Confessions of a Political Animal

September 4, 2009

What a difference 12 months doesn’t make

Summer's over, Mr Mayor

Summer's over, Mr Mayor

Last autumn I wrote a couple of posts examining the effectiveness of the London Assembly’s questioning of the Mayor – and in particular the interesting (that’s to say hands off) approach adopted by the Conservative Group.

So, with a year passed and the summer recess over, I thought it might be apposite to see if anything much had changed. After all, the Mayoralty has certainly moved on in those twelve months (in many cases in ways the Mayor would probably rather forget), so shouldn’t the Assembly have moved with the times too?

With the usual caveat of  quantity not being everything, let’s take a quick look at just how many questions the political groups are now tabling, using the forthcoming Mayor’s Question Time on 9th September (questions publ;ished here) and comparing it with that held on 10th September 2008. (more…)

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August 19, 2009

Laughing on the left side of your face

udderbellySome things are predictable about the Edinburgh Fringe: it’ll rain, the ticket prices will have crept up again, by the end of your stay there you’ll have seen enough good stuff to not mind the hole in your bank balance and that someone will have a whinge about just how ‘lefty’ the whole thing is.

This year, the honour of providing that final ingredient falls to Mr Peter Whittle, writing in the Daily Telegraph under the oh-so-arch headline ‘Edinburgh Festival to feature smug Lefty Tory-bashing. Again. Yawn.’ This is the first time Mr Whittle’s work had crossed my radar, so I took the opportunity to have a skim through his Telegraph back catalogue. It’s something I’d strongly recommend doing yourself.

Mr Whittle, we are told, is the founder/director of The New Culture Forum. The good news is, that if Peter Whittle’s output is anything to go by, the New Culture will be poorly-written, ill-researched and predictable. Oh yes, he’s that good. When an online article straight-facedly carries the tags ‘Smug lefty comedians’ and ‘Smug lefty Radio 4’, genius is at work.

We could leave aside the school-boy factual howlers, well documented by the commenters on the original article, but given they serve to demonstrate just how heavily rooted in genuine research Mr Whittle’s work is, they are worth running through: (more…)

July 29, 2009

What a load of Phibbs

conservative-homeIn many ways I admire ConservativeHome. It’s an attractive, reasonably open and user-friendly site that does genuinely appear to seek to engage with the Party’s grass-roots activists and supporters.

It has a problem though – serving as it does as a bit of a shop window for the Tories, it does with some regularity highlight to the outside world the more, ahem, interesting points of view and personalities within the Party. You know, the sort any party would want to keep a little under wraps – it’s not a partisan thing, every party has them. However, ConservativeHome sometimes seems to go out of its way to highlight them. Take, for example, the innocuous sounding statement ‘Cllr Harry Phibbs edits ConservativeHome’s Local Government page‘. I don’t know a huge amount about said Cllr Phibbs, but I’m learning – largely through his own teachings. And the more I learn, the more I feel that an equivalent statement would be ‘Margaret Moran MP edits LabourHome’s Probity in Public Life page’.

Cllr Phibbs represents the Ravenscourt Park ward in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, flagship council of the Tory right since they took control in 2006 – tax-cutting, service-slashing, employee-bullying, homeless-bashing. The council’s most recent brush with the media spotlight has surrounded the intriguing views of Leader Stephen Greenhalgh about exactly for whom and where social housing should be provided. Some have intimated that his policies are almost Porter-esque. The Animal is saying nothing for fear of the libel courts. (more…)

July 3, 2009

New Standard – same old news values

Printed in Southwark: not all that interested in reporting on it

Printed in Southwark: not all that interested in reporting on it

I am Political Animal, and I am a secret purchaser of the Evening Standard.

Well, just once in fact, so perhaps I don’t need to head for Standardholics Anonymous just yet. But yesterday, the sun was shining, there was 50p burning a hole in my pocket and my train home was 5 minutes late. So I gave in to temptation. But, honestly folks, I had a motive. I wanted to check a hunch I had. Bear with me.

I’ve written before about the running fiasco that is the Elephant & Castle regeneration project. This is probably the biggest such project in Europe and affects the homes and businesses of thousands of people in one of the most deprived areas of inner London. It includes thousands of new homes, businesses and transport facilities. Well, on Wednesday the newswires(alright, Google News Alerts, but that makes me sound so much less important) alerted me to the latest depressing development – or rather, non-development – in the saga. With the project already around seven years behind the original timescale, the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition at Southwark Council have failed to meet their self-imposed deadline of 1st July to reach a deal to progress the project. This follows two years of exclusive negotiations with struggling Australian property giant Lend Lease (also responsible for the Olympic Village) – the exclusivity deal expired on Wednesday. Where this leaves the project is anyone’s guess – in these difficult financial times it is entirely possible that Lend Lease will refuse the meet Southwark’s demands on affordable homes, small business premises and green space protection and simply walk away, leading to years more of delays. The thousand households in the soon-to-be-demolished Heygate Estate are effectively in limbo: no-one knows when their replacement homes will be built and the council is years behind targets in building the temporary ‘decant’ homes. (more…)

June 15, 2009

And they say irony is dead…

Filed under: London Politics,Media — Political Animal @ 2:00 pm
Tags: , ,

Felt I had to post briefly to record a sight that really brightened up my lunchtime and made me wish I had a camera with me.

An advert for Iranian-sponsored Press TV, with the tagline ‘Giving a voice to the voiceless’, sporting the faces of George Galloway, Yvonne Ridley, Tariq Ramadan…and Andrew Gilligan. Interesting company for a neo-con. And the irony? Well, it was on the side of a number 12 bendy-bus! (I realise this will mean nothing to those unfamiliar with Gilligan’s oeuvre).

