Friday, 30 May 2008

Boris Johnson may reverse on doubling of bus fares

Boris Johnson engineered yet another climb down today, hinting that he may now continue with half-price bus and tram fares for London's poor.

Boris announced last Sunday that people on income support would no longer benefit from half-price fares, after the current deal comes to an end in August. But in a victory for London's poor and after a week's worth of criticism, there are signs that a u-turn may finally be coming around.

The way in which the news was originally announced, and the way in which it so blatantly targeted the least well off was a worrying sign of things to come. But on the central and most important issue, it now seems that Boris has seen sense.

News of the possible u-turn came in response to dogged questioning by the Guardian's Dave Hill. Asked about how doubling fares for people on income support would fulfill the Mayor's commitment to narrow the gap between rich and poor, Team Boris responded that they would now ask Transport for London to "consider whether there may be alternative ways of providing this support." 

And although this is by no means a clear cut promise, it does look like people on income support may not have the cost of their fares doubled after all. And if this really does become another one of Boris Johnson's policy reversals, then I for once will not be complaining.

Boris Johnson bounces on campaign plinth promise

Boris Johnson today broke his promise to place a statue of a famous war hero on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Boris was a prominent supporter of the 'Sir Keith Park campaign' that has lobbied to replace the temporary statues currently on the plinth, with a permanent statue of the Battle of Britain hero.

However, suspicions that Boris would make yet another 'dead parrot bounce' on this were raised after he failed to turn up to a campaign event alongside fellow mayoral candidate Brian Paddick. The event was also supported by a number of Tory and Labour MPs including Tony Benn and Norman Tebbit.

The news that he will now reverse on this campaign pledge was quietly slipped out in a written answer to an assembly member's question. Boris wrote that:

The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square would be a wonderful spot (for the statue), but it now appears that complex planning issues would make it difficult to secure this location on an ongoing basis. There are also outstanding commitments to exhibit contemporary sculpture on the Fourth Plinth.

Perhaps if Boris had taken the time to check out those 'complex planning issues' before hitching himself to this particular bandwagon then he would have avoided some of the fire that is heading his way over this. Right-wing cultural pressure group the New Culture Forum for one are not impressed. In a post titled 'a timid, cowardly U-turn' they write:

Johnson has now acknowledged broad public backing for the plinth art over the last nine years. He said: "I recognise that this revolving programme has proved very popular and I welcome the important contribution it has made in shaping public debate about contemporary art. Precisely what 'broad backing backing'? What 'public debate'? From his statement, it seems that the mayor has not just withrawn support specifically from the Keith Park proposal, but from the whole idea of a more widely chosen, permenant fixture on the fourth plinth.

Whether or not Boris is in favour of a permanent fixture on the fourth plinth is neither here nor there. The fact is that he can't do it and would have known that he couldn't do it, if he had taken the time to find out.

But like his pursuit of the next-generation Routemaster, the temptation to make a dodgy promise without bothering to do the necessary research first was just too much of a temptation for him to avoid.
Thanks to Mr. Stop Boris for the picture and Dave Hill for the extra info.

Boris Johnson hides salaries of 'transition team'

Boris Johnson promised a new era of tax-payer value and accountability, but now he is in power, he is refusing to say how much his 'transition team' of consultants and advisors will be paid.

Writing in response to a question from Darren Johnson, the new Mayor of London said that while details of his deputies' salaries had been released, 'it is not intended that the fees for these (other) individuals will be made public.'

Among the fourteen (above) 'consultants' being paid an unspecified sum from the public purse are members of top-flight public relations firm inHouse PR and a number of other members of Boris Johnson's election campaign team.

So while we now know that Boris's chief spin-doctor Guto Harri is being paid £124,364 for his services, we do not yet know how much the other spinners and fixers will receive.

The Tory Troll on Liberal Conspiracy

The Troll will be joining Sunny and the gang tomorrow for Londoners' last opportunity to have a drink on the Tube. However, in the meantime he has another post up on the excellent Liberal Conspiracy website. So head over there and join in the debate and kerfuffle on seasteading, libertarians and internet millionaires.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

With Boris Johnson away, Tim Parker will play.

The Troll was criticised today for having the cheek to question Boris Johnson's early holiday. But to be honest, the main reason I was annoyed is that I now have much less to write about.

Because with our new mayor on the high seas and with Richard Barnbrook seemingly in hiding, things in City Hall seem to have been running without a hitch.

But under our noses, the man who now really runs the capital has quietly been polishing his knives.

Boris's new first deputy Mayor, head of TFl, head of the GLA and all-round asset-stripper overlord Tim Parker held a meeting with the entire staff of City Hall today. To a crowd of worried civil servants, Parker boasted of having previously 'outsourced' jobs abroad and then gone on to reap the rewards. 

