Friday, 25 July 2008

The Tory Troll is off on his Hols

That's it folks. I'm off on my hols and there aint no blond hair-sprouting, Latin-spouting, knife-crime fearmongering, playing-field selling, million-pound squandering Bandersnatch who's going to stop me.

So unless Boris instigates a regional conflict from the deck of his Mediterranean yacht then I'm not going to hear, think, or speak of the man for the next two weeks.

In the meantime, I suggest you re-navigate your browsers to the ever-excellent Dave Hill and Boris Watch who I'm sure will be continuing to pick up his many disasters and/or triumphs.

Troll Hols

I will be off walking in the Corsican Mountains again, so I won't be anywhere near a phone let alone a high-speed broadband connection for around a couple of weeks.

In the meantime if you want to send any stories, tip-offs or commissions then just use the usual address and I will slog through them all when I get back.

Thanks again to all the people who have taken the time to do just that over the last few months. It's only because of all your work that I have been able to keep this blog going. Speak to you all soon...

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Conservative Home begin history of Boris Johnson

Those cheery fellas over at The Ministry of Truth have decided to rewrite history, and I have to say it's all looking a bit sparse.

So now Boris has finished his first term at school, it's down to those of us who have watched things a little bit more closely, to fill in the school report.

And if you're looking for dates then you will find them all here in the archives. And if you want to double check any sources then please head over here and over there.

Of course having set up an open Wiki, the Tory Homers will surely welcome any and all factual input into the history of Boris's administration. Won't they?

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Nick Boles blames Law for botched appointments

After attempts to blame the Church, Lynton Crosby and some vast left-wing conspiracy, for the botched appointments of Ray Lewis and Simon Milton, the Tories are now blaming the law itself.

Speaking to the London Assembly today, Boris Johnson's interim Chief of Staff and one-time Mayoral candidate Nick Boles said that:

"We did the best we could in an unsatisfactory situation with a bit of legislation which was a nonsense. As a result of that nonsense, did we have to take a few corners on two wheels? We did."

But when asked if he had read the relevant legislation he said that he "had not read (the law) nor do I have any intention of reading it."

Asked by Jeanette Arnold why he had not made even the most basic of checks on Ray Lewis's qualifications and background he replied:

"We all knew Ray and believed in him. It didn't occur to us to doubt him."

Boles also said that the "media pressure" had been so high that the need to be seen to be appointing people was a bigger priority than undertaking the sort of "ballbreaking" checks that the assembly were suggesting.

He proposed that a formal transition period should be undertaken between a candidate winning an election and formally taking office. 

However, other members of the committee suggested that it was not the system itself that was the problem but the complete mess of it made by Boles and his team.

Because with such a wide-ranging and expensive 'Transition Team' already in place, the appointment of Ray Lewis and Simon Milton could easily have been delayed until all checks had been made.

But with such pressure, as Boles admitted today, to make Boris appear up to the job, these considerations were clearly left to one side. It's just a shame that three months later we are still having to clear up the mess.

Boris Johnson goes missing again from City Hall

Has anyone seen the Mayor? I'm only asking because he's just missed his second meeting of the City Hall Standards Committee.

Under discussion is the question of who should make sure he hasn't employed any congenital liars, and how to avoid staff suing each other. So nothing that important really.

Of course Boris Johnson has a reputation for making no-shows. During the campaign he pulled out of a number of scheduled events and as a member of parliament he missed 55% of all votes in the House.

But with his new leaf turned over in London town I had hoped that he would put in the hours.

And with the Standards Committee being the only Assembly committee that he has any statutory commitment to attend, it is pretty disappointing that he has so far missed every single meeting.


Do you work in City Hall? Have you spotted Boris hanging around? Has anyone seen him hiding in his office? Has someone spotted him skulking off to the Travel Agents? If so, the Troll would really like to hear from you.


Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Boris Johnson admits real cost of 'transition team'

Boris Johnson today admitted that the total cost of the 'transition team' of consultants, Tory HQ fixers and PR spinners is likely to be well in excess of half a million pounds.

The admission contained within his written answers to Assembly Members comes one week after he suggested that the cost would be less than half of that amount.

Speaking at Mayor's Question Time, Boris told the assembly that the transition team would only cost £213,000. 

However, it is now clear that this only refers to the cost of the fifteen people employed within the Mayor's office. 

Because what Boris admitted today is that there are another seven hitherto unacknowledged 'transition consultants' working elsewhere within the GLA.

The total cost of all 22 consultants is now thought to be anything up to a maximum of £565,000.

Transparency

When I first highlighted the existence of the transition team, the Mayor's office refused to admit how much they would cost. 

