Thursday, 24 December 2009

Me at the New Statesman: Boris gets off the bus

"As a bold act of redistribution it is hard to beat, with Boris asking those least able to pay, to subsidise those most able to"

Read the whole post here.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Woolwich Ferry service deteriorates under Serco

Anyone using the Woolwich Ferry within the last year will have noticed a severe deterioration in the service.

The route which Boris Johnson transferred to Serco last year, has run with just two or even one boat for much of the year.

So poorly operated has it been that at one point Serco closed the entire crossing due to no seaworthy boats being available.

The reasons for this were revealed in full farcical detail today:

Writing in response to a question from one local Assembly Member, Boris explains that:

"During 2009, all three ferry boats – which are now 45 years old - had to undergo their 5 yearly out-of-water surveys in order to certify their use for the next 5 years. This work is undertaken in Hull where the maintenance facility is located."

Okay, so the boats had to be surveyed. Why did it take so long?

"When the first boat returned from its survey, it developed a problem with one of its propulsion units. Unfortunately this left a one boat service as the second ferry was already on its way to Hull. At this point it was decided to extend the scope of the survey on the remaining two boats, to include an overhaul of the propulsion units, given the boats’ age. The first ferry boat was subsequently fixed in Woolwich.

It goes on:

Shortly after the second boat returned, one of its propulsion units developed an oil leak. Despite the experience of the boatyard’s staff, who carried out the overhaul, and an engineer from the manufacturer, the leak proved very difficult to trace and rectify. This defect occurred twice and resulted in a combined loss of service of 33 days...

And on:

"More recently, one of the ferry engines suffered a broken governor spring. Then, on 5 December, another ferry struck a piece of floating debris. This resulted in serious damage to one of the propulsion units and the unit is being exchanged for an overhauled one. As the third ferry was in Hull at the time, consequently the Woolwich Ferry service had to be suspended until later that day.

What a shambles.

It is anticipated that once the third out-of-water survey is completed at the end of the year and the ferry is delivered back to Woolwich, then the reliability of the service will significantly improve."

Earlier this year Boris awarded operation of his flagship bike hire scheme to Serco.

Hopefully their level of service will "significantly improve" quite soon.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Boris Johnson's Police Cuts: Nothing to see here

I've been slightly surprised at the lack of reaction to the news that Boris Johnson will remove hundreds of police officers from the Met.

There's been some protest in the blogosphere, and amongst the police but otherwise the press and Boris's opponents have largely ignored it.

The Assembly's self-proclaimed champion of the police has also been strangely quiet.

So why is this? Some clues can be found in this commentary from former Met Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman at the Times:

"It is unfortunate that for Olympic year, when we will need more police officers to help deliver a safe Games, the Mayor of London is forecasting a reduction in the number on the streets.

I am confident that by 2012 that will be a nationwide situation with forces across the country trying to balance the books."

So are the government holding back on Boris, because they too intend to reduce numbers?

And when Boris and other politicians speak of police numbers being at "a historical high" are they really just committing those highs to history?

Boris has repeatedly tried to distract us from these cuts by drawing attention to Operation Herald.

However, like me, Hayman is sceptical about the effect of these "civilianisation" programmes:

"Boris Johnson talks of moving officers from the back office to the front line. That process has been going on for years and will make only a marginal impact.

The police minister told me recently that the police will be expected to do more with less. In any other sector that would prompt a rethink on whether the business is being properly organised but in policing it leads to further salami slicing of the budget. It is obvious that eventually there will be nothing to slice from."

Boris's Deputy for Policing also talks of officers doing more for less, which in reality may mean them doing more, but doing it less well.

And as Dave Hill wrote a while back, London Tories are keen to label the question of police numbers a "sterile debate" (when it suits them).

I am not convinced that the public will see it this way.

Friday, 18 December 2009

A new low for the Greenwich News Shopper

Over on Twitter I have a fairly regular whinge about the choice of stories in my local freesheet the Greenwich News Shopper.

Normally if it bleeds, then it leads, even if the murder happened well outside of the borough, or even outside the continent.

