Confessions of a Political Animal

October 21, 2008

Questioning Boris: some highlights (& lowlights)

Tory Troll has alerted me to the fact that the written answers from the Mayor’s most recent Question Time session (which we previewed here) are now available for public consumption, although as yet only in the rather clunky pdf format [post now updated with direct links]. Forgive me therefore if I can’t yet provide direct links to the questions and answers discussed below – we’ll have to wait for the ‘Mayor answers to London’ section of the website to be update for that.

Most of the Mayor’s responses are the normal carefully phrased promises to do everything and nothing that we have come to expect, or indeed constitute blatant attempts to answer a different question to that which was asked. A few responses caught my attention, however.

In question 2195/2008, Labour’s Val Shawcross asked for a list of the stakeholders consulted regarding the Mayor’s proposals to allow motorcycles into bus lanes. Johnson’s answer:

The following stakeholders will be consulted with regards to the use of Motorcycles in bus lanes:

  • All of the Boroughs with bus lanes on the TfL road network, together with the emergency services
  • The Freight Transport Association
  • The Road Haulage Association
  • The Post Office
  • The Confederation of Passenger Transport
  • The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association
  • The RAC
  • The AA
  • All of TfL’s Bus Operators
  • London Travelwatch
  • Various departments within TfL
  • The Diabled Persons Transport Advisory Commitee

Do you notice the obvious group that’s missing from that? Perhaps the group that has been the most vociferous in its opposition to the proposals and are most likely to be put at risk by its implementation? The group that the Mayor claims to be a keen supporter, nay practicing member, of? Er…cyclists, Boris? Although I don’t think cycling campaign groups should be too worried about missing out on this consultation. Given that Johnson has effectively announced the motorbikes in bus lanes as a fait accompli, we can assume that this is a purely window dressing exercise. Not that Boris would ever engage in that, of course. It was his predecessor who went around ‘ignoring the wishes of Londoners’. Boris told us so.

In question 2219/2008, former Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron asked about the timetable for replacing Ray Lewis, who resigned in July, as deputy mayor for children and young people. Johnson’s answer, in full:

My Deputy Mayor for Policing, Kit Malthouse has taken responsibility for this brief.

From being horribly over-manned in the early days of the administration, the upper echelons of City Hall now seem to be becoming rather sparse. Having got his fingers burnt with Lewis, Johnson has fallen back on a politically safer option. But this doesn’t change the fact that if young people were important enough to have their own senior representative in May, by October this had changed enough for the portfolio to be merged with something minor, like…er…policing. And we won’t get into the ‘positive’ message being sent out from City Hall about young people by the automatic linking of young people and policing. Of course, Mr Malthouse is also the ‘brains’ behind the Fantasy Island Thames Estuary airport scheme, so even these two portfolios evidently don’t fill a working day. Perhaps they could add transport to his brief and have done with it?

And whilst we’re on the subject of the police, the Mayor’s answer to question 2160, from Joanne McCartney, which sort to tease out the exact nature of Boris’ ‘consultation’ before he fired Sir Ian Blair, is a masterful model of using cloak and dagger tactics as an excuse to say nothing:

I undertook confidential, informal consultation with a wide variety of people. I do not intend to betray that confidence here.  

Of course you did, Boris. So that was a consultation with yourself, Kit Malthouse and David Cameron. But somehow, with that hectic consultation schedule, there just wasn’t time to ask, say, the Metropolitan Police Authority or the Home Secretary what they thought, was there?

Now, onto manifesto pledges that just aren’t going anywhere. In question 2187 Val Shawcross asked about progress on the promised ‘no-strike deal’ with the Underground unions. Mr Mayor?

 I have asked London Underground to begin the process of leading discussions on a no-strike agreement and there have already been some discussions with the Trade Union General Secretaries on this matter. It is unrealistic to expect significant developments on this until the conclusion of next year’s bargaining round. The important issue in all of this is to ensure that we jointly arrive at a solution which greatly reduces the inconvenience of industrial action to Tube customers, and we must be creative in how we achieve this.

That’s a very long way of saying, ‘none’. I bet the ‘discussion’ with Bob Crow was fun. Meanwhile, in question 2083 Lib Dem Mike Tuffrey asks (for the second time) when Boris is going to fulfill his manifesto pledge to “strengthen the decision-making process in City Hall by introducing a Cabinet for London. The Cabinet will meet on a regular basis, formal minutes will be taken, and the full agenda papers will be put on the Mayor’s website.” This time, the Mayor has gone for a shorter way of saying ‘sod off’.

The details of all members of my team are on the public website, and we will be putting information about our regular meetings on the website in due course.

Roll on ‘due course’, eh?

A couple of mischievous Labour members sought to probe the Mayor for his views on issues of wider public concern. But why bother, when you can read them in The Telegraph for just 90p – and that will get you much better written prose. In question 2161 John Biggs asks in the light of the Mayor’s outspoken support for the banking establishment, whether short selling is one of the ‘healthy roots’ of capitalism?

I believe the best way that London can weather the financial storm is to keep competitive, because you cannot regulate your way out of a recession but you can certainly regulate your way into one.

Not quite in line with his party leadership, methinks, who in their desperate attempts to work out what to do as their economic ideals collapse about their ears, were at the last reckoning supporting significant levels of re-regulation to assist in finding a path out of recession. And as we’ve discussed here before, the Tory claims of ‘big government’ induced recessions don’t really hold up. Did Hoover regulate his way into the 1929 crash? And in question 2166 (entitled ‘Piffle’) Joanne McCartney asks succinctly

Is it piffle to say that Britain has a broken society?

I have a feeling I know what she might be getting at. The Mayor’s response is almost as succinct:

It is piffle to ask questions that have no relevance to my statutory functions, and thereby waste taxpayers’ money at a time of economic uncertainty.