However, what is now clear is that even when they finally did release the cost, they excluded seven of the highest paid consultants from the run-down.

In fact even the existence of these consultants, including the 'Director of Transition' himself, were withheld from the public. They have only now been released three months after they began work at City Hall.

Because when Boris Johnson came into power he promised to make all GLA spending available 'from day one.' 

But with misleading and contradictory figures continuing to be released by his administration, he is now a very long way from meeting that aim.

Police numbers may fall says Boris Johnson Deputy

Boris Johnson's Deputy for Policing refused to rule out cutting the number of police officers in London today after £12 million of cuts were announced across the GLA.

Speaking at today's Budget and Performance Committee, Kit Malthouse told the assembly that 'throwing money' at policing was not the best way of improving the service.  

Proof of this was contained within the new Mayor's guidance published today which indicates a real terms reduction in spending on police of anything between 0.5-1.25 per cent.

When questioned by Mike Tuffrey about the cut, Kit Malthouse said:

"Do we think the Met can do a better job on about the same amount of money? Absolutely we do. 

"Do we feel that they have the same duty towards taxpayers as every other functional body to squeeze every last penny of value out of every pound that we give them? Absolutely we do.

"The guidance we have given today is intended to start that efficiency process."

Conservative Assembly Member Roger Evans told the assembly that the huge increases in police numbers over the last few years were not the solution to fighting crime:

"I understand the number of people employed by the Met are at record levels and yet we still have problems with crime in London.

"We need to challenge the perception that has grown up in recent years that the solution is to just buy more and more people and to spend more and more money because that has not borne fruit in the past."

While the Troll understands that police numbers alone are not the solution to fighting crime it is even more clear that reducing police numbers certainly isn't the answer either. 

But if this relatively minor cut in spending after so many years of increases, is just the beginning of a broader trend of 'efficiencies' at the Met then Boris's hopes of hugely reducing crime look a very long way away.


-UPDATE- Reaction to the police spending cuts from Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Mike Tuffrey is now in the comments
-UPDATE 2- The Assembly have made a statement on the cuts. 


Monday, 21 July 2008

Browne joins the Policy Exchange cabal at City Hall

Boris Johnson has appointed the Director of right-wing think tank Policy Exchange as his own 'Policy Director' at City Hall.

Anthony Browne will replace the departing transition chief and ex-director of Policy Exchange Nick Boles. 

He will join other Policy Exchange cronies Munira Mirza, Kate Hoey and Deputy for Spin Andrew Gilligan at the heart of power and influence in City Hall.

Browne who is most famous for his attacks on immigration, and adulation of David Cameron, will provide policy advice across the board to both Boris Johnson and his Deputy Mayors.

The decision to appoint the director of Policy Exchange comes after their report 'A Million Vote Mandate' was widely seen as a blueprint for the new administration. 

It also follows their earlier report on the demise of the Routemaster which became the basis of what was for many months Boris's only recognisable campaign policy.

His employment details and salary are not yet available and his appointment has not been briefed in advance.

But with the think tank now wielding huge influence and power within the new Tory establishment, it is time that we all learnt more about the what their agenda is for the city and for the country which they seek to rule.

Why Brian Coleman should consider staying still

After being exposed for spending almost £10,000 a year on shunting himself around London, it now seems that Tory AM Brian Coleman has claimed an extra £800 for 'travel and subsistence' from LFEPA.

This sum, on top of an additional £350 travel allowance from Barnet Council puts the total cost to taxpayers of transporting Brian Coleman around London at a staggering £11,106 for the year.

Coleman was slammed last year for claiming £10,000 for taxi fares from the London Assembly.

But when it was later revealed that he had spent £660 on taxis in just one day, he claimed that he wasn't even aware that he had taken any taxis at all, and had assumed they were all official cars.

But if Mr Coleman is still in doubt as to what a taxi looks like, after spending £18,000 of our money on them, then I'm sure that there will at least a few of his constituents who would be more than happy to give him a lesson.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Ken Livingstone vs Boris Johnson: Tale of two Hosts



(Click on images to enlarge)

Richard Barnbrook: London's Nazi without a Cause

"Richard Barnbrook is running late" said the City Hall official to the rest of the committee. No-one seemed especially bothered. "He will be about ten to fifteen minutes."

This was the London Assembly Audit Panel. The driest of all the dry committees that make up the 'meat and two veg' of an assembly member's job.

And as I sat and waited for the berk-in beige I began a mental report of his first few months in City Hall. So how has the new boy been doing in his new school?

Well in many ways it has been a hard time for the little lad from Barking. On election night, the other candidates walked off during his cringeworthy speech and at his first assembly meeting he was deliberately placed by himself with an empty seat between him and the other politicians.