Occasionally they do have a decent story, although they're invariably nicked from somewhere else.

However this week they've really outdone themselves. Take a look at this major scoop:


Spiritualist says bin Laden prediction was right

That's right, hold the press, a 'spiritualist' says that she was right about something.

A SPIRITUALIST’S claim she knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan was not taken seriously when she made it eight years ago.

You don't say?

But now Angela Bayley says her prediction, exclusively reported in News Shopper in 2001, has been proved true in a US Senate report.

Now I wonder why your report was exclusive? Any ideas?

Miss Bayley added eight years of fear, dogma and terrorist attacks could have been prevented if she had been listened to.

In the first and only time she has entered the world of predicting major events, the Hither Green resident claimed al-Qaeda boss bin Laden was planning to flee across the border to Pakistan as soon as possible.

Osama would flee? Who could have guessed ?

Miss Bayley spoke out eight years ago after being guided by spirits after holding a newspaper cutting from September 11, 1974, which had been found hidden in a kitchen wall at a home in Mottingham.

The Daily Express story cutting, headlined This is America, referred to pilots, New York and “nuts”.

It had to be the Express.

Miss Bayley dangled an Islamic charm over a map of Afghanistan to find bin Laden and felt a strong pull to Waza Khwa, in the south-east of the country.

She said: “I was only doing my work. I was a channel for the spirits like a telephone, the spirits never get it wrong.”

Okay I've had enough. Let's just skip to the quote from the Ministry of Defence (yes they actually bothered to waste their time with this bilge)

"A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We cannot comment on the matter at all.”

Well what did you expect?

Did you really think the Ministry of Defence would jump up and say "Oh well if we'd only listened to Angela Bayley from Hither Green then we'd never have got into this mess. Sorry Ange."

I'll leave the last word to one of my fellow sufferers:

Come on News Shopper. Sort it out before we all give up on you.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Evening Standard loses City Hall reporter

Those picking up a copy of the Evening Standard last night may have been surprised to find no news of what happened at Mayor's Question Time.

Nothing on Boris reducing police officer numbers, nothing on Boris's defence against cronyism charges, in fact nothing full stop on the capital's biggest political event of the month.

For London's only "quality newspaper" that's a pretty poor show. So why?

Well it turns out that Geordie Greig has decided to make the paper's only dedicated City Hall reporter redundant.

Katharine Barney, whose stories have given Boris Johnson a headache for some time now, was let go as part of a drive to recover huge losses at the paper. She will be missed.

Respected former Standard journalist Pippa Crerar will return at some point in the New Year, but in the meantime, the paper has no dedicated reporter at City Hall.

Of course times are tough, and when they decided to give away the paper for free, job losses were inevitable.

But when those job losses coincide with the publication of unspeakable drivel like this, then the Standard have really got their priorities all wrong:

Read the whole thing, if you can stomach it.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Boris Johnson removes hundreds of police officers

Boris Johnson today denied that he will reduce the number of police officers in London, despite proposing to do just that last week.

The Mayor's budget consultation unequivocally states that:

Over the three years to 2012-13, the number of Police Officers is forecast to decrease by 455, while PCSOs remain the same and Special Constables increase by 2,690.

Yet when Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Dee Doocey, put this to him today he told her that she was "completely wrong."

Boris: That's not my understanding of what's happening to police numbers...

Dee Doocey: It appears under your signature

Boris: And there have never been more police on the streets of London than at any time in out history...

Dee : [Passes a copy of Boris's budget along] Can you pass that to the Mayor?

Boris: Our objective is to get them onto the streets...

Dee: I'm sorry I'm going to pass you a copy of your budget.

[John Biggs puts the sheet on Boris's desk. Boris looks straight ahead]

Chairman: Is there anything else that you would like to add to your answer?

Boris: No I think that Dee is completely wrong...

Dee: It's in your budget

The Mayor's denial appears to rest on the claim that the Met's current "civilianisation" programme will increase the proportion of police officers brought out on to the streets.

However, how the Met chooses to use it's officers is a separate issue to how many officers the Mayor is actually prepared to pay for.