But with most new jobs already outsourced to staunch Conservatives, some in City Hall are worried that any job losses will come from those on the left. And with no cuts yet announced, everybody there was looking for clues. 

And with civil servants hanging on every word, Parker warned them that putting their own interest before the organisation was 'cancerous' and said that job numbers 'were unlikely to increase.' 

And although he didn't say who or what cancerous parts would be treated, he did say that 'things would become clear' by the time autumn comes around. 

So do you work at City Hall? Are you one of the "dogs in the manger"? Are you waiting to be "euthanised" by the Prince of Darkness? If so, then Tory Troll would like to hear from you ;)

Seasteading: a practical guide to bailing out

Rich American Libertarians are planning to live on huge metal platforms out on the ocean. Which is good news. Now if only all of our problems could be got rid of so easily.

Executives from Google and Paypal are financing the creation of new independent 'seastead' states which will be anchored out in international waters. Once built, anti-social millionaires fed up with those tiresome duties of having to obey laws and pay tax, can sink their millions into the project and rust their days out on the high seas.

Of course founders Patri Friedman and Wayne Gramlich don't quite put it like that. In their manifesto Seasteading: A Practical Guide to Homesteading the High Seas they write of new sustainable communities that will serve as models of 'open source' government. 

Each Seastead will have it's own rules and when one community fails, then you can just pull up anchor and join another. For Friedman and Granlich this is the Web 2.0 approach to governance, where the wisdom of crowds inevitably works for the benefit of all. 

And for these internet millionaires, the seastead project will prove once and for all the power and righteousness of the market. In the inspiring language of the international executive Friedman writes:

"This dramatically lower cost of switching providers promotes market feedback. If the government announces an unpopular policy on Monday, by Tuesday there may be nothing left but the capital building. This is true for any pet topic - libertarians and taxes, drug users and drug prohibition, pacifists and military expansion, environmentalists and pollution."

However, quite what will happen to those people left lingering on the failed seasteads, isn't made clear. 

But for these founding fathers, such details are irrelevant and as far as they are concerned will undoubtedly be solved by the users themselves. More important to them is the big idea itself. And like any new world, it's creators need a big mythology, and like any religious work, their bible needs it's parables too. First up we have the parable of Judy the Environmentalist:

"Judy felt frustrated as she left the city council meeting. Her proposal to levy fines on recyclables left in ordinary trash seemed to her like such a reasonable idea, why did it ignite so much argument? Americans generated such sickening amounts of trash - all she wanted was to help cut down on it a little bit. “For a town that was supposedly environmentally conscious, they are awfully close-minded around here”, she thought. She remembered that article she’d read about a Costa Rican ecovillage. It would be so relaxing and inspiring to live somewhere where everyone was of the same mind about not polluting the Earth. They could serve as an example to the rest of the world that you didn’t have to damage the environment to live. If only there was a place that was sustainable and civilized…"

So what's Judy's answer to cutting down the city's waste for the good of her fellow citizens? That's right, she's going to leave them all to wallow in it. And how is she going to set an example to these litter louts? That's right, she's going to make sure she never has deal with any of them ever again.

Next we have the parable of Glen the pacifist:

"Glen clicked off the news angrily. Another day, another half-dozen deaths from that quagmire in Iraq. And that was just US soldiers - who knew how many innocent Iraqi citizens had died? What he hated most was that he was paying for those bullets, paying for those bombs. Sure, he hadn’t voted for Bush, but the IRS took his tax dollars anyway. And not like the damn Democrats were doing much about all that military spending. It seemed like everyone in DC was on the take. One person just couldn’t make a difference in a country this size, not unless he was a billionaire or some kind of internet-activism genius. If only he could live somewhere where he only paid for things he approved of, or at least got to choose where his money went, he’d be so much happier…"

So what's Glen's solution to the problems in Iraq? That's right, to no longer have anything to do with them. And how is Glen going to ensure that the country is restored to a safe and peaceful state? That's right, by refusing to pay a cent.

And so, like the British conscientious objectors in WW2 who preached pacifism from the safety of their fortified island, Glen and his fellow seasteaders want to prove their righteousness from the platform of their million dollar buoys. 

And while the afflicted of Iraq and America will continue to suffer unheeded from their governments, Glen will be insulated by the warmth of his own smugness, and consoled by the thought of no longer having to pay for a dime.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Boris Johnson promises to work 'flat out' (on tan)

Boris Johnson minds the gap between fear and fact

Boris Johnson came to power promising to reverse the 'steady and undisputed rise in robbery' on London's streets and transport networks. But new figures out today show that the previous administration managed to halve the number of robberies on the Underground and substantially reduce almost all forms of Tube crime.

The figures published by the British Transport Police show that despite fearmongering by the Boris Johnson and his team, crime on the underground has dramatically decreased, with robberies down 51% in the last year alone.

