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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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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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 21, 2009

Cheap by any Standard

Filed under: London Politics,Media — Political Animal @ 11:39 am
Tags: , , ,

standardSo…it’s official. The Evening Standard, that fine forward-looking, even-handed, well-written voice of London (I’m told it is all those things – I won’t have it in the house myself) is worth…a little over £1.33*. Just for the avoidance of any doubt, that’s for the whole paper, not for a copy. That remains at 50p.

The Animal always fancied himself as a newspaper proprietor, so had he known what the asking price was, he’d have been happy to enter into a bidding war with Mr Lebedev and gone all the way to £1.50 to take the whole caboodle off Associated Newspaper’s hands. Hell, I’d even promise to keep on Andrew Gilligan. Probably as some kind of gardening correspondent.

So what should Londoners expect from their new KGB nouveau riche owned Standard? Whilst few will shed many tears at the departure of Veronica Wadley, I’d be surprised if there is much of a change of course. The paper has nailed its trousers firmly to the mast of pro-Boris, London-is-crap, move-to-the-home-counties-as-quick-as-you-can mantra. And when you’ve nailed your trousers to the mast, climbing down becomes a little embarrassing.

*: Showing working for extra marks: Lebedev has brought 75.1% of the shares for £1.

Update: (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 21, 2008

Scooping the Standard

Proportion of total affordable housing output to be delivered per borough 2008-11

Proportion of total affordable housing output to be delivered per borough 2008-11

They’re a speedy lot over at ‘London’s Quality Paper’, aren’t they? Eighteen days ago, the Animal wrote about how Boris Johnson’s affordable housing targets were heavily skewed towards allowing most of the Conservative-run London boroughs to continue with their abysmal record of constructing affordable housing. And I can’t claim to be first – Inside Housing and Dave Hill both got there before me. The notifications of the targets were sent out to the boroughs’ Chief Executives the week before I wrote the post. So what’s this I see whilst idly scanning the Evening Standard’s website today?

Tory Councils ‘get easy ride on cheap homes’

Yup, nearly three weeks on, the Standard gets the story. I doubt if the blame for this tardiness can be placed at the door of Pippa Crerar, the paper’s generally even-handed City Hall editor, whose by-line (more…)

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