Confessions of a Political Animal

September 19, 2008

Boris and the Wild West – the epic continues

I wondered a couple of weeks ago whether Boris Johnson would be prepared to accept that consultations, such as that on the Western Congestion Charge Extension are not the same thing as a referendum, or that they are unable to provide a particularly accurate representation of public opinion, despite his pre-election rhetoric to the contrary.

Well we might have an answer – and it’s…sort of. 

At last week’s Mayor’s Question Time, Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson Caroline Pidgeon asked a written question on this issue:

In your Answer on the consultation process on the future of the Western extension of the Congestion Charging scheme [1227/2008 and others] you speak of “a wider representative survey” of opinion. Exactly what is planned for this survey? Which Londoners will you be listening to, and what weight will you give to residents within the Western extension as against those from outside that area?

Astoundingly, we did get some new information and a glimpse of realpolitik in Boris’ answer:

Since consultations can elicit views only from those with strong opinions, it is important to understand how representative these views are of the wider population. Therefore, TfL has commissioned a survey of 2,000 Londoners and 1,000 businesses alongside the public consultation. This is designed to complement and inform the outcome of the (more…)

September 18, 2008

Roger rabbits

The phrase ‘I am a critical friend of the government/the Mayor/the council/etc’ must be one of the most overused in modern politics. It is rarely more than 50% accurate: those who use this descriptor of themselves are usually either a) not in the slightest bit critical, but trying to convince themselves that they are; or b) not in the slightest bit friendly, but trying to convince the government/Mayor/council/etc that they are.

I think that it is safe to say that the Conservative group on the London Assembly falls clearly into the former category. This is despite the protestations made to the contrary by Havering & Redbridge AM Roger Evans in this article which he wrote for ConservativeHome yesterday, discussing the group’s role under the Boris Johnson mayoralty. In fact, the article’s title, ‘Opposing the Opposition’ gives a better insight into the mindset of the Assembly Tories than the assertion that

The key themes [for the group] are support without becoming enslaved to the executive, friendly criticism without being destructive.

It is worth picking apart a few strands of the article, as it gives some insight into how many back-bench members of governing parties (and, to be fair, not just Conservatives) quickly begin to deceive (more…)

September 16, 2008

‘These cows are near but those are far away. Near, far away.’

all the fault of Hoover's big government?

1929: all the fault of Hoover's Big Government?

With apologies to Father Ted Crilley for the post’s title. The ever-fascinating ConservativeHome* has introduced me to the delights of the blog of Douglas Carswell MP, the obscure Conservative MP for Harwich & Clacton, and in particular his latest post: ‘Big Government made the credit crunch‘. From reading the article, it strikes me that Mr Carswell, a member of the hard-right Tombstone Cornerstone Group, could do with some of Father Crilley’s advice on recognising the effects of perspective, particularly when it comes to recognising a ‘big’ government.

As the financial crisis deepens, it’s important to remember that the events unfolding are not a failure of the markets – it’s the market response to a problem created by Big Government.

 Note the capital letters. Apparently Big Government is a proper noun now. Mr Carswell continues:

For years, central banks – particularly the US Fed and the European Central Bank – have kept (more…)

September 15, 2008

Coal sacks and the city

Greenwich's semi-industrial, semi-touristic skyline

Greenwich's semi-industrial skyline

Exemplary local blog The Greenwich Phantom (every borough needs a phantom…) has an interesting post about the place of industry in areas that are subject to rapid regeneration and gentrification, such as Greenwich. The Phantom’s post arises from rumours, as yet unconfirmed, that one of the few remaining factories on the Greenwich peninsula, which produces a range of odours for which the area has been, er, famous, could be about to close, inevitably to make way for riverside apartments, even if the current market conditions somewhat slows that process.

Living just seven miles from Charing Cross, the Animal encounters a surprising amount of heavy industry and its consequences: the aforementioned smells are a not infrequent accompaniment to my wait for the bus, twice a day the house vibrates slightly as a heavy trainload of aggregates tackles the incline from Angerstein Wharf and the walk to purchase hay for this blog’s mascots means braving the dust created by a quarry product recycling works. And for me, that’s all part of the gritty charm of the (more…)

September 14, 2008

A little local difficulty…turns national

Should Camden's Lib Dems be looking for a new chief whip?

Should Camden's Lib Dems be looking for a new chief whip?

This is a cautionary little tale for the chief whips and leaders of party groups on local authorities everywhere, courtesy of Camden Liberal Democrats.

In 2006 the quaint traditional annual custom of the ‘Labour Local Elections Bloodbath’ took place in, amongst other places, the London Borough of Camden. The Labour group lost half of its councillors, including many in traditionally safe Labour wards, with control of the council shifting to a Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition. Amongst the seats lost was Kentish Town, where two Labour councillors lost their seats to the Lib Dems: a by-election in December 2006 following the resignation of the remaining Labour councillor permitted the Liberals to complete the set. The influx of new Liberal Democrat councillors in Camden in 2006 mirrored the national situation of Labour in 1997: a lot of individuals who had not expected to win and were not necessarily suited to the role suddenly found themselves elected.

One of the Liberal Democrats elected for Kentish Town was a Mr Philip Thompson, who had at least the distinction of being just 24 when he was elected. So far as we can tell, he distinguished himself no further until 2008, when he took up an offer to study for a PhD in American Politics at…the University of Arizona. And for some reason, thought that this was entirely compatible with remaining a representative for Kentish Town, 5000 miles away. As the Camden council website continues to list Cllr Thompson as being chair of one of the licensing committees and a member of the scrutiny committees for the Culture & Environment and Health & Adult Social Care Scrutiny committees, we must assume that he considered it possible to (more…)

September 13, 2008

Is it time to boom-proof the economy?