And from listening to Boris Johnson's and Brian Paddick's campaign speeches, you would have thought City Hall had squandered all the capital's police money on advertising and PR, but these new figures confirm that there has been a 65% increase in the number of British Transport Police officers on the Tube and DLR.

However, as actual crime decreases, our new Mayor's fear of crime increases. Reacting to the new figures Boris Johnson said today:

"The reported cut in crime on the Tube and Docklands Light Railway is very encouraging, and is a trend that I fully intend to build upon as Mayor. Unfortunately many Londoners do not feel as safe as they should do when using the network, which is why we have made tackling transport crime one of our number one priorities. The transport network plays an important role in the lives of millions of Londoners, and it is essential that the tubes and trains are places where we can all go without the fear of crime."

But it is precisely that 'important role' that the network plays in people's lives that is the reason why fears should not be unnecessarily raised by politicians seeking power. 

Because the vast majority of people using the tube do so because they have no choice, and to deliberately frighten them as Boris did, despite the evidence that crime was falling, was as irresponsible as it was cynical.

So now you are Mayor Boris, I suggest you take the advice of your new pal Michael Bloomberg. Speaking to the BBC after meeting him, the Mayor of New York said:

"Boris has got to be seen out there with the average person. Be in the (places) that some people think are dangerous so he can show that they are not... if you can get more people in the parks you will have less crime. Crime goes to places where there aren't people."

As law-abiding Londoners desert an area, crime and disorder fills its place. And our Mayor it is now Boris Johnson's duty to make us feel as safe on London's Transport as these figures show we should be. 

Because unnecessarily heightening our fears may have got him into power, and posing as the man of law and order may keep him there for now. But if Boris Johnson is really going to help this city, as he says he wants to, then he should stop trading on our fears and start trading on the facts.
Thanks to Tom for the heads-up

Richard Barnbrook's councillors may lose salaries

BNP Councillors in Barking and Dagenham, may lose a substantial part of their wages after they bunked a staggering number of meetings last year.

Some of the councillors in Richard Barnbrook's London stronghold only attended six council meetings in the entire year, meaning they pocketed the equivalent of £1600 for each one. With the average council meeting lasting only two hours, this means that the BNP councillors have been working for an astonishing £800 an hour. 

With such poor value for money, Barking and Dagenham Council are now considering clawing back some of the cash.

The worst attendance rate was racked up by Councillor Jamie Jarvis who attended only 26% of the meetings he was required to, making Boris Johnson's record look positively glowing. When confronted by the Barking and Dagenham post, one BNP councillor, Mr. Darren Tuffs explained that:

"A lot of the reason (I don't turn up) is that I run my own business, and don't always know what I'm going to be doing during the day. I would have to apologise to my constituents. I do try and get to the meetings, but various circumstances stop me."

Quite what those 'various circumstances' are is not made clear. However, the thought of his hourly pay going beneath the £800 mark may well have been a factor.

The six highest charting non-attendees on the Council are all unsurprisingly members of the British National Party. Leader of the group and London Assembly member Richard Barnbrook accepted that his members had an awful record. Speaking to the Post he said:

"I appreciate that my own councillors don't have great attendance"

Let's hope that your constituents appreciate that too.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Boris Johnson goes on holiday as team double fares

Boris Johnson was on holiday as his team slipped out news of bus fares doubling for London's poor, it was revealed today.

The news came out after Boris Johnson was slammed for failing to attend the City Hall organized Africa Day celebrations, in Trafalgar Square yesterday afternoon.

Founder of the African awareness pressure group Ligali, Mr. Toyin Agbetu said of the Mayor's absence:

That Boris Johnson has chosen not to attend just shows his interest in the matter. I’m glad in a way that he did not attend, hearing what his views are, because I don’t think Africans should be used as a political tool, but on another level he has a duty to show up to show the institutional support of London.

The fact that our new mayor failed to turn up to yet another event is not hugely surprising. Nor am I particularly surprised that he has taken a holiday after only three weeks in the job. 

However, the fact that he should choose this particular time for the release of what is his most controversial decision yet, is a worrying sign of the sort of leadership we should expect for the next four years.

Richard Barnbrook shunned by London's youth

The British National Party's most powerful serving politician was stood up today by 100 young people he had arranged to meet at City Hall.

Last Sunday Richard Barnbrook visited Sidcup to recruit young people affected by the murder of Robert Knox. After returning from the visit he wrote on his Telegraph hosted blog that:

I have invited all of the young people there to come down to City Hall this Tuesday for 9:30 in the morning. This knife crime has to be stopped. If I have to bring a 100 young people into Boris's office then that is what I will do.

Yet as I stood waiting for the legions of Nazi youth to turn up, it soon became clear that nobody had taken him up on the offer.

In fact from when I arrived at just before 9.00 until when I left at just after 10.00, not a single young person came to join Barnbrook and his aides outside City Hall.

