Confessions of a Political Animal

October 31, 2008

Short hiatus and some updates

I am away this weekend (the picture should be a clue as to where) and today looks busy, so probably no posting this side of Monday. Don’t cry too much, please.

However, I thought it might be worth providing some updates on a few of my earlier posts, just so they don’t feel forgotten (and so in some cases the Animal can say “told you so”).

October 28th Is the Game Afoot? The Animal speculated that a prolonged period of single figure Conservative poll leads over the next couple of months would suggest that the narrative about the next election would change, with a hung parliament maybe becoming a stronger possibility than a stonking Tory majority. We’re a long way off a prolonged period yet, and the latest Yougov poll does show Labour moving out a smidgin, but the Tory lead remains (just) within the psychologically important single figure zone. 

October 27th European Left Watch: Out of Office in Lithuania The Animal reported on the defeat for the parties that formed the Social Democrat-led government in Lithuania by a mixture of the centre-right and pro-Russian ‘populists’. To no great surprise, Lithuania’s president has asked the Christian Democrat leader (and former Prime Minister) Andrius Kubiliusto form a government, with the new National Resurrection Party and two liberal parties the likely coalition partners. Meanwhile, outgoing Social Democrat PM Gediminas Kirkilas has described his party’s eventual achievement of second place in terms of seats as ‘a good result’ and questioned the long-term stability of the likely new governing coalition.

October 9th Slash and burn: Part 2 of a continuing series… We worried that Boris Johnson’s decision to effectively scrap the plans for an extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Dagenham Dock would effectively spell the end of plans for significant house building in this key part of the Thames Gateway development area. Barking & Dagenham council agreed, estimating that the Barking Riverside development would be downscaled from 11,000 homes to 1,500 without the extension. Way to go in tackling housing shortages, Boris…

October 3rd High Speed 2: Taking apart the Tory Train Set The Animal raised questions about the effectiveness and value for money of the Tories’ proposals for a London-Manchester-Leeds high speed railway line, suggesting the money would be better spent on incremental improvements to the existing network. In particular, I doubted it would really relieve enough capacity at Heathrow to remove the pressure for a third runway. Richard Cochrane, a DfT on long-distance travel last week made similar points about the success of high-speed rail in countries such as France not automatically transferring to the UK, given varying geographic and economic patterns. But now we learn that new Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has ordered high-speed lines be put back on the DfT’s agenda, with ‘even levitating Maglevtrains not being ruled out’ (please no! Let’s stick with rail technology that we know actually works for long-distance travel…). I think this will prove a distraction from the real rail-related issues, but maybe any plan will be a bit better worked through than the Tories’ back of the envelope job.

September 29th Boris’ dog whistle? We mentioned that Boris seems keen on taking credit for the previous administration’s transport investment. But given the British Transport Police’s revelation today that not one person has been removed from the Underground for drinking under the new Mayor’s much vaunted alcohol ban, we can perhaps understand why he isn’t so keen on promoting his own policies…

September 14th A little local difficulty…turns national The Animal reported on Camden Liberal Democrat’s reluctance to force the resignation of one of their councillors who was found to be studying in Arizona. The by-election took place last night and the Labour candidate came within 76 votes of taking the seat (at a by-election in the same seat in 2006, Labour was nearly 300 votes adrift and behind the Greens).

September 13th Is it time to boom-proof the economy? I argued that it was time to think about using public spending to boost the economy and provide the infrastructure improvements needed for Britain to be competitive during the next economic up-turn. The Chancellor seems to agree, sort of.

September 4th The start of slash and burn? We noted the Mayor’s increasing lack of commitment to driving the vital Cross-River Tram Scheme forward. The London Assembly Transport Committee has since published a very positive reporton the scheme, but worryingly it includes a ‘minority opinion’ from the Conservative members urging that no further money be spent developing it. And if that’s what the Tory AMs say, that’s probably what Boris told them to say. Meanwhile, Southwark Council will next week debate a proposal to put up a banner supporting the Tram on their new building close to City Hall as a daily reminder to Johnson of the public and political support for the scheme.

September 4th Is this man the greatest threat to local democracy since Thatcher? The Animal wanted to know how Alex Salmond could justify a Holyrood-set flat rate for his proposed local income tax. It was reported this week that faced with the impossibility of getting his proposals through the Scottish Parliament with central rate-setting intact (plus the proposal’s controversial nature not helping the SNP in the difficult Glenrothes by-election campaign) that Salmond may conduct a u-turn and the power of Scottish local government to set its own local tax rates may be saved.

Many thanks to everyone who has read, commented or linked thus far.


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