Confessions of a Political Animal

March 28, 2010

Boris and Transport: Easy Words, Broken Promises

Two years and half way through Boris Johnson’s first – and I trust, only – term as London Mayor and the opposition parties on the London Assembly rightly took the opportunity last month to step up scrutiny of the Mayor’s…ahem…interesting approach to his manifesto pledges.

Johnson’s 2008 manifesto was a fascinating mix (rather like the man himself) of the sweeping, the generalised, the populist and occasional flashes of obsession with random bits of minutiae. But what was partially evident at the time of it’s publication, and has become even more so since, is that it was written with very little input from anyone who had the foggiest idea what they were talking about. Nowhere was that more clear than in the transport manifesto, saved from oblivion by The Guardian here. Everyone knows its headline-grabber: the removal of the bendy bus and the introduction of a new Routemaster – a policy which it has since become clear has no significant economic, environmental, safety or public utility case to its name. Sadly, this was not a lone case. And a badly thought-out, media-driven manifesto means a manifesto that gets broken all too easily, with just this week a new entrant to the fast growing list emerging.

“It is not good enough…that the Tube doesn’t run later on Friday and Saturday nights. […] It would be a major benefit to Londoners if the Tube ran one hour later on Friday and Saturday nights, and we want to see this happen.” (p.20)

If it wasn’t good enough when Johnson wrote his 2008 manifesto, he’ll have to say that it still isn’t good enough when/if he writes the 2012 version. This week saw the death of this pledge after TfL announced that it was impossible to implement later running and that this would remain merely ‘an aspiration’. This should have come as no surprise to anyone who has had a passing interest in London’s transport pre-2008 – so we can assume it came as a surprise to the Mayor. In his second term, Ken Livingstone consulted on running a one hour later service on Fridays and Saturdays, with commencement of service at weekends cut back by one hour to ensure the amount of time available for engineering and upgrade works was not curtailed. From the consultation it became evident that the later start would leave the many commuters, particularly shift workers, who relied on an early Underground train at weekends heavily inconvenienced, so in 2006 TfL proposed a compromise: running trains 30 minutes later on both Fridays and Saturdays and cutting back starting time on Saturday mornings by one hour whilst leaving Sundays unaffected (this would have meant that Saturday and Sunday start up times were the same). However, by February 2007 it had become clear that negotiations with unions over changed working hours had ground to a halt, and the proposal was shelved.

Despite all this, Johnson in his manifesto reverted to the original proposal of an hour extra for both Friday and Saturday, strangely neglecting to mention that this would need two hours to be cut from somewhere else. Even if this barely-disguised Thatcherite could have succeeded where Livingstone failed with the RMT and ASLEF, he would either have had to at least partially break his manifesto promise by implementing the 30-minute extension plan or taken a potentially highly unpopular decision to leave early-morning commuters without an Underground service. And we all know Johnson doesn’t like making unpopular decisions. So, this manifesto promise was setting Johnson up for a fail, as anyone with a bit of nouse could have told him. The Mayor is trying to claim that upgrade work is what is preventing him from keeping his pledge, but this is clearly rubbish: whilst upgrade work does take place at night, so too does the day-to-day engineering work necessary to keep the Underground running. Even when the upgrades are complete, it is almost certain that any extension of operating hours in the evening will have to be matched by a curtailment in the morning. (more…)

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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…)

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…)

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…)

November 20, 2008

Now that’s what I call an obssession

griffinWhat was your reaction when you heard that the BNP’s membership list had been published on the internet?

a) A sudden desire to see whether any fascists lived on your road? b) A certain gleefulness that such a vile party had come a cropper in this way? c) A little salivation at the prospect of BNP members losing their jobs? d) A mild concern over the data protection issues involved? e) Or maybe you thought ‘Aha, here’s a chance to have a bash at someone who used to be Mayor of London’?