Because the BNP have boasted that Barnbrook's election is the latest step of a 'quiet revolution' that will bring them to power. 

But as I saw Dick shuffle silently back into City Hall, it became clear that this quiet revolution had just got that little bit quieter.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Richard Barnbrook stokes fears after teen murder

BNP assembly member Richard Barnbrook travelled to the scene of a teenager's murder yesterday, to exploit racial tensions within the community.

Speaking to camera next to friends of the murdered teenager Robert Knox in Sidcup, South London, Barnbrook said that:

"This is a sickening situation and it is primarily down to people coming to this country... the majority 75% (of murders) are done by ethnic minorities and when only 33% come from ethnic minorities, the figures speak for themselves."

After his visit Barnbrook wrote on his Telegraph hosted blog:

"Well let me tell you that times are changing. This is our city and we are going to take it back. We are going to take all the weapons of (sic) the streets even if that means sending in the Army to do it... if immigrants don't like it then they know where the airport is."

At the end of a half-crazed ramble that takes in everything from therapists to the SAS, Barnbrook writes that he will be holding a meeting at City Hall of '100 young people' tomorrow morning at 9.30 and that 'if I have to bring (them) into Boris's office then that is what I will do."

He then gives out what is presumably his own mobile phone number and asks readers to contact him if they want to attend.

So do you want to meet Richard Barnbrook? Do you want to Watch the Wally at work? If so, you can call him any time of day or night on 07869 243 129 and he will try and get back to you.

Fleet Street buy Boris Johnson's spin on fare hikes

Boris Johnson's attempts to bury the doubling of fares for London's poorest people, as a story about Venezuela has worked, with all newspapers concentrating on the end of the Caracas deal.

Boris sneaked out the story on Sunday afternoon when most papers would have been winding down today's editions. His framing of it as ending a deal which 'many Londoners were uncomfortable with' has been faithfully repeated by staff reporters. The doubling of fares for London's poorest has mostly been consigned to the closing paragraphs.

When Boris moved into City Hall he brought with him a 'transition team' consisting of members of top Public relations company inHouse PR and the remaining members of his election campaign. The employment of ex-BBC man Guto Harri has also contributed to what is now a slick operation capable of burying bad news.

Even Johnson's opponents during the campaign have been brought onside with this startling apology from the Guardian for the cheek of having criticised Boris in the days running up to the election. The Guardian's Readers editor apologised after the paper apparently received letters and emails from 'readers' saying that they had given their vote to Boris because of the Guardian's stance.

After having received similar treatment from supposed 'readers' who then turned out to be part of Boris' campaign team, I am a little sceptical about the authenticity of such complaints. The inclusion of one of these astroturfers in Boris Johnson's 'transition team' at City Hall does not add much to my confidence either.

Scrutiny of Boris Johnson from the press was at best low during the campaign and is now in danger of becoming non-existent. There are some notable exceptions of course, but when it comes to watching the country's most powerful Tory politician, the so-called Fleet Street professionals have let themselves get left behind.
-UPDATE- The Golden Spade prize for the best burying of the story goes to The Times who smothered the price hike under an old story about Ken's Beijing bus trip. That's some seriously good work from Guto and Team Boris! 

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Boris Johnson doubles fares for London's poor

Boris Johnson will double the price of bus and tram fares for the poorest Londoners, he said today.

In an announcement slipped out on a Bank Holiday, the Mayor said that applications for half-price fares from people on income support would no longer be accepted from 20th August this year.

The half-price offer was established last year after an oil-deal was brokered between London and the Venezuelan government. Up to a quarter of a million Londoners on low-incomes were expected to benefit from the reduced fares while Venezuela were receiving technical advice and assistance from TfL.

In an attempt to justify the doubling of fares, Boris Johnson said today that:

'I simply think there are better ways of benefiting Londoners and better ways of benefiting Venezuelans.'
There has been no indication what those better ways might be.

The Mayor has also said that closure of the London/Caracas office will save (a pretty insignificant) £67,000 a year. However, none of that alleged saving will go back into either reducing fares for London's poorest or into improving the lot of Venezuelans. 

Ken Livingstone who established the discount fares, said today: 

"Regardless of Boris Johnson's objections to the oil agreement with Venezuela he has announced no alternative way to provide cheaper travel to the more than 80,000 Londoners on Income Support who benefit from the half price bus and tram fares. It shows that he is more interested in pursuing his right wing ideological agenda than improving the living standards of the most deprived people in the capital."

The employment of private equity boss and renowned asset stripper Tim Parker earlier this week was a clear sign that Boris was likely to pursue a number of cuts to services. However, it was not expected that he would do so quite so soon or that he would so blatantly target the poorest people in the capital.


The Mayor's attempts to frame the announcement as a positive for Venezeulans is also hardly credible as all TFL advice and assistance will now be withdrawn. Venezuela were also presumably happy with the arrangement as similar deals have now been set up with a number of American cities and states.

