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.