And when the meeting finished, the other assembly members crushed themselves into one lift, while Barnbrook was left in another.

A couple of weeks later he travelled down to Sidcup in an attempt to recruit the friends of murdered teen Robert Knox. But after promising to bring a hundred of these angry teenagers into Boris Johnson's office he was subsequently stood up by every single one. 

Now if this was the beginning of a far-right revolution, then it was certainly going to be a very lonely start. 

But like megalomaniacs the world over, Barnbrook has never let his own insignificance get in the way of a good story. 

And on his blog and on videos posted on Youtube the world has been relayed the tale of his imminent glorious victory over the politically correct classes of London.

But in reality there are few political offices with less power than that of a London Assembly member. 

Even a local councillor has some real influence over policies in his ward, but aside from a one-off vote on the Mayor's budget, assembly members have no legislative powers whatsoever.

And apart from the once a month pantomime of Mayor's Question Time, the day to day workings of the job are intensely bureaucratic and technical. 

Hours are spent wading through impenetrable reports and documents, with only the occasional piece of political theatre thrown in to lighten the mood.

Leftovers

So as the ten minutes drifted into twenty and twenty-five, I began to wonder whether Dicky had finally decided this wasn't for him.

But when he finally jackbooted it into the room, it was clear  to me that this wasn't quite the same man who had raged about "sweeping the tide of corruption and political correctness" from City Hall.

Because shorn as he was from his regular adoring audience of three who turn up to MQT, and stuck as he was with no-one but myself and a few City Hall officers in the gallery, he put his head down and looked dreadfully keen that teacher shouldn't call him out.

And with the task before him of looking through some thirteen drier than dry audit reports it was hardly surprising. "I only got these this morning" he explained apologetically as Chairman Navin Shah repeatedly looked over to him for input.

But when it came to a report on the election 'e-counting' he suddenly became animated and raised his finger into the air:

"It is beyond me." he said without a trace of irony. "that at the Mayoral count it looked to my eye like boxes had been tampered with and it makes people suspicious and wonder why should they turn out?"

"This isn't really in our remit" the Executive Director of Finance and Performance pointed out. "When is the Elections Review Committee?" "Later this afternoon," someone else pointed out. 

And with that the British National Party's most high-profile elected politician sat back quietly into his chair. His work for the day was done.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Brian Coleman's taxi bill leads to expenses review

A City Hall audit panel called for an urgent review of Assembly members expenses today, after it was revealed that one member had spent over £18,000 of public money on taxi fares in two years.

Conservative Assembly Member and recently appointed chair of LFEPA Brian Coleman, was heavily criticised last year for spending in excess of £10,000 on taxis. 

However, even after this warning, he has continued to waste huge amounts, leading to a situation where his taxi bill for the past year is almost half of the total for all assembly members.

No member of the audit panel was willing to mention Coleman by name, but Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon said that the sums spent by "one or two members" were "quite staggering." She told the panel:

"I can see why it is sometimes appropriate to take a taxi but I cannot see how some members claim thousands of pounds of what is public money while others manage to claim nothing."

As well as claiming £8231 for taxis for 2007/8, Coleman also claimed the maximum £1720 for the use of a travelcard, bringing the total cost of shunting him around London to almost £10,000 for the year.

The panel expressed dismay that the situation had been allowed to continue for so long after being so publicly highlighted.

It was agreed that an urgent review should be undertaken into the ways in which assembly member's expenses are monitored and approved. No official statement has yet been made.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Rise Festival should fall suggests Tory audit panel

Last Weekend's Rise Festival may well turn out to have been London's last it was revealed today, after Boris Johnson's 'Forensic Audit Panel' suggested axing the event.

When Team Boris removed the anti-racist message from Rise, there was suspicion that it would be the first step towards scrapping the event altogether. This fear has been heightened by today's report. 

On page 25 of the report ex-Sunday Telegraph editor Patience Wheatcroft suggests that:

There may be scope for reviewing the list of events offered through Events for London; it is possible that a detailed critical analysis could generate substantial savings, particularly if entire events such as the ‘Rise Festival’ (which cost over £300,000) were cancelled. Careful consideration should be given to the rationale behind such events.

Of course the cost of staging the event would have been substantially lower had Munira Mirza not taken the dogmatic decision to remove the anti-racist message from the festival.

The decision led to all participating unions pulling their sponsorship from the event, thereby significantly increasing the costs.

Of course what may well turn out be the more significant effect of removing the anti-racist message, is that it also removes any political 'rationale' for staging the event at all. 

