Confessions of a Political Animal

October 13, 2009

A Fare-ly Sketchy Strategy

boris tubeYesterday ought to have been one of the defining moments of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty. Three draft strategies published, covering housing, planning, economic development and transport (or, in other words, barring policing pretty much everything the Mayor has any meaningful influence over). Somehow, it didn’t quite feel that way, for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, there is Johnson’s sudden ability to hide from public view when matters of substance and detail rear their ugly heads. The contrast with his normal persona is remarkable. After all, the Mayor is normally happy to engage in publicity  stunts for the TV cameras, write expensive rubbish for the Telegraph or inundate us with 13 oh-so-fascinating photos of himself at Conservative Party Conference via his Twitter account. But just as Blair didn’t do God, Johnson doesn’t do detail. So with three hefty documents being published in his name, Macavity wasn’t there. As Ken Livingstone’s former Chief of Staff Simon Fletcher writes on his blog:

Although these strategies are now up for public consultation, the mayor chose to launch them not with a press conference for the media who communicate with millions but with a meeting of City Hall staff.

All we, the great London unwashed,  got from the Mayor is a solitary tweet. (more…)

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May 1, 2009

Revealed: £2.75m down the River

boris-johnson-11“One thing we cannot do is spend tens of millions keeping projects alive, for political reasons, when there is simply no government funding to deliver them. The truth is that we don’t have to cash to do everything we would like, and it is better to be honest than continue to play upon false hopes.”

Boris Johnson, “Way to Go“, November 2008

So said the Mayor last year, as a justification for removing any ambition from Transport for London’s infrastructure investment programme. Johnson’s implied criticism of the previous mayoral administration was that it had spent money developing and promoting transport projects that were unlikely to ever come to fruition. The weakness of the argument is palpable: it was investment in the development and promotion of schemes such as Crossrail and the East London Line Extension that paved the way for funding eventually emerging from central government.

However, a few schemes escaped the Johnson Axe, including stage 1 of the Greenwich Waterfront Transit, a partially-segregated bus route linking the Jubilee Line station at North Greenwich with Woolwich and Thamesmead. The principle aim of the route was to improve bus services to Thamesmead, a heavily deprived area on the borders of Greenwich and Bexley with woeful public transport links. Given the opprobium heaped on the Transit scheme by Boris-friendly commentators, in particular Andrew Gilligan, its survival in November was very surprising: all the more so as its proposed future extensions across the river had been rendered impossible through Johnson’s scrapping of the Thames Gateway Bridge. (more…)

January 15, 2009

Elephantine miscalculations

elephantAh, the Elephant and Castle. Exotic (well, exotic sounding) southern terminus of the Bakerloo line. World-class example of everything that was wrong with the car-centric planning of the 1960s. Site of one of Europe’s largest ever regeneration schemes. Perhaps. Maybe. One day.

The Elephant, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is an unappealing mixture of vast, traffic-clogged roundabouts, slightly threatening pedestrian underpasses, poor quality housing, shabby shopping arcades and badly integrated Underground, rail and bus hubs. The people who re-planned the area after substantial war damage thought visitors would come to watch  cars going round the roundabouts. For some reason, that didn’t happen.

On the fringes of the Elephant is the huge, barrier-block Heygate Estate, one of the most deprived areas of one of London’s most deprived boroughs and itself the subject of a major regeneration scheme– albeit one which shows all the signs of being horrendously badly managed by Southwark Council, who seem to be intent on clearing the blocks earmarked for demolition before enough suitable ‘decant’ housing for residents is available.

The Elephant regeneration, which centres around the creation of a pedestrianised town centre and the construction of new homes and businesses, is, however, in an even worse state. Southwark (more…)

November 6, 2008

A good day to bury bad news?

tramAs the country’s attention is focussed across the Atlantic (hopefully a post on that will emerge before long), the Mayor has chosen  today to quietly announce – without mentioning it at yesterday’s public TfL board meeting – that he is, as predicted, dropping the continued development of at least three major transport schemes:

  • the Cross-River Tram (as discussed here)
  • the Docklands Light Railway extension via Barking Reach to Dagenham Dock (as discussed here)
  • the East London River Crossing

Yesterday was all about transport related bluster from Boris in his ludicrous Way to Go! document, admirably dissected by Diamond Geezer here. As far as I can see, the document was drafted by TfL officers before being sent up to the eighth floor of City Hall for various Boris-isms to be added, with the odd bit of Latin and phrases such as ‘traffic-throttling excrescences’ – I think that’s traffic-calming to you and me. Given this is a public-facing consultation document, I’d love to see the Plain English Campaign get its teeth into it. (more…)

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 (more…)

September 18, 2008

Roger rabbits

The phrase ‘I am a critical friend of the government/the Mayor/the council/etc’ must be one of the most overused in modern politics. It is rarely more than 50% accurate: those who use this descriptor of themselves are usually either a) not in the slightest bit critical, but trying to convince themselves that they are; or b) not in the slightest bit friendly, but trying to convince the government/Mayor/council/etc that they are.

I think that it is safe to say that the Conservative group on the London Assembly falls clearly into the former category. This is despite the protestations made to the contrary by Havering & Redbridge AM Roger Evans in this article which he wrote for ConservativeHome yesterday, discussing the group’s role under the Boris Johnson mayoralty. In fact, the article’s title, ‘Opposing the Opposition’ gives a better insight into the mindset of the Assembly Tories than the assertion that

The key themes [for the group] are support without becoming enslaved to the executive, friendly criticism without being destructive.

It is worth picking apart a few strands of the article, as it gives some insight into how many back-bench members of governing parties (and, to be fair, not just Conservatives) quickly begin to deceive (more…)

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