Confessions of a Political Animal

November 27, 2008

A Western Democracy?

cc-signIt probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that Boris Johnson has today announced that he will be scrapping the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge. We noted before that there had been straws in the wind in the opposite direction and that Johnson had been modifying his language and moving towards the ‘third option’ of the modification of the charge – and indeed even as late as yesterday the Evening Standard, normally a good barometer of the mayoral climate, was bigging up the compromise option. But despite this, and blue Boris trying to present himself as green Boris as recently as Tuesday, the candidate’s hyperbole over the western extension had simply been too great for any kind of credible u-turn to be executed with any kind of credibility.

The Animal’s previous posts on this subject have pointed out that Johnson had been trying to play the great democrat on this issue, whilst sticking to a very limited definition of democracy. We quoted Johnson previously as having said

“The previous Mayor made the decision to introduce the western extension in the face of overwhelming opposition. Unlike my predecessor, I am going into this with an open mind and this will be a genuine consultation. It is high time that politicians listened to the people whom they represent and I am proud to keep the pledge made during my election (more…)

How fare the elected mayors?

One of the Labour government’s big ideas for the reform of local government was the introduction of directly-elected mayors across the country. But rather than a great firework of reform, the whole idea seems to have turned out to be something of a damp squib. There is, of course, one well known example in London, but that doesn’t really count – the Mayor-led Greater London Authority set up is unique to the capital and represents regional rather than local government. The Mayor of London’s powers resemble more those of, say, the First Minister of Wales than the local government version.

But what of the rest of the country? The powers for local authorities to hold referendums on an elected Mayor-led system was included in the Local Government Act 2000. Since then, just 37 local authorities in England and Wales have held referendums, and the verdict from these has not been (more…)

November 25, 2008

European Left Watch: Austria – as you were

set to be Austria's social democratic Chancellor

Walter Faymann: set to be Austria's Social Democrat Chancellor

It has taken the best part of two months since Austria’s inconclusive Nationalrat elections, but the country at last seems on the verge of having a new government. ‘New’ is only a formally acurate description in this instance, however, as the party make-up of the coalition will be precisely the same as that which governed Austria (with very limited success) for the previous 18 months.

The two months since the elections at the end of September have been pretty tumultuous in Austrain politics. The election was called early following the breakdown of the grand coalition government of the centre-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) and the centre-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP), with polls showing that very few Austrians wanted the continuation of this form of government, which had proved highly ineffective. Prior to the elections, the unpopular sitting SPÖ Chancellor announced he would not be remaining as party leader and Chancellor candidate, being replaced by Walter Faymann in both roles.

The elections themselves saw both major parties losing electoral support (results table in the last post) and the two populist, anti-immigration hard-right parties (the FPÖ and the BZÖ) gaining significantly, to a combined total of nearly 30% of the vote. This effectively left two options for (more…)

November 21, 2008

Scooping the Standard

Proportion of total affordable housing output to be delivered per borough 2008-11

Proportion of total affordable housing output to be delivered per borough 2008-11

They’re a speedy lot over at ‘London’s Quality Paper’, aren’t they? Eighteen days ago, the Animal wrote about how Boris Johnson’s affordable housing targets were heavily skewed towards allowing most of the Conservative-run London boroughs to continue with their abysmal record of constructing affordable housing. And I can’t claim to be first – Inside Housing and Dave Hill both got there before me. The notifications of the targets were sent out to the boroughs’ Chief Executives the week before I wrote the post. So what’s this I see whilst idly scanning the Evening Standard’s website today?

Tory Councils ‘get easy ride on cheap homes’

Yup, nearly three weeks on, the Standard gets the story. I doubt if the blame for this tardiness can be placed at the door of Pippa Crerar, the paper’s generally even-handed City Hall editor, whose by-line (more…)

November 20, 2008

Now that’s what I call an obssession

griffinWhat was your reaction when you heard that the BNP’s membership list had been published on the internet?

a) A sudden desire to see whether any fascists lived on your road? b) A certain gleefulness that such a vile party had come a cropper in this way? c) A little salivation at the prospect of BNP members losing their jobs? d) A mild concern over the data protection issues involved? e) Or maybe you thought ‘Aha, here’s a chance to have a bash at someone who used to be Mayor of London’?

If your answered mainly ‘e’, then you are Andrew Gilligan, and I claim my £5. The Animal’s favourite scribe has dedicated his Evening Standard column to pushing the centre-right’s usual line regarding the hard right: “oh look, aren’t they small and insignificant, if we generally downplay them and pander a bit to the prejudices of their supporters, they’ll go away.”