Because with no political message, it is essentially just a festival like any other. 

And if Boris is to follow the advice of his hired panel of Tory axe-men, then this year will go down in history as the year that Rise was finally allowed to fall.

Independent audit finds that Boris 'misspent' taxes

An independent audit conducted by a panel of anti-Boris bloggers has concluded that Patience Wheatcroft and her team 'misspent' £50,000 of taxpayers money.

After months of briefings and hype, the team of Tory councillors and a Tory supporting journalist found absolutely no evidence of corruption or breached rules by Ken Livingstone, Lee Jasper or the LDA.

We can therefore only conclude that our money was misspent on a simply staggering scale, by a new Mayor who considers GLA funds to be his personal political cheque book.

Former mayor Ken Livingstone said last night:

“What a damp squib - Boris Johnson appointed his political henchmen to dig up dirt and this is all they could come up with. Patience Wheatcroft misunderstands the nature of the mayoral system in London. 

The electorate select a mayor whose values they share and judgement they trust, and then it is up to that person to get on and take decisions for London. If you don't like those decisions you can be pejorative and call them 'whims,' or you can say that the mayor is setting our strategic priorities.”

The independent audit panel of anti-Boris bloggers does not believe that a formal investigation should be undertaken into the appointment of Patience Wheatcroft and her team. 

Nor do we consider any separate investigation should be undertaken into the millions of pounds 'misspent' on the new Routemaster, the transition team or on paying off Porsche.

However, after careful and costly consideration, we do conclude that Boris should kindly get on with running the capital in the ways that voters elected him to do.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Boris Johnson to start taking his own decisions

Boris Johnson intends to take back the responsibility for major planning decisions from his Deputy Mayor Ian Clement 'within the near future' once 'he has sorted his diary out.'

These decisions, which are only ever the biggest and most strategic ones, will be taken by the Mayor in future unless he is 'otherwise unavailable' to do so. 

In these situations, the decisions will be taken instead by his new Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning Sir Simon Milton.

The decision to take back what was originally one of the primary responsibilities of the Mayor, comes after Assembly members discovered that Boris was unable to name a single major planning decision taken since he came to power.

Boris's new role was announced by Sir Simon at this morning's Planning and Spatial Committee. 

Sir Simon could not give a date as to when Boris would start doing this particular part of his job, but he is expected to do so by no later than September.

Who's the odd one out?

Welcome to the first ever Tory Troll competition. All you have to do is find the correct answer and the corresponding reason and you could win a prize*. Please place all answers in the comments. 


*The winning of a prize and the correct answering of the question may be entirely unrelated and even coincidental events.


Monday, 14 July 2008

Boris Johnson's key advisor in double resignation

Sir Simon Milton announced today that he would resign from Westminster Council and the Local Government Association after it became clear that his position at City Hall was in breach of rules established to prevent corruption.

Milton, who will now regain the salary he lost will take up a seat among the ever-growing legion of Deputy Mayors at City Hall. 

The news that he was about to resign his posts and become Deputy Mayor for Planning was broken after persistent questioning from blogger and journalist Dave Hill

But it comes just one day before he was due to appear before the Assembly, and just minutes before he was apparently due to appear in front of a Westminster Council Scrutiny Committee to discuss a possible breach of the Widdecombe rules. 

All of which leads the Troll to suspect that Milton may have jumped before he was pushed.

In a written statement, the Mayor's spokesman said:

"Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has today nominated Sir Simon Milton as Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning. Sir Simon has announced his intention to stand down as a Westminster Councillor and as Chairman of the Local Government Association, once a successor has been nominated. 

His appointment as Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning will be subject to the appropriate procedures, with an interview panel chaired by Greater London Authority Chief Executive Anthony Mayer, which will include an independent element and a confirmation hearing, if required, by the London Assembly."

The concession comes after months of insistence from the Mayor that Milton's position was legally 'watertight'. However, his enforced resignations would now clearly suggest otherwise.

Labour's leader on the London Assembly Len Duvall said today:

"Boris Johnson knew Sir Simon's appointment was in breach of the law and that if he hadn't taken action to resolve this fiasco someone else was about to. Of course we welcome his belated decision to do the right thing and step down but the Mayor could have resolved this and spared everyone's blushes weeks ago had he bothered to pay attention to the rules.

This has been very slap-dash in handing out titles and positions to people. This is the latest blunder that proves he should have taken a little more time and paid more attention to the rules before rushing ahead with politically expedient appointments."

The decision to ask Milton to resign from his other posts comes after it was revealed that Milton was to be exempted from the City Hall ethics code. 

Crucially it also comes in advance of the investigation into the botched appointments made so far by City Hall. 