And although the effect of Boris Johnson's announcement on Venezuelans is difficult to gauge, the effect on London's poorest people will be easily felt. The signal it sends to the country is also not difficult to read. 

As Dave Hill points out on his blog today, Boris Johnson had explicitly promised to end 'the growing divisions between rich and poor' in his victory speech, but has now significantly increased that gap as one of his very first acts as Mayor. 

This coupled with schemes to take free bus travel away from rowdy children, and to scrap targets for affordable housing should send a clear message about who will, and who will not benefit from a Johnson Mayoralty and any Tory government that follows.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Cyclists turn on Boris Johnson over Bus Lanes

He is one of Britain's most famous pedalers, but this week London's cyclists turned on Boris Johnson over plans to allow motorbikes into bus lanes.

Members of the London Cycling Campaign have told the Mayor to backpedal from the 'snap decision' which was made in the latter stage of his election campaign.

LCC Chief Executive Koy Thomson said that the mayor's policy was based on 'flawed methodology' and would lead to an increase in road deaths and pedestrian casualties. Thomson said earlier this week:
"This would be a decision taken not only against the advice of transport officials and without the input of cycling and pedestrian groups, but also in the face of a warning that this could ‘disbenefit’ cyclists and pedestrians."
In fact officials at Transport for London have already spoken out against the policy, which they describe as ill thought out and dangerous. TFL Managing Director for Surface Transport David Brown said:
"There is no evidence to indicate that motorcyclists would see any significant safety benefits from being allowed to enter bus lanes but that there were potential disbenefits for both cyclists and pedestrians."
Because like Boris Johnson's plans to rephase traffic lights, the 'disbenefits' of this new policy would include a big increase in the number of fatal accidents and casualties. And while Boris and his boss are not particularly bothered about their own safety, this policy would put the safety of many more Londoners' lives at risk.

And unlike gang crime and the spread of knives and guns, safety on the roads is relatively easy to improve. And as Ken Livingstone proved in his own term, simple measures can save hundreds more lives than crime crackdowns ever will.

LCC's Campaign Manager Tom Bagdanowicz has said of Boris' rushed plans to allow motorycles into bus lanes:
“Providing new high speed channels for motorcycles along major roads will inevitably increase motorcycle use. More motorcycle traffic will spread to all streets in London and will bring with it an increase in casualties for vulnerable road users. We’re asking our supporters to urge the Mayor to consider the safety impact on all London streets for every road user before any decision on allowing high-speed vehicles into bus lanes is made.”
You can tell Boris to 'Stop, Look and Listen' to Londoners by signing the LCC petition here.

Will Boris Johnson get stung by his worker bee?

There's a very revealing piece by George Pitcher on the Telegraph website. Pitcher who knows Tim Parker well, reckons that Boris Johnson's appointment of this 'Slash and Burn' man will work out badly for both of them:

"I think he's riding for a fall. As is Boris Johnson. My colleague Simon Heffer wrote just before the Mayoral election that Boris has founded his various careers on "stooges", an observation examined at some length in another colleague Andrew Gimson's biography of the mop-haired Mayor. The stooges – at Oxford, in journalism and in politics – are the people who do all the work, while Boris concentrates on his more important task of self-aggrandisement."

"Parker, in Boris's mind, will be King Stooge. Boris doesn't understand business. Far too boring for a man of vision such as himself. Also, it's rather "trade" for a toff from Eton and the Bullingdon Club. So Parker will be his Managing Director, he thinks, and the one who can have all those tedious meetings about budgets while Boris gets photographed with Miss Bust-Conductor on a new Routemaster."

"The trouble with this plan is that, talented as he undoubtedly is, Parker is not essentially a runner of businesses. He's a turner-round of businesses and a deal-maker. He's a slash-and-burn man, laying waste to unproductive factories and under-performing people. He once told me that it's best to fire people as soon as you arrive somewhere, before you've got to know them. That may be just what London needs – some cost-saving at the centre, to better serve the interests of Londoners, who Parker calls "shareholders".

"But unless Parker is allowed to float London on the Stock Exchange, or organise a management buy-out of Chelsea, or break up Westminster and sell the profitable bits, he will quickly grow bored. Once he's made something pay, he wants out. In that sense, he is very much like Boris (though without the narcissism). He even shares a propensity for a storm of unruly, big hair (I note that reports have suggested he's known as the Prince of Darkness at companies he's commanded – I can only say that I only heard him called Bogbrush on account of his mop)."

"Parker is not so much a stooge as a sibling and there will be grim rivalry. Boris thinks he'd bought a drone. He'll get stung by a busy bee."

I don't normally quote at such length but this is fascinating stuff and very much goes against all of the praise Boris' new appointment has got elsewhere. 

