Confessions of a Political Animal

December 31, 2009

I’m a London Taxpayer, and I approve this message

Visit London/Ryanair 'Only in London'

Visit London/Ryanair 'Only in London' (Click for full poster)

In November, the Evening Standard‘s City Hall Reporter Katharine Barney (now sadly culled) penned a short piece on a speech by Boris Johnson at the Royal Opera House. It appeared at first glance that this speech was something to celebrate – he was lauding the achievements of Visit London in attracting increased tourism to London despite the recession. Johnson claimed that by spending £2m, he had produced £50m. This sounds like a very welcome conversion to the cause of active, city-government led promotion of tourism on the part of the Mayor: after all, amongst his first acts in the job had been to slash around £6.5m from the promotional budget. But one sentence in Barney’s article stood out:

In a speech at the Royal Opera House, Mr Johnson praised his “Only in London” campaign, which included helping to pay for adverts for Ryanair and easyJet in foreign press.

The Mayor’s campaign helping to pay for budget airlines’ adverts? Really? Aren’t there supposed to be EU state aid rules about these sort of things?

Of course, it rings true because Johnson has form in this field. Transport for London poster sites carry free adverts for BA flights to New York as part of a supposedly reciprocal deal with the Big Apple’s transport authorities.

Intrigued by whether the Standard had got it right, and if bits of the GLA precept from my council tax bill were lubricating the marketing budgets of a couple of airlines, I fired off an FOI request to City Hall, who referred it over to the London Development Agency. Firstly, I asked whether the Standard quote above and its paraphrase of the Mayor represented accurate reportage. No, said the LDA, they would not be

accepting that the passages you quote are accurate reportage. (more…)

September 28, 2009

European Left Watch: Germany & Portugal

BundestagOne weekend, two elections. And two rather differing stories for the European centre left.

Germany: After what was, by all accounts, a dull campaign, Germany went to the polls for elections to the Bundestag on Sunday. This could perhaps be described as a two headline election. The first was already written well before this week: the centre-right CDU‘s Angela Merkel would win a second term in office as Chancellor. The second part was more interesting: who would she be governing with? Merkel and the CDU made no secret throughout the campaign (and well before) that it wanted to end the grand coalition with the centre-left SPD it was reluctantly forced into following the tight 2005 election. The CDU’s choice of partner was quite clear – the economically liberal FDP (who for some reason always get described in the British media as ‘pro-business’, as if the CDU and SPD weren’t), the longstanding king-makers of post-war German politics.

The SPD, going into the election trailing heavily in the polls under the grand coalition Foreign Secretary Frank-Walter Steinmeier was less clear about its preferred outcome, guessing perhaps that beggars weren’t in the best of positions to be choosers. Having, foolishly to my mind, ruled out a coalition government with Oskar Lafontaine’s Die Linke party – which the opinion polls briefly suggested could take power as part of an SPD-Green-Linke coalition, they appeared to go through the campaign seeing a forced continuation of the grand coalition as their only hope of retaining power. At no point did it look like the SPD and their Schröder-era coaliton partners in the Greens would by themselves be able to command a majority.

Fan or not of his heavily reformist brand of social democrat politics, it has become increasingly clear that the SPD is still suffering from being deprived of two term chancellor Gerhard Schröder. On two occasions he bought the SPD back from seeming certain defeat: to a narrow victory in 2002 and to a defeat so narrow in 2005 that it gave some of his colleagues four more years in ministerial Mercedes. Equally, it is clear that Merkel (or someone else in CDU high command) drove a great bargain in demanding that Schröder should play no part in the CDU-SPD government. (more…)

January 20, 2009

Liberal with the spin

Norman Baker MP

Norman Baker MP

Skimming through Guardian Online yesterday, I came across this doom-and-gloom article about rail franchise holders going cap-in-hand to Geoff Hoon, waving the threat of service cuts if the Department for Transport (DfT) doesn’t show some ‘flexibility’ (for which read slashing) in the premium payments that it will be demanding from many of them in the next financial year. This has come about as a result of falling growth in passenger numbers – note falling growth, not falling numbers – due to economic circumstances pertaining.

No-one is expecting the franchises  in question to cease to be profitable (only the most lucrative routes have to pay premiums – others receive subsidies): simply that the profit margins will be a bit less comfortable than their holders bargained for. Given this, my advice to Hoon would be to wave an offer back at the franchisees – if you don’t want to pay up, hand in the keys and a new National Rail will run the services, keeping all the profit for re-investment in the railways.

But this is all as an aside. What really caught my eye was the footnote to the article, headed:

Go further in Serbia

What could this possibly have to do with the UK’s railways, wondered the Animal? Well, reading on… (more…)

December 23, 2008

European Left Watch: Looking to 2009

socialist-internationalSince the Animal started tracking the fortunes of Labour’s sister parties in August, there have been four elections in Europe, which have led to centre-left parties entering government in two new countries: as the senior coalition partner in Slovenia and as junior coalition partner in Romania. Meanwhile, the social democratic SPÖ retained the Austrian chancellorship as the senior partner in a grand coalition, whilst the centre left parties lost their position in the government of Lithuania.

What then of the twelve months to come in 2009? There are, of course, any number of imponderables, with non-fixed term parliaments potentially coming to an end, most obviously in the UK. Likewise, despite the fact that there isn’t an election scheduled in 2009, you would be unwise, given the last fortnight of anti-government rioting, to bet against an early parliamentary election taking place.

However, even if no ‘wildcat’ elections take place, there is plenty to be getting our teeth into during 2009, perhaps most notably the German (more…)

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