However, despite the long delay, the decision is clearly the right one and clears up what was for me the biggest question mark hanging over Boris's appointments.

And with Lewis gone and Milton's position now seemingly resolved, we should hopefully see our Mayor begin to get on with running London any time soon.

Tim Parker to 'resolve' Simon Milton legal problems


Boris Johnson's senior planning advisor may be forced to stand down as a Westminster Councillor, because of a possible breach of the law, it was revealed yesterday.

Speaking on the BBC London Politics Show, the first Deputy Mayor Tim Parker said that an announcement on Simon Milton's situation would be made within "the next day or two,"

Asked by Tim Donovan whether Milton's positions as a councillor and as an advisor breached the Widdecombe rules he replied:

"I think that is a matter which will be resolved very shortly. It is a matter for debate as it happens."

Pushed on whether Milton would be forced to step down from one of his positions he replied:

Parker: Yeah, we are currently looking at the exact interpretation of Simon's situation. I know we have a proposal which we will certainly be announcing in the next day or two. 

Donovan: Right. We may presume that one of those roles he will have to give up? 

Parker: I wouldn't presume anything at this stage. 

Donovan: It's pretty difficult to get a kind of straight (answer) 

Parker: I do think that we will arrive at a situation where you won't be sitting here in a weeks time saying 'what's going to happen with Simon?'

Donovan: So that's true then.

Tim Parker's concession that Milton's employment situation will have to change comes after Boris Johnson told the London Assembly that he had received 'watertight' legal approval on the appointment. 

In reply to a question from Labour Member John Biggs, he said:

I do not want to be unnecessarily pernickety about this but we made it absolutely clear that this is not in breach of the law or the Widdicombe Rules.

But as Team Boris rush to pre-empt the upcoming investigation into their appointments so far, things do not seem so 'absolutely clear' any more.

Dave Hill has an update on his blog. It looks like Milton may soon be having himself fully deputised. This is getting beyond a joke now. Anyone else fancy a vanity title? I'm sure Boris has a few more of them lying about somewhere.

Ray Lewis goes into hiding as big questions remain

Ray Lewis has been pulled from tomorrow's Home Affairs Committee meeting where he was due to answer questions on teen violence in the capital.

The news that he will not be attending comes after he failed to turn up to a meeting at Petchey Academy in Dalston, Hackney last Tuesday. 

The school were due to decide whether he should continue in his role as a governor.

He also pulled out of presenting prizes at a talent contest in Haggerston yesterday. He has yet to give a public interview since his resignation.

There are also unresolved doubts over his future involvement with the Eastside Academy and the Conservative Party. 

Last week the First Deputy Mayor Tim Parker refused to rule out working with Lewis in the future. 

However, Francis Maude who is leading the internal party review into the Lewis fiasco, has said that his involvement with the Academy will decrease.

But with the public inquiry into Lewis dropped, the question marks over his integrity will almost certainly now remain. 

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Rewriting History in Finsbury Park

Nothing to do with anti-racism then?

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Brian Coleman gets maximum value from taxi bill

In the new spirit of tax-payer value at City Hall, the man Boris Johnson charged with chairing LFEPA has cut his taxi bill down to a measly £8231 for the year.

With his bill for last year in excess of £10,000, I am sure we can all be extremely grateful to Brian Coleman for his new found modesty.

Of course the fact that he no longer has the excuse of carting round his bling, may have had something to do with the reduction. 

And although expenditure on taxis from all other 26 assembly members only touches £9000 in total, it is still clear that Mr. Coleman is now trying his best.

Boris Johnson's ratings fall as pundits smell blood

Boris Johnson's approval rating among political insiders has plunged 27 points in the last month, after a succession of poor decisions and damning headlines.

The survey of 100 leading political insiders was carried out by Politics Home in the days following the Ray Lewis fiasco and reflects growing doubts about his ability to be an effective leader of the capital.

Boris's approval rating amongst right-leaning panelists has dropped slightly but still remains high. However, the biggest drop was among left-wing and non-aligned panelists. 

Significantly non-aligned members of the panel now rate him as a poor mayor by a margin of 60-40 with only four per cent of all panelists believing that he is doing a very good job as mayor.

The results come in advance of the first opinion poll on his performance so far which was carried out this week by Yougov. The results are expected later this weekend or early next week.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Team Boris blame election chief for Deputy scandal

After failed attempts to blame the Ray Lewis fiasco on the Church of England and some vast left-wing conspiracy, Team Boris are now trying to pin the blame on their campaign manager Lynton Crosby.

Boris Johnson's transition chief Nick Boles told the Evening Standard that Crosby had put them under so much pressure to win the campaign, that they had no time left to either vet Lewis or the other appointments.