Gilligan headlines his article “Now we know what little threat the BNP poses” and bases his assumptions on the fact that the membership list shows a relatively small number of members in London generally, with unsurprisingly, very low numbers in the inner boroughs. But surely this was news to no-one – it was always assumed that the party’s membership was somewhere in the vicinity (more…)

November 19, 2008

A problem of the second order

polling-stationAs we race inexorably towards Christmas and the new year, we are also moving towards the run-up to a new electoral cycle, with European elections and a round of local government polls due in May 2009 – what a political scientist would describe as a collection of second order elections. Such elections are those thought to be considered by voters to be of lesser importance, attracting lower turn-out and being used by many who do turn out as a mid-term referendum on national government (of course, if this turns out to be the date of an early general election, unlikely in my view, then we move firmly into first-order territory).

The problem with such elections is that the real issues that they are supposed to be driven by become more than a little obscured by the heat and noise of national politics – and local elections in particular are prone to this, at least in part because of the apparent managerialism and post-ideological nature of the massively decreased role of local government. It has been said that ‘there is no Labour or Conservative way to collect bins’. Up to a point, this is true, but this is a position based on a very limited perception of what a local authority should be up to.

Coming, as I do, from a left-wing perspective, I much prefer to look at local government in the light of Bevan’s quote that ‘socialism is the language of priorities’. And nowhere are decisions over the setting of (more…)

November 18, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — Political Animal @ 12:55 pm

for limited posting recently. This is due to a combination of domestic IT problems, being rather busy at work and putting together a rather data-heavy post. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible – please do not adjust your sets.

November 14, 2008

Academies: selecting for easy success

Inside the Ashcroft-Vardy Creationist Academy for Boys (formerly the Plato Academy)

Inside the Ashcroft-Vardy Creationist Academy for Boys (formerly the Plato Academy)

In September The Animal wrote about the increasing lack of local authority control over secondary schools in London partially as a consequence of the inexorable march of academies, particularly in the most deprived boroughs.

Part of my concern about this was the deep-seated worry, expressed well by Fiona Millar here, that academies have far too much independence in terms of their selection policies for a state-funded school and are becoming increasingly well versed in finding ways around what rules they do have to abide to keep ‘difficult’ students out. An unwillingness to take children with statements of special educational needs and a tendency towards very high rates of expulsions (8.7 per 1000 pupils in 2006-07 compared to 3.2 per 1000 in comparable community schools) are examples of this. If you (more…)

November 12, 2008

Murderers and Drug Dealers 4 Fox Hunting

Filed under: Crime,Media,Rural Affairs — Political Animal @ 2:37 pm
Tags: , , , , ,
Otis Ferry

Otis Ferry

In what can only be good news for the country sports lobby, a new, and perhaps not wholly surprising wellspring of support has emerged for the practice of large animals riding bigger animals encouraging small animals to tear other small animals to shreds: violent criminals.

Courtesy of a letter in must-read magazine Horn & Hound (the Animal’s regular copy seems to have gone astray, so this is courtesy of the Evening Standard) from convicted criminal, drunk driver and old Etonian Otis Ferry, currently remanded in custody at HMP Gloucester awaiting trial for attempting to pervert the course of justice, we have learnt that the ban on fox hunting hasn’t gone done too well with the criminal fraternity. The Standard reports that:

the master of the South Shropshire Hunt, complains that he finds it difficult to converse with his fellow inmates because of their lack of knowledge of country pursuits and their being hardened murderers and drug dealers.

Otis Ferry writes:

“Most of my inmates are under 30 and we don’t have much in common. There are not many countrymen so conversation is limited, but I have done my best to educate as many as possible. I have yet to meet someone here opposed to foxhunting.”

Proof, if ever it was needed, that prisons really are universities for re-offending: the ‘education’ that young Master Ferry is providing presumably includes the best methods to breach or circumvent the Hunting Act 2004 or the Public Order Act 1986 (under which he was previously convicted). Given his (more…)

November 10, 2008

The Silvertown Link: the answer to no-one’s problems

Thames Gateway Bridge

Scrapped: the Thames Gateway Bridge

Last week The Animal posted on the unambitious, short-sighted and generally depressing pair of strategy documents that emerged from the Mayor of London and Transport for London on the future direction of London’s transport networks. Today, at the risk of appearing a touch parochial and exposing myself to accusations of a conflict of interest, I wanted to look at the approach being taken to the issue of river crossings in east London, which demonstrate quite clearly the lack of coherence and strategic thought in these documents.

It should have come as no surprise to anyone that Boris Johnson announced last week that the plans for a road bridge in the Thames Gateway linking Thamesmead and Beckton were being scrapped. In his manifesto, Johnson had said

I support in principle the need for an extra river crossing upstream from Tower Bridge to ease congestion and aid economic growth. However, any scheme will have to deal with the issues on both sides of the river in terms of traffic management, safeguarding the (more…)

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