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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November 13, 2009

A Waste of a Post

waste_barge

London waste being transported to landfill

I’m aware that waste management is not the sexiest topic around (that’s what I call a Cillit Bang opening sentence – BANG! And half your readership’s gone). I doubt anyone but the local party hacks even read my mild criticisms of Greenwich moving to a weekly bin collection. But like it or not, with decreasing levels of landfill available, and tougher central government recycling targets, this is going to remain a political hot potato for some time to come. And as there seems to be a bit of a market out there for blog posts with graphs, here’s a blog post with graphs. About rubbish. In London.

Last week, DEFRA released waste statistics for England for 2008/09, which can be accessed here. The overall story is at least moderately positive. Total quantities of household waste being produced in England have fallen below 25m tonnes for the first time this century. Indeed, the drop of just under 1m tonnes compared to 2007/08 is remarkable, and may indicate an unintended impact of the recession. The key question is whether this decline can be sustained as a recovery kicks in. The figures for 2008/09 represent a drop of 3.8% from the previous 12 months, and 3.0% down from 2000/01. The up-front figure for tonnage being recycled has continued to grow, although more slowly this year than in most previous years. 37.6% of England’s household waste is now being recycled, compared to 11.2% in 2000/01. The government has a target of 40% recycling by 2010 (I’m unclear if that’s 2009/10 or 2010/11), so isn’t a million miles from achieving that. (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…)

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 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…)

December 19, 2008

Bending the facts, not the buses

new-routemasterSo, the day we have all been holding our collective breaths for arrives – at last, and after so many delays, the Mayor has revealed unto us grateful Londoners the design of bus that will might could probably won’t be gracing our streets sometime around the middle of the next decade.

A quick flick through the entries submitted for the design competition here reveals firstly that – surprise, surprise – all the entries appear remarkably similar looking: could that have anything to do with it being made patently clear that what was wanted was a Routemaster pastiche rather than an innovative new design (despite the fact that the latter would be more in keeping with the Routemaster tradition than simply ripping off an existing model)? Apparently the ‘quality’ of entries was such that they couldn’t decide on a single winner, so the first prize was split between this stunningly ugly Aston Martin/Lord Foster design and this rather traditional design from Capoco.

Hang on a moment though – doesn’t the Capoco design look rather familiar? Could it have any links to the design floated by the self-same design company through Autocar magazine in December 2007 as part of the ‘Routemasters are great, bendy buses are evil’ disinformation campaign (more…)

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…)

August 29, 2008

Is high-speed rail the wrong track for Britain?

Britains first and probably last high speed line (c)Freefoto.com

High Speed 1 from St Pancras to the Channel: Britain's first and probably last high speed line (c)Freefoto.com

It was reportedon Wednesday, that ministers are becoming decidedly luke-warm on the idea of a north-south high speed rail line for Britain. This flies in the face of the accepted wisdom that Britain needs 180mph domestic rail services in order to tempt passengers away from domestic flights and their cars. Even the traditionally rail-unfriendly Tories have been making warm noises about a high-speed line (they won’t have seen the potential bill yet), thankfully having weaned themselves off the pie-in-the-sky idea of a maglev network. As an advocate of greater use of Britain’s railways for both passengers and freight, I might be expected to share the enthusiasm for high-speed rail. Until recently, that would have been correct, but I have increasingly become a high-speed sceptic.

I worry increasingly that a lot of the support for a domestic high-speed line is based around an understandable, but flawed, desire to emulate the success of the French TGV network. Yes, the Train a Grand Vitesseis a pleasure to travel on, has slashed journey times and effectively put an end to air travel on some of the routes it serves (e.g. Paris-Marseille and Paris-Strasbourg). But the idea that this is automatically (more…)

August 26, 2008

Is Environmentalism compatible with representative democracy?

Filed under: Environment,London Politics — Political Animal @ 3:51 pm
Tags: , , , , ,
Iceberg in Belsund, Spitsbergen (c) The Political Animal

Iceberg in Belsund, Spitsbergen (c) The Political Animal

If you or I, dear reader, stick with this thing long enough, we’ll both come to realise that when I put a question in the title of a post, it will invariably mean I don’t have an answer. It will also probably mean that I don’t expect anyone else to have an answer either, because if they did, well I’d just Google it, wouldn’t I?

I’ve been thinking quite a lot this summer about how the climate change and broader environmental agendas fit into the British political context. Partially this is due to a trip to the Arctic revealling to me, unsurprisingly, that shrinking glaciers and changing animal behaviour are a very real occurance; partially because of the results of the London elections in May; and in large part because I have a nagging feeling that environmental policy is about to take a back foot in the political sphere.

Perhaps the greatest setback for the cause of environmentalism was when it somehow, in the eyes of the Daily Mail and assorted other organs of the right, became ‘PC’. So-called political correctness is one of the great strawmen of our time: invented, promoted and blown out of all proportion by the losing side of the post-60s culture wars. Sadly, the myth of PC has had some success in building up and sustaining revanchists in the social sphere – to such an extent that it has managed to attach a stigma to the causes of equality and justice. (more…)

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