This extraordinary attempt to try and shift fault onto the man who mastered their election campaign, comes after fresh allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled at the ex-Deputy Mayor.

According to the Standard, one of Ray Lewis's ex-parishioners is now claiming that he made unwanted advances on her during a Christian conference in the mid-nineties. Ray Lewis strenuously denies the claims.

But whatever the truth is about the Lewis allegations, the Tories' increasingly bizarre attempts to portion off the blame for last week's fiasco, reveals a growing unease about the new administration at City Hall.

Is Boris Johnson planning his way out of power?

In his new report 'Planning for a Better London,' Boris sets out London's 'direction of travel' over the next four years. But with the Mayor's powers increasingly being delegated to advisors and to the boroughs, is this just really the first step on the road to the end of London-wide government?

At almost every Assembly meeting and committee since Boris came to power, the Tory Members have tried to tease out ways in which powers can be stripped from City Hall and given over to individual boroughs. 

And as representatives of those boroughs and with no real powers of their own, it is hardly surprising that they should want to see the end of big government at City Hall. 

But as the most powerful Tory politician in the country, it has been more surprising to see Boris Johnson so keen to get rid of his own responsibilities.

Because when Boris ran for Mayor he did so as the man who would wade in to solve the big problems that London faces. But at every stage over the past two months, he has been intent on giving away exactly those powers which would help him to do that.

The first sign of this was his decision to hand over all of his powers on major planning decisions to his unelected advisor Ian Clement. 

Ian, who was given the title of 'Deputy Mayor for Government Relations' has effectively been given full powers over the biggest planning decisions in the capital, despite being virtually unknown outside of his old borough of Bexley.

So from now on in, when local groups appeal to the Mayor to intervene over the decisions of local authorities, it will be the old head of Bexley Council rather than the new head of City Hall who will be making the call.

The result of this is that in these first two months, Clement has allowed all of the major planning applications received so far to go uncontested  through City Hall.

Now it may be that these were all perfectly acceptable applications, but what the Mayor's new consultation paper shows, is that Clement has been directed to allow almost all applications to pass without interference:

"The GLA Act 2007 has given the Mayor powers in certain circumstances to take over planning applications that are of “potential strategic importance” for his own decision. The Mayor intends to use his powers carefully and sparingly, only taking over those which do have genuinely strategic implications for the planning of London. It is likely, therefore, that he will use these powers only in the most exceptional circumstances.

Equally, in commenting on those applications which boroughs are required to refer to him, the Mayor intends to focus  on strategic issues, rather than on matters of detail that are better dealt with locally. He intends to take a similar approach with borough local development frameworks. resources, and would not encourage the re-submission of applications simply because of the change of administration.

Now this is, or should be, dynamite. What it means, and what the first two months have proved, is that all but the most barmy of major planning applications will now be waved through without getting so much as a patting down from the Mayor's aide.

These decisions. And I'm talking only about major planning decisions here, will now be almost exclusively in the hands of the individual boroughs. So why does this matter?

Well seasoned Boris-watchers will remember Boris Johnson's much repeated promise to preserve the capital's playing fields for future generations. This pledge, which was part of a wider people versus the developers posture, was one of the few areas in which I thought Boris might bring improvements.

However, when Kensington and Chelsea Council decided to sell off Holland Park school playing fields to developers for luxury flats, the decision caused local and city-wide anger. 

At a time when our children have become the most obese in Europe and when kids in London have fewer and fewer ways to use up their energy, the decision was clearly a bad one.

So when Boris and Kate Hoey made so many noises about protecting playing fields, local campaigners thought they had a new champion for their cause and threw their weight behind Boris's campaign. 

But when the application was sent through to City Hall last month, Boris's aide waved it through without an objection. The parents and children of Holland Park had quite simply, been had.

A manifesto for abolition?

Because the problem with handing over more powers to the boroughs is that they often make completely bonkers and unpopular decisions. 

In areas where voting majorities are high and seats secure, local authorities will often do exactly as they and as developers please without fear of recourse from the voters or from the press.

This is one of the main reasons why establishing a Mayoralty was a good idea in the first place. After a decade of bad decisions from selfish, reckless and often unaccountable local authorities, the Mayor and the GLA were able to serve as a final check, strategic director and democratically accountable face of a multitude of conflicting and rival bodies. 

Now if Boris Johnson wants to return to the heady days of the end of the GLC, then that is fair enough. The people have voted him in and if he wants to use that mandate to set off gunpowder in the basement of City Hall then that is up to him.

