Monday, 2 June 2008

Watchdog Chief Sacked for Backing Boris Johnson

TravelWatch chief Brian Cooke was sacked with immediate effect today after it was ruled that he had made serious breaches of official guidelines in backing Boris Johnson for Mayor.

Speaking at an 'extaordinary meeting' of the London Assembly Transport Committee, the Chairman of the independent transport watchdog admitted that he had made a 'serious error of judgement' in publicly backing Boris and attacking Ken Livingstone,  but denied any secret deal had been made.

The urgent meeting was called after Brian Cooke sent an extraordinary press release out to journalists in the days running up to the Mayoral elections. In his statement, the supposedly independent chairman of Travelwatch wrote that:
  • He had already given his postal vote to Boris Johnson
  • That Ken Livingstone was arrogant
  • That he believed Boris Johnson was 'much more likely to appoint a strong board for TfL'
  • That Boris Johnson would not be 'a zone one Mayor'
  • That the 24hr Freedom Pass was 'mad'
  • Wondered whether 'the truth and Mr Livingstone sit together at all.'
  • That he believed Boris would make 'an ideal Mayor'

Brian Cooke admitted that in hindsight he should not have sent out this press release but said that he had only wanted to 'join the bandwagon' of similar endorsements from other public figures.

When questioned by the committee, he also admitted that he had had private meetings with Boris Johnson both before and during his candidacy. However, he denied all reports that a secret deal had been made for him to take over the Chair of Transport for London. However, he then went on to say that he may still apply for the job.

Tory members warned against the committee taking part in a 'witch hunt' of Cooke and of making a 'storm in a teacup', but significantly abstained on whether a breach of the guidelines had been made. Other members spoke of their disappointment in such an obviously effective public servant jettisoning their career in such a way.

However, Cooke's apologies to the committee and his good record were not in the end enough to save him. Once it was decided that a breach of guidelines had been made, the committee quickly moved on to decide what sanctions should be taken against him. The final vote was very close but members voted with a majority of one for an immediate termination.

Significantly there was one abstention from Green Member Jennie Jones and one absent member in Conservative AM Victoria Borwick. If either of those factors had been different then he may still have been in a job today.


Praguetory said...

It's a pity that this chap crossed the line with his enthusiasm. His words remain a powerful endorsement for Boris' transport policy.

Phil Taylor said...

Apparently Cooke will be replaced by his deputy chairman, Labour councillor Lorna Reith, who we can only imagine campaigned for Livingstone throughout. It seems Cooke's crime was to be widely reported whereas Reith's ineffectual canvassing, which saw Livingstone lose, allows her to take his job.

Talk about sour grapes.

Mr. Stop Boris said...

Phil, surely the point here was that he effectively said "As the chair of London TravelWatch, I think Boris should be Mayor. (P.S. I am speaking in a personal capacity)", whereas I didn't hear of Reith saying "As deputy chair of London TravelWatch, I think Ken should be re-elected."

He abused his position at the head of a strictly independent organisation to put out a partisan message, and has now had his comeuppance - simple as that.

And of course now Boris's administration is riddled with apparent conflicts of interest and appointments with somewhat dubious legal status, hopefully there's more bad news for Boris and his supporters in the pipeline after this too - fingers crossed :-)

The Tory Troll said...

Actually Phil, the committee are going to write to the entire board of TW to see if anyone is interested in what is an interim position while the selection process goes on for a permanent holder of the job which will come around in September.

'It seems Cooke's crime was to be widely reported'

Brian Cooke has not actually been accused of any crime (apart from by you) what he was accused of and what even the Tory members didn't disagree with, is that he breached a very clear set of guidelines.

He was the chairman of an independent watchdog and was no longer independent. It was not a matter of not being widely reported. He sent out a press release to journalists which contravened the clear guidelines and the job description.

There have been no accusations that other members of TW including Lorna Reith have done the same. There is a difference between knocking on doors as a councillor in your spare time, and being the spokesman for a supposedly independent watchdog, who then issues press releases which completely remove that independence

Not that you will let little facts like that get in the way of your own sour grapes.

Phil Taylor said...


It seems to me that it is a matter of degree rather than principle that separates Cooke from his deputy.

Cooke apologised and should have been sanctioned with something less than dismissal.

No amount of righteous indignation from the left will persuade the man on the street that this isn't vindictive.

PS Did you ask the Standard for permission to use their photo or are you asserting fair use?

The Tory Troll said...

The mythical 'man on the street' that you mention would presumably want an independent Watchdog to be headed by somebody who is independent. Cooke lost that independence the moment he decided as he put it today to 'join the bandwagon.'

Whoever replaces him may personally support Boris or not, but they will have to remain independent and stick to the rules that they are governed by, which are these:

15 The following rules apply to the Chair and members of London TravelWatch:

(a) Members should abstain from controversial party political activity;

(b) Subject to (a) above, members should be free to engage in any political activities, provided that they
are conscious of their general public responsibility and exercise a proper discretion, particularly in
regard to the work of London TravelWatch. On matters affecting that work, they should not
normally make political speeches or engage in other political activities;

And the job description:

They must have:

-The experience of dealing with both print and broadcast media on high profile and potentially
contentious issues
- The ability to work within a complex political environment with the necessary political sensitivity to lead a consumer watchdog organisation.
- Experience of organisational stewardship through effective leadership, the exercise of good judgement and responsible decision-making.

He could no longer fulfill these so he lost his job. It's simple. Your attempts to describe this as sour grapes is ridiculous when I have taken pains to set out his defense and the mitigating circumstances of his record.

P.S did you ask the GLA for permission to use their photos or Boris Johnson's campaign team to use theirs? I know I didn't.

Karl said...

as a 'man on the street', I would certainly want an independant body to remain independant. I'd feel exactly the same way if he's said the same thinkg about Ken.

Tom said...

As a man on the street, I at least know what the Oyster bus fare is, Phil. I also have a copy of the Back Boris release and I also know that if Brian Cooke had come out for Ken Livingstone using that sort of language and Livingstone had won, you would be the first, second and third person to be bleating about how dreadful it was that £1.6m of public money annually was going to a crony of the Mayor who'd officially backed his re-election campaign in clear breach of the guidelines pertaining to his position, and how could 'the man in the street' trust him? The classic Conservative weakness of inability to generalise is alive and well.

Troll - you forgot 15(g) and 15(h):

(g) Any member of London TravelWatch who is doubtful about the application of the rules in this section, or about the propriety of any political activity, should seek guidance from London TravelWatch’s Chief Executive, who will, if necessary seek further guidance from the Greater London Authority; and
(h) The foregoing rules apply equally to political activity on behalf of any political party or organisation.

No such advice was sought, apparently.

Are either PT1 or PT2 seriously arguing that an impartial figure who doesn't have any doubts about the propriety of publicly taking sides in an election four days before polling day despite being employed under guidelines that state that he 'should not normally make political speeches or engage in other political activities' about matters pertaining to London Travelwatch hasn't raised serious question marks about his stewardship of that organisation?

Toneytony said...

First James Whale loses his job, then Milton loses his salary and now Cooke loses his. Watch out fellas. He be cursed i tell ye. Boris be cursed...