As Dee Doocey said after today's meeting:

"The last thing London needs is a reduction in police numbers, but that is exactly what Boris Johnson is planning to do. It adds insult to injury that the Mayor even denies this is going to happen, despite the proposed cuts clearly set out in his own draft budget!

"London needs a Mayor who understands the need to sustain police officers and is aware of the proposals in his own budget. Sadly under Boris Johnson we have neither."

When Gordon Brown suggested that Boris would cut the police budget and police numbers, Boris accused him of misleading the house.

In reality Boris has now done both.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Nick Griffin rumoured to be visiting City Hall

City Hall are laying on extra security measures in the light of rumours that Nick Griffin is due to make an appearance at this week's Mayor's Question Time.

Griffin, who announced his plan to stand as Barking MP just months after Richard Barnbrook did the same, turned up at meeting of Barking and Dagenham Council last week.

He also launched his campaign beside Barnbrook and appears to be regularly campaigning alongside him.

Barnbrook is also due, for the second month in a row, to ask a question about Nick Griffin's appearance on BBC Question Time.

All of this has contributed to speculation amongst City Hall officials that Griffin is due to make a surprise appearance this Wednesday.

If he does, he will hear Boris Johnson's response to the following question from Barnbrook:

City Hall meetings are already well staffed with security guards so it is not clear exactly what these extra security measures would entail.

However, it may just be something along the lines of the reported "coping strategy" drawn up by Boris Johnson in advance of Barnbrook's first meeting at City Hall.

One factor that may deter Griffin is the dire performance shown by both Barnbrook and his fellow conspiracy theorist Bob Bailey in Barking and Dagenham last week:

"There were quite ridiculous scenes at a council meeting in Barking & Dagenham last night when leading BNP members publicly fell out with each other. In front of about 40 BNP supporters packed into the public gallery, including BNP leader Nick Griffin, Bob Bailey, the leader of the BNP group on the council tried to stop GLA member Richard Barnbrook from raising the Africans for Essex issue in the chamber.

Barnbrook refused to be silenced and continued, much to Bailey's annoyance. Bailey was heard to tell Barnbrook to shut the **** up. Barnbrook replied that he would say what he liked, to which Bailey retored: "not as long as I'm leader."

(More from Lancaster Unity)

A wider difficulty for Griffin is that he may risk further association with a man who he clearly did not trust to stand as a London MP.

As I wrote at the Guardian, the problem for Griffin and the BNP generally is that Richard Barnbrook has been a humiliating failure in London.

Any appearance at City Hall could gather a lot of publicity for the Barking candidate, but it would also risk even more exposure for the reliably useless Barnbrook.

If I were Nick Griffin, I would keep my distance.

-Update- City Hall's security team were apparently not very pleased to find out that their ultra-secret and ultra-secure Nick Griffin operation has been revealed on this not so secret or secure blog. Well if they would go around telling everybody about it...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Dodgy cab for Darren Johnson!

Chairman of the London Assembly Darren Johnson is in trouble with London's cabbies after admitting to taking an illegal minicab from the City Hall Christmas party.

The Green Party's parliamentary candidate for Lewisham sent out a series of tweets (now deleted) asking for a taxi to pick him up.

But before one could get to him, Darren decided to take an illegal minicab instead:

Tweeting cabbies (including those who had tried to come and get him) were enraged that he appeared to be encouraging illegal cabs.

Especially as TfL have just launched a campaign discouraging people from using them:

Now I've met Darren before and he seems like a decent chap, so I'm sure he will have woken up with some regrets about this.

But something tells me that his journey home won't have been the first thought on his mind...

More pictures here and here :)

-UPDATE- Darren Johnson said today:

"Yesterday evening I stupidly took an illegal minicab to get me home. It cost me more than a licensed taxi, and I was lucky that it did not cost me much more in terms of my personal safety. Londoners should always heed the official advice to only ever take a licensed taxi cab or pre booked licensed minicab to get home. They should learn from my mistake that unbooked minicabs are illegal and expensive and place personal safety at serious risk. I want to make it clear that this journey was a personal one that was not chargeable to the GLA and that I'm very sorry to have done it."
-UPDATE- The Evening Standard have also picked up on this story now, in typically hysterical style

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Boris Johnson gives free pass to foreign embassies on "Congestion Tax"

Boris Johnson gave up any pretense that he will reclaim unpaid congestion charges from foreign embassies yesterday, as he openly referred to the charge as a tax.