But if, as it appears, the powers of City Hall will be quietly sneaked out of the back door without anyone even raising the alarm, then we could soon end up with the very worst kind of lame duck political body at the very centre of London government.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Boris Johnson takes his big pot of Blue-wash online

The Blue-wash of London government continued apace yesterday after it was revealed that Boris Johnson will spend £40,000 on re-writing and relaunching the Mayor's website.

The move to overhaul the website was made at some point in the last month but news of it was slipped out within a summary list of decisions sent to the London Assembly yesterday.

It follows the decision last month to completely blue-wash all GLA promotional material by removing the red 'on' from the 'Mayor of London' logo and is seen as part of a wider desire to 'differentiate' the new administration from the old one.

But with so much attention being given to purging all trace of the Ken years from City Hall, many are beginning to wonder if we will ever see the start of the Boris years.

Clashing Colours

Writing in the Evening Standard just before the Ray Lewis fiasco broke, London government expert and director of the London School of Economics Tony Travers asked:

'How will a Tory capital be different from a Labour one? At this point, we still don't really know.

'For not only is Johnson no ideologue - Ken Livingstone set the terms of the debate in the mayoral election. Meanwhile, the first two months of Johnson's regime have, unsurprisingly, been taken up with appointing senior staff.

There will now be a further stage while his office starts to link itself to the remaining City Hall machine. Only after that process will stronger signals start to emit from Planet Boris.

'They need to come soon.'

Unfortunately for Boris, those stronger signals were either lost in the fiasco of last week or they were never sent. 

And even if those signals were about to emit from Planet Boris, they will now face the interference of the investigation launched yesterday into his botched appointments.

But as Tony Travers points out, the big obstacle to a clear picture of what a Tory London will look like, is that there is no one clear picture of what a Tory London should look like:

'Johnson can look to no single, clear model of London Tory government in the boroughs. The Conservative town halls demonstrate some very different approaches to "centre-Right" government.

'Kensington and Chelsea, for example, has always been dominated by moderate Tories of the old school, with a keen concern for the disadvantaged.

'Wandsworth, on the other hand, has successfully pioneered a privatised, low-council tax - some would say Thatcherite - administration.

'Westminster is halfway between these two approaches. Meanwhile, many outer boroughs, especially where power shifts back and forward from Labour to Conservative, have a less distinctive brand - but tend to give priority to clean streets and efficiency.'

So stuck as they are with such a mish-mash of different approaches, the new administration has been caught dithering as to what should be the middle ground. 

And so with so many suggestions and with so few answers, Team Boris have been content to spend their time with little more than a big pot of blue paint.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Assembly launch investigation into Boris's Team

After two months of bungled appointments, lost salaries, and enforced resignations, the London Assembly have decided to launch a formal investigation into the way Boris Johnson has appointed people at City Hall.

The decision to launch an investigation came after the assembly were told that the current appointment procedures were 'adequate' by Boris Johnson's First Deputy Mayor.

Labour Assembly Member John Biggs said earlier today:

"To lose one advisor might be considered unfortunate but to lose two in two weeks looks like carelessness.

"Beyond the headlines there are important issues about the appointment of publicly funded staff that need to be addressed to ensure the good management of this authority."

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group Mike Tuffrey said that the problems exposed in the past two months undermined Boris Johnson's claims to have made London government more accountable:

“Boris Johnson promised Londoners an end to cronyism at City Hall with transparency and clarity about the appointment of advisers and their interests. What we heard today from Tim Parker failed to address the issues about appointments exposed by the recent resignations.”

The investigation will be conducted by the Business Management and Administration Committee and will look at four key areas:
  1. How did Mayor Boris Johnson pick his senior City Hall policy advisors?
  2. Were proper recruitment procedures followed?
  3. Was the Mayor properly advised about the use of his powers of appointment? 
  4. What lessons can be learnt for future changes of administration at City Hall?
The announcement comes just two days after the Church of England criticised the decision to cancel the planned investigation into the appointment of Ray Lewis.

The new investigation will concentrate on the Ray Lewis fiasco. However, it will almost certainly also touch on the legal mess surrounding the appointment of Simon Milton as well as the unresolved conflicts of interest surrounding other senior appointments.

Speaking at today's Plenary, Tim Parker tried to gloss over the problems, but did admit that they may have been rushed:

"My view is that there is a lot of pressure to get Fred or Fanny into posts so that you can say that you have got somebody there, and I do not think that is potentially the right approach."

The decision to launch the investigation comes at the end of a torrid few weeks for Boris Johnson's administration and will further stall attempts to move the agenda away from the errors of the past two months.

When Boris Johnson accepted Ray Lewis's resignation he did so in order to avoid him becoming 'the story rather than the solution.' 

