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.
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.