Time to raise public spending, Darling?

Time to raise public spending, Darling?

As the prospect of a recession looms in Britain, this may seem an odd time to talk about how the country should be preparing for the next global up-turn. However, the reality is that if the UK fails to make long-term considerations paramount in how it deals with this down-turn, the next up-turn could prove to be even more damaging than the effects of the credit crunch.

The simple truth is that there is no cast-iron reason why the next upward trend of the economic cycles has to include Britain. Nations have managed to sit-out boom times before – indeed, France and Germany seemed to manage it quite well last time round – and without the right choices being made, this could be Britain’ turn. Contrary to some expectations, there is no sign that the late 90s-early 00s boom will prove to be the last hurrah of globalisation. Rather it was the catalyst for the next stage of the globalising of the world economy: the breaking of US economic hegemony and the growth in the power of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Behind the dust cloud created by slowing or non-existent growth in the old economic powers of the US and Europe, these emerging powers appear to be largely weathering the storm – the IMF is, for example, continuing to predict 10% growth in the Chinese economy in 2008-09.

This means that when the older economies emerge from the slow-down, as they eventually will, they will have a lot of catch-up to play. This will be particularly hard to achieve given that some of the causes and symptoms of this recession, particularly high energy prices, are here to stay. But the countries that will find (more…)

September 10, 2008

(University) Challenged for a story?

Filed under: Conservatives,Education,Labour Party,Market failures,Media — Political Animal @ 11:37 pm
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Wake Forest University, North Carolina

Like clockwork each year, when A-level result and university admission time comes round, the media goes hunting, hoping it will find the next Laura Spence. Spence was a well-qualified state school pupil, who in 2000 was rejected from Oxford, before being accepted by Harvard on a £65,000 scholarship. The brief cause celebre briefly brought the issue of elitism within the UK university sector to the forefront of media debate. Well-known class warrior Gordon Brown controversially weighed in to the fray, describing Oxford’s rejection as ‘an absolute scandal’. Of course, for the media to find something similar happening now Brown is Prime Minister would be another minor humiliation for the beleaguered incumbent at Number 10. On current form, however, I don’t think Mr Brown has anything much to worry about on this score.

On September 5th, The Times published a rather fact-light article speculating on the ability of US universities to attract British students with large bursaries. With it was published a case study designed to illustrate this alleged trend – but there is something about it that doesn’t quite work.

Tom Gibson, 18, from Wellington College in Crowthorne, Berkshire…

A great start to the tale of woe. Mr Gibson is paying at least a mere £20,422.50 (including an extra £82.50 per term for being a sixth-former) per year for his education. OK, carry on – tell me more about poor Master Gibson.

…has accepted an offer from Wake Forest, a university in North Carolina that focuses on the liberal arts. It charges $36,500 (£20,000) a year for tuition but more than half of (more…)

September 9, 2008

What has Andrew Gilligan got against his own borough?

The Evening Standard’s star columnist isn’t happy. As a well-known expert on everything from policing to athletics and from Sinology to HR, Mr Gilligan was obviously quite entitled to expect that once his mate Boris was safely installed at City Hall that the Mayor would be taking his advice on a regular basis, but particularly on transport. He appears to be more than a little miffed that Mr Johnson for some unaccountable reason has chosen to listen to the advice of transport professionals, of all people, instead.

But four months in, marvels one senior TfL figure, “Boris’s arrival has made no difference whatever. It’s all going on exactly as before.” No programmes have (yet) been cancelled. No personnel changes have been made. Indeed, one senior TfL person has just been appointed, of all things, Boris’s environmental adviser.

An environmental adviser, of all things! The evil TfL bureaucrat in question, Isabel Dedring, had her qualifications scrutinised by the, er, Evening Standard, which found that:

Ms Dedring wrote the Climate Change Action Plan for the former mayor Ken Livingstone. (more…)

The Fallacy of School Choice

Schools under Local Authority control in London

Last week, the English education system arrived at an historic, yet rather under-reported juncture. The Southwark News reported that its borough had become the first local authority in the country which would have no schools, either primary or secondary, under its own control. As of Monday 1st September, when Geoffrey Chaucer Technology College became the Globe Academy, under the control of ARK Schools, each of Southwark’s schools is either an academy, foundation school or voluntary aided school, with at the very least the opportunity to set its own admission code.

Of course, this arises from the government’s mantra of diversifying the provision of education, with a particular focus on the secondary sector. Or in other words – the mantra of ‘choice’ which has been (more…)

September 8, 2008

Education – first, some good news

Filed under: Education,Labour Party,Media — Political Animal @ 12:05 pm
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Roedean School, Brighton

Roedean School, Brighton

I am working on a post about secondary school diversity (upcoming pretty map alert!) which is making for rather depressing going, so it was good to see two slightly happier pieces of news for the education sector.

Firstly, from today’s Evening Standard we learn that:

Rodean [sic!] [Now corrected by Standard] Roedean head slams Brown for ‘hostility’ to fee-paying

Not that I’d noticed. After all, no-one can accuse Brown of following the Kinnock line that under a Labour government people who wanted to buy an education would be welcome to do so, as long as it was overseas. But no, apparently Brown’s government is pursuing a dangerous socialist plan to destroy private education:

Mrs King [head of Roedean] said: “I sense that he [Gordon Brown] has got a very clear political agenda within which independent schools do not really feature … He is coming (more…)

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