didn't weight their results for the ethnicity of London or filter out those unlikely to vote, rendering their results unreliable. They did garner positive

Today's Guardian ICM poll puts Johnson one point ahead. Livingstone is far ahead among women, non-whites and those in inner London. The key to victory resides in getting Labour voters to actually vote. Closing the "Labour gap" between those who identify with the Party and actually vote.

Labour also badly needs the Lib Dem second preferences. My belief that most Lib Dems are inherently more right than left is borne out by the poll findings showing that Paddick supporters are more likely to give Johnson their second preferences than Ken. Having watch Paddick "perform" at the Evening Standard's Influentials debate on Monday I can understand why Lib Dems might like our Brian. He was wooden, as if being interviewed for a job. Most of his responses were taken straight from a management manual. When asked what book would guide him through mayoralty he said "I want to listen to London, not be guided by a book." Great. Thanks Brian. Unfortunately his supporters hold the key, but Ken's strategy of wooing them by bigging up his environmental credentials is exactly the right one for the sandal brigade.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spin it all

This is too good not to share, politicos and PR people among us, is this really what we do? Of course not.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Are bendy buses really London's biggest problem?

If you only read Andrew Gilligan's column in the London Evening Standard you might think so. He quotes an October 2007 Daily Mirror article describing the horrible death of 21 year old Lee Beckwith in East London, after the young man was dragged for "more than a mile" by a number 25 bendy bus, without the driver realising.

Clearly the safety of bendy buses needs to be looked at properly, because nobody wants to see unnecessary harm caused, together with fare evasion on those routes. The fact remains though that Boris Johnson's much fabled new Routemaster doesn't exist. Bendy buses were introduced to high demand routes where double deckers are inaccessible and impractical because boarding takes too long.

I noted with interest a report to Swansea City Council by First Group about introducing bendy buses to the city (they are also used in Nottingham, Leeds and Manchester already, among others). Though conditions there were not thought to be comparible to London, it was noted that accidents involving the buses are "well below expectations when compared to the standard UK First Bus fleet." Worth noting. Perhaps we can learn from this in London? Or listen to it?

The most important transport issues facing London are capacity and affordability. Our network is over crowded, so we need more of it. Simple. Ken Livingstone has already got these projects agreed and underway for London, Crossrail, East London Line extension and has proposed further schemes like the Oxford Street Tram. Johnson has no new ideas of his own, which worries me. If he became Mayor , I doubt he would offer anything new or exciting, only projects he didn't devise or think of.

When offered a choice between two candidates, with the same policies, I'll be voting for the one who actually thought of them in the first place. Not the one who only has one, unworkable idea.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ken versus Boris and Andrew

Taking transport and the so called "issue" of bendy buses in London, Andrew Gilligan has sought to attack Ken Livingstone's campaign in favour of his former paymaster Boris Johnson, yet again.

Despite the claims of Gilligan tonight that TfL's Peter Hendy acted politically in defending the use of these buses against Johnson's slurs, this wasn't the case. The "evidence" he presents shows Hendy defending the policy he enacted. That he names Johnson's campaign doesn't make a civil servant political, he was simply stating the case against someone who was criticising TfL policy. Civil servants are also meant to be anonymous traditionally, so Gilligan's article flouts that practice.

This is a red herring. Ken's transport policy for London is progressive, making travel affordable for those on low incomes and free for the young and old. Expanding the network by delivering Crossrail and better rail services will make London easier to get around for everyone. Contrast this with the Tory proposals. Replace bendy buses with an accessible Routemaster that doesn't exist. Scrap the £25 congestion charge for gas guzzlers. What effect will that have? The bendy buses will remain on the streets (where they are needed on crowded routes like the 38, 73 and 29), while the air will be more polluted. That is it. Progress versus regression.

The two visions laid out by the leading candidates for the Mayoralty are starkly different. One is ambitious, one is piecemeal at best. However, Ken's campaign needs to work hard to ensure this message gets through to voters. Johnson is being treated as a serious candidate because, with the help of his friends in the media and at Associated Newspapers, he is being seen as one, according to opinion polls.

This is going to be a hard fought campaign. For the first time since I was a pre-teen, the Tories are being treated seriously. However, the last time that happened, Labour had no record of delivery to speak of. Ken does and that gives him a position of strength.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ken's campaign launch

I attended Ken Livingstone's campaign launch today at Royal Festival Hall. He set out his vision for London, one with better transport, lower crime, more youth provision, more affordable housing and less pollution. I was impressed, though not suprised.

Following my earlier post that Boris Johnson had no actual plan to replace bendy buses with these mystical new Routemasters, he admitted today that he really doesn't know how he plans to implement one of his best known "policies."

The choice for London is stark, ambition and progress versus stagnation and confusion.

Friday, March 14, 2008

How exactly is Boris Johnson proposing to bring back the Routemaster?

Boris Johnson keeps saying that he wants to bring to London a modern version of the Routemaster bus. Great. Only one small snag, how exactly? Where does this new bus exist and how much will it cost?

It doesn't. So nobody knows how much it will cost to research, design, build and buy. A mayoral term lasts four years, product development and licencing would take longer than that. So even if Boris managed to get a design approved it is unlikely that he would be able to replace bendy buses with a new Routemaster duting his term of office anyway.