As ever in papers such as the Telegraph and the Evening Standard, the most revealing articles are often resigned to the blog sections where few people will ever read them. 

But with the appointment of the man who will really be running London over the next four years, this is one article that deserves to be much more widely read.

Lily Allen says Paparazzi are like the BNP

Singer Lily Allen has lashed out at the paparazzi, claiming that "most of them look like they wouldn't be out of place at a BNP meeting."

After my own paparazzi efforts earlier this week, I can't help but be offended.

So come on paps, repair your reputation, and bash the fash with some Wallywatching of your own.

It won't take much. Just a few snaps of Richard Barnbrook goosestepping along to some ballet, or some pics of the great sculptor at work. But whatever it is, get yourself involved ;)

Have you been watching Wally? Have you seen the berk in beige? If so, please send all pictures, sightings and related Wallyspots to Wallywatch at the usual address ;)

Richard Barnbrook wants more homeless Londoners

Richard Barnbrook of the BNP is fighting against the building of affordable homes in Barking and Dagenham because it will lead to 'more immigrants' living in the borough.

Barking and Dagenham is one of the most deprived boroughs in Lonson, but the British National Party's new star on the London Assembly is trying to prevent the building of thousands of new homes for low income people and key workers.

Barking Labour leader Cllr Fairbrass said earlier this week

"They voted against it. They also voted against Barking Riverside, where 4,300 affordable homes will be built.They will be social rented homes. That's the problem, they keep voting against them. There's no logic to it. It's as simple as that."

However a quick look at the BNP's London website reveals their logic all too clearly. Under the headline "Labour Government Builds Houses for More Immigrants in Barking and Dagenham," BNP Councillor and all-round yob Bob Bailey argues that 'key workers is a very loose term' and then argues that the houses will probably not go to those key workers anyway.

However, what the headline of the article reveals, is that it is not that the houses will not go to key workers, that is their problem, but that they will. 

Because the best available statistics show that ethnic minorities and immigrants are massively over-represented in 'key' job sectors such as social care and the NHS. And while ethnic minorities only make up around 10% of the population in Britain, they make up around 30% of staff in the NHS.

So while Barnbrook and the BNP pose as the friends of the working class, it is exactly those people that work the hardest in their borough that they would see without a home. And for every low-paid white person they keep out of a home is another opportunity for them to gerrymander a vote. 

Because the BNP have made gains across London by trading off of people's discontent. And the more people are kept out of buying their own homes, then the more they will reap the rewards at the polls.

So the next time Richard Barnbrook lectures the working class, from the comfort of his Blackheath flat, just remember that it is his interest and not theirs that he is really fighting for.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Boris Johnson or Tim Parker: Who runs London?

There was a lot of fuss before the elections about the fact that Boris Johnson wouldn't say who was actually going to be running London if he got in. Well with the appointment of Tim Parker yesterday as Chief Executive of the GLA, head of TFL, First Deputy Mayor and King High Lord of everything, we now finally know.

Multi-millionaire union breaker and asset-stripper Tim Parker has been given the keys to run pretty much everything at City Hall, and unsurprisingly it's causing a bit of a row.

Here's GMB union boss Paul Kenny:
"This is a scary moment for London’s commuters. Tim Parker is one of the multi-millionaire elite private equity buccaneers who asset stripped the AA by cutting jobs and cutting services and raising prices to customers. At AA he targeted and sacked by bullying out of the door the sick and disabled staff. He took £30 million out of AA when he left it last year, having saddled AA/SAGA with £4.8 billions of debt. The good work of the last number of years is under threat."
and Bob Crow:
Tim Parker has a reputation as a private-equity asset-stripper and has been dubbed the Prince of Darkness by unions that have encountered his methods in the past. We are well aware of his track record, and Mr Parker has the opportunity to leave that reputation behind him when he starts work for the Mayor of London. The world’s finest metro system does not need an asset-stripper or a Prince of Darkness, but it does need its modernisation programme put back on track if it is to be ready for the 2012 Olympics.
Believe me when I say that this is just a taster of the shit that is being kicked up over this. Labour Assembly Members are calling it a 'farce' and the Chair of the Assembly is even considering taking legal action. This looks to be building into a monster of a row and here's why:

Boris Johnson was elected on a manifesto of cutting waste. Londoners knew that as they put a tick in his box. However what they didn't know was that this would mean the kind of huge cuts and privatisation programme that Parker is well known for.

What they also didn't know was that London would be run by every Tory millionaire under the sun bar the actual Mayor himself Boris Johnson. And in the few short weeks that he has been in power, Boris has delegated almost every role the Mayor has to a team of unelected officials and consultants. 

Many of these are working for free, supposedly out of the goodness of their hearts and many are retaining other positions which have direct conflicts of interests with their new roles. In this short time, a whole network of power and influence has been built up in London over which the Mayor himself seems to have little control. So to what ends is this.