Now, I thought that the ‘broken society’ rhetoric (and I agree with Boris that it is indeed, ‘piffle’) was generally thought to relate to issues of crime and anti-social behaviour. Aren’t those amongst the statutory functions of the Mayor? Does the Assembly not have a right to discuss with the Mayor the philosophical basis on which he approaches these issues? Does the Mayor just look shifty by publishing such a ridiculous answer? You be the judge.

As I mentioned in the preview post, John Biggs has been pushing the Mayor for some while over the ridiculous ‘Today’ programme interview in which he seemed to suggest that the Olympic Memorandum of Understanding between the Mayor and the government didn’t exist. At each stage, Boris has refused to answer the question and accused Biggs of wasting taxpayer’s money. Bigg’s latest question:

In your answers to 1415/2008 and 1878/2008 you seem to be unable to understand the question. Could you advise: Did your predecessor enter into an agreement regarding Olympic funding, commonly known as the ‘Olympic Memorandum of Understanding’, which states specifically how the increased Olympic funding package was to be met? Was that undertaken in pursuit of his ‘statutory functions’ and if not why did he sign it and what status does it have? And have you yet read it or acknowledged its existence? Do you think it represents a good deal for London in particular in its treatment of lottery funding? If your reply to this question remains the same as when asked on previous occasions would you not accept that Londoners will begin to wonder what purpose you serve?

And the Mayor’s response:

There is an updated Memorandum of Understanding on funding for London 2012, which was signed by the previous Mayor and by Tessa Jowell on behalf of Government in June 2007.  The reasons, and legal basis, for the previous Mayor’s signing the MOU were set out in Mayoral Approval Form MA3131.  The MOU is available on the DCMS website, which is why I denied (and continue to deny) the existence of a ‘secret’ agreement as suggested by the BBC.  I am content with the arrangements set out in it in relation to lottery funding, and will of course hold firm to my commitment that Londoners will not pay a penny more than has already been agreed. 

Unless my memory is very wrong, I don’t think anyone ever mentioned a ‘secret’ agreement between Livingstone and Jowell, so this is Boris trying to wriggle his way out of his clearly documented ignorance, albeit four months too late. And if he’d said all this the first time Biggs asked the question, all the follow up questions wouldn’t have had to have happened and taxpayer’s money would have been saved. More bang for your buck, eh?

But finally, some good news. In question 2199 Val Shawcross asked about the delay to the issuing of the tender for the Greenwich Waterfront Transit (see posts passim). Boris is quick to reassure that all is in hand:

TfL is currently preparing to submit the planning application for Greenwich Waterfront Transit in December 2008. Tender documents have not yet been submitted, as these are subject to a positive outcome to the planning application and land acquisition processes.

Not quite the unequivocal statement of support I’d like to see, but welcome all the same. Looks like Andrew Gilligan might have to wait a little longer before this particular ‘vanity project’ is thrown on the Mayoral scrapheap.

By the way, Mr Gilligan was last seen calling for the renationalisation of the railways. Does anyone recall if he credited a certain Mr Livingstone for his attempts to halt the privatisation of the Underground? Why do I somehow doubt it?

3 Comments »

  1. I had quite a healthy peruse of the answers via the database this afternoon…

    http://www.london.gov.uk/mqt/public/winnow-questions-form.do?recordsPerSlice=25&order=DESC&orderBy=SEQ_ID&slice=1&bodyType=B&searchString=

    Do an advanced search for all questions asked between 01/10/08 and 31/10/08 and voila.

    My particular favourite was Boris acknowledging that bendy buses have not killed a single cyclist, but that the issue was that people had a ‘perception’ of cycling being dangerous, hence why bendies still need to be removed…

    http://www.london.gov.uk/mqt/public/question.do?id=23439

    Yet despite acknowledging that bendies do not kill cyclists, he still insists on peddling his claptrap about bendies being “the scourge of cyclists”

    http://www.london.gov.uk/mqt/public/question.do?id=23585

    I’m sure he’ll still insist that cycle safety is a justification for the estimated £60m per annum in additional operational costs for de-bendified routes.

    Add that to the £70m per annum that he acknowledged would be lost in revenue from the Western CCharge zone ( http://www.london.gov.uk/mqt/public/question.do?id=23518 ), and you have a whopping £130m in extra expenditure per annum, for no discernible benefit. Where’s the money coming from? He can’t surely claim that he’ll find it by ditching the Londoner newspaper again? (!)

    More to the point, how come it’s so easy to find £130m (per annum) for these projects, and yet it’s impossible for him to find the £250m (total) for the Cross River Tram, which has a very discernible positive impact, and wide support?

    Comment by Mark Lee — October 21, 2008 @ 6:41 pm | Reply

  2. […] October 2008, Mayor’s Question Time Written Answers (h/t the Political Animal): In question 2219/2008, former Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron asked about the timetable for replacing […]

    Pingback by May To October - Boris’s Changing Priorities — October 22, 2008 @ 10:21 am | Reply

  3. Yes Mark, the Bendy stuff is quite brilliant – and has been very well covered by both Tory Troll and Boris Watch. Basically, Boris is going to spend lots of money on buying buses that are more expensive, polluting and congesting in order to prevent a rumour that he put about on bendy buses putting people off cycling. Couldn’t make it up.

    I’m sure he’ll discover something he can scrap. Anthony Browne is probably right now faking a Mayoral Approval Form dated April 2008 for a £130m gold statue of Ken Livingstone.

    PS: Apologies for being slow to approve your comment – it got caught in WordPress’ spam filter for some reason (links, I suspect).

    Comment by Political Animal — October 22, 2008 @ 12:10 pm | Reply


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