If this is all he has to offer then London deserves more ambition than a vague and unresearched idea. It is nothing more than that.

"A spokeswoman for Johnson said the new Routemaster bus had not been designed yet it was not possible to say how many would be needed or what the total cost would be."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Boris commits to air-conditioning on tube

Boris Johnson has "pledged" to add air-conditioning to the sub-surface (District, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan) lines on the tube. Great. Except that this is already happening as part of the PPP upgrade. Something new would be nice.

Livingstone's London cycle hire scheme

Just thought it worth pointing out that Ken Kivingstone's proposed bike hire scheme was not copied from Boris Johnson's. Mayorwatch quite rightly points out that Ken's scheme was proposed over a month before Boris was even selected as Tory candidate. There is nothing like incumbency. Ken was negotiating this in August.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ken's London transport manifesto

Reading Boris Johnson's transport manifesto last week one could be forgiven for thinking that Crossrail and the East London Line extension weren't happening. He just seems obsessed with bendy bus soundbites. Ken's manifesto, out today, is full of ambition and progressive proposals for London.

There is a lot to get excited about in London over the next four years with the Olympics and new transport developments. On my way to watch Leyton Orient I go past the Olmypic site at it's Northern peak, by the A12 in Hackney Wick. The sheer scale of the development and the positive change it will bring to London hits you. The city will change immeasurably in the next four years.

I feel that none of the ambitious projects, Olympics, Crossrail and the East London Line Extension, would have happened under the Tories or if Johnson had been Mayor. There is obviously a great deal that could go wrong.

One part of Ken's transport manifesto that didn't get much pick up today was the plan to introduce a bicycle hire scheme, a mirror of the hugely successful one in Paris. Other new projects of note include extending Croydon Tramlink to Crystal Palace and the Oxford Street transit. Wresting control of London's railways is also being discussed. This would make a massive difference to South Londoners who don't get the benefit of the tube or Oyster pay as you go.

Progress versus posturing. That choice was made very clear today.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Jasper quits, what next for the Evening Standard?

Hopefully now that Lee Jasper has quit after the reporting of his embarrassing flirty emails yeaterday we can focus on policy in the run up to the election.

In the last couple of days there have been some good articles focusing on the issues vexing London at the moment. The Independent on Sunday's Gilligan interview, today's Guardian Livingstone interview, we have to remember that it is Ken versus Boris, not Ken versus Gilligan/Evening Standard.

Gilligan claims he isn't returning a favour to Boris Johnson for employing him at the Spectator after he lost his position at the BBC after the Hutton Enquiry. Dave Hill's "What if Boris wins?" reminded me that Johnson previously offered his support to the thankfully now jailed convicted fraudster Conrad Black.

More importantly for London, Boris has unveiled his transport manifesto. This includes "consulting" (read abolish) on the western part of the Congestion Charge zone and to get a no-strike deal with the tube unions. I can't see that happening and anyway, strikes have hardly been the scourge of the travelling public in London recently. There was no vision, no schemes to get excited about or to reduce carbon emissions.

Perhaps the only thing exicting about what Boris says is how he says it, not what he says. London needs more.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What else has Lee Jasper supposedly done?

Now the Daily Mail is accusing Lee Jasper of sending "sexually charged" messages to a woman in charge of an organisation in receipt of LDA money. This doesn't look great and takes the campaign onto a new level.

However, I'm more interested in the concept that many of the accusations against Jasper stem from alleged relationships, personal or political, that he may have with those in the ethnic minority community network. I don't think I'm missing the point, but isn't that exactly what you want in that sort of position? Surely the reason Jasper was appointed was precisely because he had such connections?

Friday, February 29, 2008

Oxford Street tram

I have just picked up that on Tuesday Ken Livingstone renewed his pledge to run a tram from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch along Oxford Street. Oxford Street is always blocked with buses and taxis despite all other traffic being banned. I always feel embarrassed that this is meant to be one of our flagship tourist destinations, rather it resembles a noisy and polluted shambles.

Getting rid of traffic will make the street more pleasant and show that London can really take on the challenges of climate change and of creating livable spaces - like the changes in Trafalgar Square from a few years ago.

Big up Ken. What vision has our Boris offered so far? Mayoralty should be about big projects and making people proud to live in their city. Look at the work of Bertrand Delanoë in Paris in bringing the Paris Plage and Rock en Seine or the transformation of Barcelona under Pasqual Maragall i Mira to see the pride and rebirth a forward thinking mayor prepared to face criticism from conservatives can do.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Conrad Black's appeal should fail - get the man in jail!

Does anyone remember the Canadian who renounced his nationality to become British and become a British peer? Conrad Black was recommended to become a Lord by then Tory Leader and current Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague.

Black was convicted of fraud last summer and has somehow dodged jail. His days of freedom seem numbered now though as his latest appeal against his conviction. The Press Association reports that:

"US prosecutors said an emergency request by lawyers for the 63-year-old former owner of the Daily Telegraph that he should remain free on bail pending the outcome of an appeal should be denied."

Get him behind bars like all other convicts.

Oh, I must thank Hague for giving us this wonderful man.