Of course Team Boris say this is all for the good of Londoners. Boris' new team of mega-rich capitalists have suddenly seen the light and want to spend their twilight years in municipal service of the city that has enriched them. But the simple truth is that we just can't know what their motives are.

Who now runs London?

Because although when you elect a leader, you normally know that many other people will be doing the work, you still believe that the person you elect and their elected deputies will be the people who will be in charge of it all. But after the last few weeks of appointments, it is clear that this is not now the case at City Hall.

Watching Boris fail to answer assembly questions on Wednesday it was clear to me that this man had absolutely no idea what was going on in his own administration. He had some jokes and some prepared responses, but when the meeting went off the script, he just didn't know what to say.

The same thing occurred to me then that has occurred to me almost every time I have seen Boris in action, and that is that Boris is in no way in charge of his own operation. 

So when Londoners elected him it is now clear that they didn't elect a leader but a frontman. However, when they elected him, they didn't know exactly what he would be a frontman for. But with the appointment of Tim Parker as City hall boss, this may finally be becoming clear.

Wallywatch at London Southbank

Today's Wallywatch comes from Queen's Walk on the Southbank and was found by a Wally Spotter who reads The Troll. 

The large drill is a gradually changing piece of art that appeared at some point in the last week. Apparently it's from the people that brought the Sultan's Elephant to London, and we don't yet know exactly how it will end up. 

I love these kinds of things. They make London the exciting place to be that it is and they have absolutely nothing to do with getting 'more bang for your buck,' as Boris Johnson would put it. 

However, you should probably enjoy them while you still can because all the signs are that this is exactly the sort of thing that we will be seeing less of now Dr Cuts and the Cutters have got into power.

Have you been watching Wally? Have you seen the berk in beige? If so, please send all pictures, sightings and related Wallyspots to Wallywatch at the usual address ;)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Does Boris Johnson know who is running London?

Boris Johnson has given away major powers on planning decisions to an unelected advisor, it emerged yesterday.

Under questioning from the assembly, the Mayor was forced to admit that Ian Clement and other advisors have been given these powers because he 'doesn't have the time' to exercise them himself.

Assembly members first discovered that the powers had been given away when they received copies of letters addressed to Local Authorities from Ian Clement stating that 'the Mayor has delegated his planning powers to me.'

However, when asked by Jenny Jones exactly what powers had been given to Clement, Boris said that he 'didn't intend to anticipate exactly what sort of decisions he will be making.'

Yet the planning letters sent out by Clement and seen by the Troll show that he was exercising these powers less than two weeks into the new administration, causing some opposition members to ask whether Boris actually knows what is going on. 

When asked, our new Mayor replied that he 'imagined' that Clement would be "taking decisions of great importance for Londoners as you would expect a Deputy Mayor to do."

Indeed Londoners would expect an elected Deputy Mayor to be making these kinds of decisions. However, Ian Clement is not an elected Deputy Mayor. Ian Clement is a paid advisor whose title 'Deputy Mayor, government relations' is not even a function represented in the law. As an unelected advisor he is therefore expected to give the Mayor advice on decisions. He is not however expected to make those decisions for him.

The revelation that Boris has already given up some of his key powers to unelected advisors has prompted some to question whether Boris can continue to do the five jobs that he has collected for himself. 

Because with no Henley by-election in sight and with Boris' job as the head of the Metropolitan Police authority not even begun, opposition members are now questioning if Boris' has the time to properly concentrate on what should be his most important role, being London's Mayor. Labour assembly member John Biggs said yesterday:
"Boris Johnson says he is too busy to make planning decisions. I wonder then where he finds the time to continue writing his £250,000 a year Daily Telegraph column?"
Boris' colleague at the Telegraph, Simon Heffer had the answer to these questions a month ago:

"There were stooges when Mr Johnson was en route to be president of the Oxford Union. He has had stooges all through journalism, who did significant parts of his various jobs for him, usually with little thanks or reward. And now there are stooges in politics.

If Mr Johnson became Mayor tomorrow, he would be the front man for nameless others who would run London. That may well be better than more of Mr Livingstone. It would not be what people think they are voting for."

Would you like to be one of Boris Johnson's paid stooges? Would you like a job that Boris just can't do? If so send a CV and sae to: HR Dept, City Hall, Queen’s Walk, London SE1A 2AA.

The Boris Johnson Attendometer

Here at Tory Troll, we intend to be punctilious in our following of Boris Johnson's every move. With that in mind we are today launching the BoJo Attendometer© 

The Bojo Attendometer© uses the latest technology to bring to you best available industry statistics on No-Show BoJo. Evaluation of the appropriate data, by leading experts has shown that Boris' current rate of attendance at City Hall meetings is 50%. It is very early days of course, but this data is broadly in line with previous statistics. 

And if current projections continue, Boris looks likely to match or even exceed his previous record. 