But with increasing attention being paid to the ways in which Boris and his team have allocated power at City Hall, there seems little danger of that problem disappearing any time soon.


This post now also appears over at Liberal Conspiracy

Andrew Gilligan and the sound of his own influence

As I stepped into the Great Hall at the RSA I met a wave of influence coming the other way. Rows and rows of 'London's most influential people' had gathered to impress their influence upon the all-influential panel. This, I thought to myself, was influence.

We were here apparently, to talk about the Olympic legacy, but for at least some of the people gathered, it was more of a chance to hear the sound of their own:

"I think the Olympics have some claim" said Andrew Gilligan to the crowd of influencers, "to be the greatest con trick in history. They are largely a fraud."

There was a loud ring of applause from the influentials. "Hear, Hear" shouted one man. "Quite so!" shouted another. 

He had them in his hands now. Time for the killer blow:

"The Olympic accounts" he said visibly working himself up for the big moment, "are about as open and transparent as Lee Jasper's bank account."

The joke crashed. Gilligan's ego, which by now was holding him aloft Atlas-style, had dumped itself flaccidly on the front row. This was not, it seemed, the way influential people did their influencing.

But Gilligan was not a man who was about to be influenced. He had a script and by god he was going to stick to it. 

"London" he said picking himself up off the floor, "will be turned into an armed camp."

Oh really. An armed camp you say. God that's scary. What can we do about it Andy? Please tell:

"We cannot" he conceded "give the Olympics back. If only we could."

"But with the arrival of Boris, we may see some movement."

Ah yes Boris. I wonder what movement he would be doing right now? Turning through the pages of the relevant literature no doubt. Eagerly asserting his influence over all the relevant bodies of course. 

But by now Gilligan was winding himself up for the Big Moment. The rhetorical flourish to end his latest great work:

We must end our belief in the Olympics, he told us. Venues must be cancelled and contracts must be torn up. 

This is not the time for our old fashioned belief in a better future, but the time for a modern scepticism of our openly fraudulent leaders. It is time to cut back and to kick them off. 

"I give you," he said "the London Austerity Olympics."

The crowd roared in approval. Yes to austerity Andy. Yes to scepticism everybody. Yes to saying no, London. Yes to saying no!

You can read a full account of the debate with Will Self, Tessa Jowell, Kate Hoey and Seb Coe in the austerity Evening Standard - The newspaper which influences

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Boris Johnson gives £400,000 pay-off to Porsche

Boris Johnson's pledge to get more bang for the taxpayers buck received yet another blow yesterday when it was revealed that Londoners would now pay Porsche £400,000 in legal costs.

The judgement was made after the Mayor's office conceded the legal challenge to the £25 emissions charge on the highest polluting vehicles.

Green Assembly Member Jenny Jones said yesterday:

"This is a mayor who is telling us he wants to see value for money, and to account for every penny, and here he is paying one of the richest car companies in the world hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money."

Porsche's attempts to challenge a policy that was about to be judged by the London electorate was completely undemocratic and one of the most bizarre events of an otherwise uneventful election campaign.
 
But for the Mayor's office to concede the case and £400,000 of taxpayers money to one of the wealthiest car companies in the world is frankly incredible.

And while we all knew before the election that Boris Johnson had a pro-motorist agenda, we didn't realise that it would would extend to paying off the car companies themselves.
Via Mr S.B

Monday, 7 July 2008

The Prince Of Darkness swoops into City Hall

From Tim Parker's welcoming note to his new employees at City Hall:

"This is my first day in City Hall, and I am really looking forward to making a contribution to the Mayor's team. Over the last couple of weeks I have had an opportunity to meet with many staff across the GLA. I must say how impressed I have been by the overall calibre of people and their professionalism with which how they go about their work."

Well that all sounds very friendly and business-like. Maybe he's not the Mr. Nasty he's been made out to be. But hang on what's this?

"As the last few days have demonstrated, there is no such thing as a 'ticking over' state at City Hall. I am sure that the next four years will be exciting (for all the right reasons!) and we make further progress in improving the life of Londoners."

Am I missing something or does that sound like a threat to you? Let's read it again:

"There shall be no more ticking-over of the kind we saw last week in the Mayor's office. Oh no. All ticking shall be carefully prescribed from here on in. Any ticker-overs shall be identified and immediately ticked off the list."
"Furthermore, any excitement found from working here will be weeded out and replaced by the meeting of carefully tabled outcomes. Do you hear me quislings? CAREFULLY TABLED OUTCOMES."

Or at least that's how it read like to me. Maybe I'm reading too much into it.