If your answered mainly ‘e’, then you are Andrew Gilligan, and I claim my £5. The Animal’s favourite scribe has dedicated his Evening Standard column to pushing the centre-right’s usual line regarding the hard right: “oh look, aren’t they small and insignificant, if we generally downplay them and pander a bit to the prejudices of their supporters, they’ll go away.”

Gilligan headlines his article “Now we know what little threat the BNP poses” and bases his assumptions on the fact that the membership list shows a relatively small number of members in London generally, with unsurprisingly, very low numbers in the inner boroughs. But surely this was news to no-one – it was always assumed that the party’s membership was somewhere in the vicinity (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…)

October 21, 2008

Questioning Boris: some highlights (& lowlights)

Tory Troll has alerted me to the fact that the written answers from the Mayor’s most recent Question Time session (which we previewed here) are now available for public consumption, although as yet only in the rather clunky pdf format [post now updated with direct links]. Forgive me therefore if I can’t yet provide direct links to the questions and answers discussed below – we’ll have to wait for the ‘Mayor answers to London’ section of the website to be update for that.

Most of the Mayor’s responses are the normal carefully phrased promises to do everything and nothing that we have come to expect, or indeed constitute blatant attempts to answer a different question to that which was asked. A few responses caught my attention, however.

In question 2195/2008, Labour’s Val Shawcross asked for a list of the stakeholders consulted regarding the Mayor’s proposals to allow motorcycles into bus lanes. Johnson’s answer:

The following stakeholders will be consulted with regards to the use of Motorcycles in bus lanes:

  • All of the Boroughs with bus lanes on the TfL road network, together with the emergency services
  • The Freight Transport Association
  • The Road Haulage Association
  • The Post Office (more…)

October 11, 2008

A continuing question of scrutiny

A few weeks ago, I took Tory London Assembly Member Roger Evans gently to task for a low-grade ConservativeHome article in which he claimed that the Conservative Assembly group was doing a pretty good hash of their new-ish role as Boris’ cheerleaders ‘critical friends’. In that post I pointed out that the Tory group was asking a miserably low number of questions of the Mayor per member compared with the other parties and that the quality didn’t make up for the lack of quantity.

So, how goes the scrutiny of the Mayor from the ‘government’ benches? Well, the first big change is that Roger Evans himself is now the Conservative group’s leader. And the second big change…is that nothing much has changed. The Conservative group is continuing to table nearly four times fewer questions to the Mayor (questions for October 15th Mayor’s Question Time here) per member than any other party group. Even the Assembly’s increasingly delusional resident fascist Richard Barnbrook has found time – despite having single-handedly deposed Sir Ian Blair – to table five questions (and only two involve some form of race baiting! Well done Richard – you can kick the habit!). The Tories managed to piece together just 4.4 each, with Roger Evans and Brian Coleman, another (more…)

September 25, 2008

In favour of feudal roads

I’ll freely admit to being pretty slow on the uptake on this – and indeed it has been touched on elsewhere already, but given the apparently inexorable march of the right (sorry Gordon, ‘the novices’) towards power across Britain, it probably makes sense to take a critical look at the underlying ideologies that inform Tory policies.

Living in London, which despite denials, is clearly at least a sounding chamber – if not a petri dish – for future national Conservative policies, we have the dubious honour of seeing policy development in the raw. And every now and again, the Cameronite mask slips ever so slightly to reveal something of what lies beneath.

The July (told you I was late with this) edition of Transport Times (currently available via the Latest Edition link here, see page 4) carries a worrying article about the Mayor’s Transport Adviser, Kulveer Ranger’s stated opinions. Ranger (who would almost certainly fit anyone’s description of a novice being left in charge of a vital portfolio) told the London Assembly Transport Committee in his first appearance before them on 25th June (full transcript) that:

Bearing in mind that no mode should be seen above any other as well, so we have to keep in with a view that there are still a need to understand that the motorist is not at the foot of all traffic modes, right at the base of it, there is no hierarchy here.  We need to ensure that those people who need to travel by car and travel by car get a fair crack at the whip (more…)

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