In fact earlier studies have shown that our new Mayor has a tendency to a narrow majority of non-attendance. In his other job Boris has attended 45% of the votes in the Houses of Parliament, a figure well below the average for MPs. Data for his many other jobs is not available, although anecdotal evidence appears consistent.

So although his level on the Attendometer© is unlikely to be quite as bad as 45% after four years in  the job, you can rely on us here at the Tory Troll to continue to monitor the figures.

Raw Data:

Question Time 21/05/08: Attended
Standards Committee 20/05/08: Bunked

Wallywatch at the London Assembly

Who's the berk in beige slipping through the back door of City Hall?
answers on the back of a postcard.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Boris Johnson laughs off legal row at City Hall

Meet the New Boss: Ken Livingstone looks on at Boris' first MQT

Boris Johnson attempted to laugh off legal difficulties with his appointments today, claiming that he was 'not aware' he had broken any legislation.

Speaking at the first Mayor's Question Time of his term, Boris accused the Labour, Green and Lib Dem members of 'quibbling' over legalities but admitted that he needed time to 'cross all the T's and dot the I's.'

In a characteristically relaxed approach to the occasion, Boris seemed unprepared for the detailed scrutiny about his advisors, and complained that it was only a matter of having 'sprayed a few titles about.' 

When asked why he had sprayed four of his appointments with the title of 'deputy mayor' despite the legislation only allowing for one, he answered that "the more deputy Mayors (he had) the merrier." The audience all laughed and the assembly received no further response.

Members faced similar difficulties with their questions about one of Boris' deputies, Ian Clement. Labour member John Biggs wanted to know why Clement had been given responsibility for planning decisions despite only being an unelected official. Again Boris didn't have an answer for the assembly at his fingertips, but said that he 'still needed help in adjusting to his role.' There was little danger of him enlightening Biggs any further so Darren Johnson had a go instead:
"It is quite reasonable that we shouldn't expect you to cross all the I's but on the matter of planning decisions these decisions are the most strategic of all planning decisions. Only the biggest of these ever come before you. Isn't it rather odd that these can be taken by an unelected advisor?"
Boris didn't admit to him that it was odd but did say that it was part of a transition period. The question of exactly what it was a transition to remained hanging in the air.

As further questions on his advisors continued to rain down on him, Boris started to look a little uncomfortable. "Have we got two and a half more hours of this to go" he asked. Everyone laughed. "You need to relax," replied the Chair. "I will make sure you are not here any longer than that."

As the hours dripped by Boris faced further inquiries on the appointment of his advisors, including his planning advisor Sir Simon Milton. He was asked if he was aware that this appointment broke legislation on politically restricted posts. He was not. 

Boris appeared slightly annoyed that he should be questioned regarding such 'minor edicts,' and accused his opponents of trying to smear his new team. His opponents replied that they had nothing but respect for them, but that the proper rules must be applied. Boris did not seem convinced.

On the hoof

As the meeting moved on to other matters Boris became strangely relaxed and began to make willful commitments to policies suggested by the opposition members. As an increasingly worried Tory contingent looked on, Boris seemed to become recklessly collegiate. 

Suggestions to place requirements for playgrounds in new developments were accepted as 'highly laudable' and a requirement to reduce waiting lists on homes was accepted almost without a thought. 

Stoutly Tory member Brian Coleman looked on anxiously for a while but eventually he had to speak up. Boris was halfway through welcoming some new policy from the Green Party when Coleman interrupted him and assured us that these were "aspirations, aspirations, aspirations." Our new Mayor was having none of it. "They're bankable commitments" he insisted. Buoyed by the thought one opposition member stood up and left the room. Presumably in search of a bank.
Ken's Verdict

After the meeting finished I headed out of the chamber to where Ken Livingstone was giving interviews. Ken has raised his profile in the last few days with announcements on a new book, a new radio show and even a new press operation. Today he was refusing to rule out standing for Mayor again next time and was even talking about being 'in opposition.' 

Whether or not he sees himself as the Shadow Mayor I'm not sure, but he certainly doesn't seem to be leaving the political scene. 
In between interviews with ITV and LBC I managed to grab a few minutes with him and asked him about the new Mayor's advisors:

"I think what (Boris) doesn't understand is that you are required to open up these positions to competition and to have a full tendering process. It is a requirement under the law."

I then asked him about rumours that his old adversary Steve Norris would run the crossrail project. He replied that as long as there was no conflict of interest with his other jobs, then it would be a sensible choice:

"I think he was quite unfairly treated by the press actually over the whole Jarvis thing. What people don't realise is that he made big improvements to the company, and that is never reported by the press. I think he would do a good job."

He looks up at me as I quickly scribble this down.

"But however he does, he will do a better job than Boris would."

And with that he's off to his next interview, and onto the latest leg of a very long campaign.