Earlier this year, the new US Ambassador refused to pay up millions owed in unpaid congestion charges and fines.

His refusal rested on the claim that the charge is a tax

"Our policy on the congestion tax is a long-standing policy decided on by Washington. The US government's position is that this a tax and therefore is prohibited by various treaties."

Boris Johnson officially disagreed. According to his spokesman:

"The mayor is deeply disappointed that it seems they may not choose to do so. The congestion charge is a service, not a tax, which is paid by the majority of embassies and millions of Londoners. There is simply no excuse for the American embassy to continue to ignore this responsibility to its host city and the mayor will continue to press this point to their representatives."

So how is he continuing to "press" this vital point about it not being a tax?

"I have asked Transport for London to begin the legal process to remove this charge with all convenient speed...

"we can lift this tax within fourteen months at the absolute outside and hopefully earlier than that."

Comments which he later retracted.

And then again just yesterday:

Comments which were supported by his Assembly Members:

So what exactly does this alleged "pressing" of the US ambassador involve I wonder? Does it involve hosting parties for him perhaps?

Very funny and appropriate I'm sure. Just not particularly pressing.

Ian Clement: Little Joke in Big China

Ian Clement, spy

"We contacted Clement via his public relations o. ce Champions, who boast such after-dinner speaking alumni as Mark Preston and Willie Thorne (we've never heard of them either). Apparently he was "extremely busy until the New Year" – public urinals don't clean themselves – but would discuss it for a fee."

Oh dear. I think the size of that fee will have just got that little bit smaller.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Will Boris Johnson close tube ticket offices?

In Boris Johnson's Transport Manifesto he pledged to

"Make Transport More Convenient... By halting the proposed Tube ticket office closures, and ensuring there is always a manned ticket office at every station."

and that he would

"defend local ticket offices"


"stop the planned ticket office closures"

and that:

"There is little financial, strategic or common sense in these closures. We will halt all such ticket office closures immediately."

I'd say that was all pretty clear. So what's this from the RMT?

144 ticket offices and 1200 jobs under threat as Boris Johnson rips up manifesto pledge on tube cuts

TUBE AND TfL union RMT today released new information which exposes the full extent of the first wave of cuts under Boris Johnson’s £5 billion tube savings programme with 144 station ticket offices and 1200 jobs under threat of the axe.

According to the RMT, the leaked document states that:

  1. Main stations ticket offices will remain open
  2. Smaller central stations ticket offices will open only at peak times and at key locations
  3. All other stations will have ticket machines only.

However, Boris and TfL insisted today that no decisions have yet been made.

"no decision has been taken to do any such thing” and said it was important to ensure “every single London Underground is properly staffed” but appeared to question “whether you need to have someone behind the glass at all times”.

Obviously money is tight and it wouldn't be surprising if at least some partial closures were on their way.

But with most of those closures likely to take place within the boroughs that voted him in, Boris needs to be very careful just how far he goes.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Nick Raynsford and a Nightmayor before Xmas

The third part of my interview with Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford has just gone live over at

You can read all three instalments by following the links below:

I'm off tomorrow to spend three nights in a seaside holiday camp. It's also my birthday.

I will be back in business here at Tory Troll next week.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Interview with Nick Raynsford MP - Part One

The first part of my interview with Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford has just gone live over at

In later parts, Nick speaks about the "bogus claims" made by Olympics protesters and why he doesn't believe Ken Livingstone should stand again in 2012.

It was a fairly lengthy interview and a few of his more London-wide comments didn't make the final cut.

I will be highlighting some of these and more here as the week goes on. Enjoy.

-Update- Reactions from 853 and the Greenwich Greens