And if that wasn’t enough, Gilligan’s face was partially obscured by the word ‘Truth’.

They say irony died when Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m going to demand a second opinion on the status of the corpse.

May 27, 2009

No expenses spared

banknotesStudy leave, exams and recuperation now over, the Animal is given to understand that there has been something of a hullabaloo going on in the febrile world of British politics. Before going on to my substantive point, therefore, four quick observations on the whole ‘Troughgate’ merriment.

1) A number of the claims are beyond the pale. There are some MPs from all parties, including my own, who need to go, go now, and go, like, yesterday.

2) We are getting dangerously close to a situation where certain sections of the media and population will denounce any MP with an expenses claim greater than, say, £0.00 as having their snout in the proverbial trough. Yes, there is a collective failure of non-whistle blowing; there is very limited evidence of a collective malaise of greed.

3) If at the conclusion of this mess, we end up with a situation whereby the only people who can afford to be an MP for a non-London seat are those who can privately afford to rent, furnish and run a second property, then democracy in this country will be in a far worse state than it is currently.

4) <Selfish mode> As a former employee of an MP, I am so glad that the feudal, tax-exiled Lords of Brecqhou have probably got my bank account details.</selfish mode> (more…)

April 29, 2009

Satisfying the masses…or not

city-hallMuch has been written this week about the Yougov poll, commissioned by the Evening Standard which shows a reasonable satisfaction level for Boris Johnson’s performance as Mayor for his first year, caveats about honeymoon periods providing an unreliable polling background excepted.

There isn’t any getting around it for those of us of a more sceptical bent – Boris’ support is sound, albeit relatively limited, and beating him in 2012 isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Not, of course that that should mean adopting the desperate measure of attempting to draft the eminently unsuitable Sir Alan Sugar, regardless of current polling evidence.

But there is another set of numbers, also released this month, which have had a lot less publicity. These tell a subtly different, but far from irrelevant story. Each year, the GLA commissions an Annual London Survey, asking questions about residents’ perceptions of living in London. Generally, the media either ignores or scorns the Survey, because it shows a picture that doesn’t fit with their narrative: Londoners feel pretty safe on their streets and the transport system serves most people pretty well. The surveys from Ken Livingstone’s terms in office are available here, whilst the latest is here. There is a gap for 2008: for reasons of purdah it couldn’t be produced before the election and, understandably enough, it looks like the new administration pushed back the dates to allow for a bedding-in period. (more…)

April 17, 2009

A Third Way for MP’s career paths?

parliamentThe Animal has returned from a very successful wildlife watching trip to Badenoch and Strathspey (and before anyone asks, Mr Charles Whelan was not amongst the fauna spotted) to find that there has been something of a hoo-hah over blogs, emails, smears and spin doctors.

My immediate action, having been at the receiving end of plenty of Tory-inspired smears during my brief career in student politics, is to sigh, shrug and mutter “’twas ever thus”. And then to refrain from any further comment.

But one thing stands out from this mess for the Animal is not that the political blogosphere has somehow ‘come of age’ (I’m far from convinced) but that it has confirmed the existence of a new career path for Britain’s politicians: that of MP as blogger. It is a highly risky path, albeit probably no more so than the high-wire route of seeking government office. It is probably also a route with relatively few vacancies in a limited market: but then so are the routes of scrutiny and executive. And it does hold out the possibility of far greater glory, notoriety (and indeed power) than will ever accrue to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Folding Deckchairs. (more…)

March 31, 2009

A Week Decision

recyclingThe Animal tries not to be too parochial around here, but occasionally something comes up locally that illustrates a broader issue. So it was last week, when the London Borough of Greenwich put a leaflet through the door outlining amended waste collection arrangements.

I don’t tend to be overly critical of Greenwich Council, partially because that seems to be a bit of a crowded market online, partially because it is run by my Party, but mainly because from The Animal’s point of view there is little enough to complain about. Certainly, Greenwich isn’t the most exciting, or go-ahead local authority on the face of the planet, but it does seem to trundle along happily enough on a day-to-day basis, delivering key services competently enough most of the time.

However, on recycling, I do feel they are a *bit* special. Having moved from one (otherwise pretty good) local authority a year ago, being employed by another and having previously worked in London-wide government, I can pretty safely say that Greenwich is streets ahead of pretty much any other comparable borough in the capital: it may not have the highest recycling rate in London – see p.17 of this GLA report – but it is amongst the highest for inner London boroughs/outer London boroughs with inner London characteristics (take your pick), which tend to be the hardest to (more…)

March 6, 2009

Sugar, and spice, and all things nice…

alansugar…that’s what an Evening Standard non-story is made of.

There’s a series of books doing the rounds with the generic title ‘I Never Knew That About [London/ England/ Scotland/ Ireland/ Wales etc]’. I’m hoping to find out who the series’ commissioning editor is and that I can convince them to issue a new one. It’ll be entitled ‘I Never Knew That About the Labour Party’ and will, I hope, by compiled by pro-Tory, right-wing populist journalist (and therefore expert on all things Labour) Andrew Gilligan.

Because this week, Mr Gilligan has taught me something I never knew about my own party. It’s an amazing fact; it will shock you to your very core and is definitely worthy of being the centrepiece of a major comment piece such as this one, or this one. Are you ready for this? Some people in the Labour Party don’t like Ken Livingstone very much and don’t want him to be the Mayoral candidate in 2012.

OK, and irony switched to ‘off’. (more…)

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