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…)

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January 27, 2009

A lighter shade of green?

third-runwayThe past week has seen a lot of column inches devoted to the increasingly infamous Boris Island Islands airport plan, with puff pieces in the Sunday Times and the Evening Standard following the Mayor’s day out in a boat with a handful of carefully selected journalists. The whole ludicrous scheme has been carefully taken to pieces by Tom at Boris Watch, whose posts someone at City Hall would do well to read.

What is fast becoming apparent is that this is the purest greenwash, designed to at once allow Boris to maintain an opposition to Heathrow’s third runway, whilst not losing ground with the Tory petrol-heads(or should that be kerosene-heads?) who consider Cameron’s opposition to Heathrow expansion to be an unforgivable concession to unwashed tree-huggers, or something.

Now, I come from the starting point of opposing all airport expansion, pretty much anywhere, but particularly in the South East. I’m invariably drawn to the position, therefore, of considering both the Third Runway and Boris Island to be two evils of pretty much equal magnitude – and therefore, on this issue, to consider Johnson and Brown to be at the same level of ecological villany. The question is, should I? Let us assume, for one rather improbable moment, that the argument in favour of increased airport capacity for London had been won. From an environmental prospect, which is the worse option of a bad choice? (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…)

January 9, 2009

Ice cold logic

Filed under: Environment,Media — Political Animal @ 1:34 pm
Tags: , , , ,
London, yesterday.

London, yesterday.

Been a bit parky this week, hasn’t it? Obviously, my lack of posting has been entirely due to the need to defrost my fingers, rather than general post-festive season malaise.

The cold weather has not, of course, gone unnoticed by the media: there can be little that will gladden a churnalist’s heart than a story which a) literally bites them the moment they get out of bed, b) can be accompanied with a good old whinge about the failure of Britain’s public service to cope with exceptional weather conditions and c) allows the phrase ‘so what happened to global warming, then?’ to be smugly bandied about.

So it should have come as no great surprise that Wednesday’s Evening Standard led with the banner headline:

Minus 10 – it’s colder than the Antarctic

Last night, I suddenly felt rather shamed by the fact it had taken me the best part of 36 hours to realise what was wrong with that headline. And then, like some kind of vision sent by the Lord (Lord Rothermere, perhaps?) I had a sudden recollection of a photograph in The Child’s Wonder Picture Book of World Wonders (recollection of book title may not be 100% accurate) of people in Santa (more…)

October 18, 2008

Early Day Motion Watch #2 – Its the economy, stupid

Back in August we looked at the phenomenon of House of Commons Early Day Motions (those unfamiliar with this particular arcanity might want to look at my original post or more reliably here for enlightenment), or parliamentary graffiti as I prefer to call them, with a promise of regular analysis to come once Parliament returned from the summer recess.

Well, hold your breath no longer, for that moment has arrived. Parliament has now been sitting again for two weeks, largely overshadowed by events elsewhere. In that time MPs, returning flushed with ideas for motions hatched during the long recess, have tabled 143 early day motions, details of which are viewable here (EDM 2143 is the first tabled post-recess). Parliament’s return inevitably leads to a small glut of the most pointless type of EDMs: those celebrating the successes of local sports teams and personalities. Remarkably, however, barring an SNP motion on one particular cyclist, not one parliamentarian has chosen to table a motion congratulating Team GB in Beijing. Local rugby teams, on (more…)

October 3, 2008

High Speed 2: Taking apart the Tory train set


As I’ve written here before about the doubts that I have about high-speed rail being a panacea for the UK’s transport problems, I was keen to look at the Tory’s much heralded plans to build a high speed route (High Speed 2, or HS2) linking London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds at some point in the next 19 years. As this was such a flagship announcement for the Conservative conference, thought I, no doubt I will at the very least be able to download a nice little pdf booklet from the party website setting out the (more…)

September 29, 2008

Boris’ dog whistle?

I have a problem with Boris Johnson. What’s that? You’d worked that out already? Well done; have a coconut, or something.

No, apart from all the other problems I have with our Mayor, my problem is that sometimes I can’t work out if he’s being serious or flippant, or if he is being flippant if there is something deeper behind the flippancy. Sometimes I’m convinced that Boris himself is a bit in the dark about this as well. Therefore, what follows could be entirely the ravings of a paranoid mind.

When the BBC News webteam puts an item in the ‘Also in the News’ section in the margin of their front page, I’ve always understood this as saying something like ‘Yup, there’s a hell of a lot of depressing stuff over there on the main body of the page, but here’s a quirky story about a pet mongoose saving its family from a fire to cheer up your day’. So, when they put in an article headlined Mayor Boris terminates ‘cyborg’ Arnie, the editorial staff must have thought the story was in that league.

I guess everyone knows the background to this story. At last year’s Tory conference, California Governor Schwarzenegger was overheard via video link describing Boris Johnson’s platform performance as ‘fumbling all over the place.’ As far as I remember, (more…)

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