Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Two Tories rewarded for misconduct and greed

There have been two stories in this past week that neatly sum up the current state of play in Tory London.

Last week a Conservative member of Boris Johnson's Fire Authority was suspended from Brent council for serious misconduct.

Understandably there were immediate calls for her to stand down from her position on LFEPA.

However, rather than stand down, it soon became clear that the Tories actually wanted to promote her to a new role as Deputy Chair.

Urged to prevent this, Boris stood aside and allowed her to be rewarded with this new role (and allowance) instead.

Now thanks to Boris, the disgraced and suspended Cllr Bertha Joseph will join the even more disgraced Cllr Brian Coleman in representing the Fire Service to Londoners.

Self-regulation

Earlier this year the Standard also exposed the Tory leader of London Councils Merrick Cockell for his love of transatlantic junkets and taxpayer-funded limousines.

Like his sometime dining companion Ian Clement, Mr Cockell's grand visits to luxury international hotels were financed at the not so grand local-taxpayers' expense

However, while Clement lied about his dining companions, Cockell failed to even declare the "colleague" he shared a meal with at the Four Seasons restaurant, New York.

Asked who this person was, and what they were discussing, Cockell would only say that he had forgotten.

Repeatedly pushed on why this was, Cockell finally replied:

From: "leader@rbkc.gov.uk"
To: ***********@btinternet.com
Sent: Monday, 21 September, 2009 11:57:38 AM
Subject: RE: January 2007

Dear Mr *******

I regret that I do not have this information from two and a half years
ago. Had I the information you are requesting then it would have been
provided in response to your earlier FOI and other enquiries.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Merrick Cockell

Leader, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

So how has Cockell's incompetence and greed been dealt with? Well with a lovely new role on the Audit Commision of course.


And where are those other tireless defenders of taxpayer value, the Taxpayers' Alliance when you need them?

Well they're tirelessly defending a Tory MP of course.

Monday, 26 October 2009

At the Guardian: on the BNP's Richard Barnbrook

Head over to the Guardian to read more from me on the outlawed bananas, failed youth rallies and fancy dress of the BNP's one and only Richard Barnbrook.

Then head over to Enemies of Reason for the best take on the fake tabloid outrage surrounding Griffin's appearance on Question Time last week.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Boris Johnson and the Cycle Friday ghost riders

Asked last week by Caroline Pidgeon AM how many people had taken part in his Cycle Friday initiative, Boris Johnson replied:

"I am pleased to confirm that well over four hundred cyclists registered for the Cycle Friday events that ran towards the end of the Summer of Cycling."

Four hundred sounds pretty poor for a London-wide "summer of cycling" to me. So how did you work out that total Boris?

But hang on, doesn't that assume that a completely different set of people turned up each week? If they didn't then Boris has double counted them no?

Surely the real number who took part could be as little as 93.

And with the total cost of the scheme thought to be £30,000, that works out as the most expensive commute it's possible to make.

Wouldn't it have been cheaper to just hand out a few hundred free bikes?







You can listen to Boris's Transport adviser Kulveer Ranger debate the scheme with Nick Ferrari and Caroline Pidgeon in the above clip:

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Boris Johnson paddles away from island airport

Boris Johnson today dramatically distanced himself from plans to construct an airport in the Thames Estuary.

Asked by Val Shawcross AM why the airport is not in his Transport Strategy he replied that while it was an interesting idea:

"I do not have an aspiration to construct such an airport."

Boris had initially refused to even discuss the airport with the Transport Committee, saying that it was at "too early a stage."

However, when pushed, he told the committee:

"I think it is very important that we clear up the status of this feasibility study and the status of this airport. I do not have an aspiration to construct such an airport. What I think it is right for us at the GLA is to look in a progressive way at all the possibilities for aviation capacity around london. And that is all we are doing"

The admission comes just one day after Doug Oakervee published the long delayed feasibility study into the airport.

Unusually it was not published on the Mayor's website, and the Mayor released no statement to accompany it.

It was however accompanied by derision from both the City of London and from an alliance of Conservative Councils in Kent.

The Conservative leadership have also distanced themselves from the project.

Boris Johnson's new steering group will look at plans for an airport.

However, their remit has shifted away from the airport alone, towards the wider issues of development in the Thames Estuary.

And while Boris's Deputy Kit Malthouse said it could be built within ten years, Oakervee's plans push construction back to 2029, long after Boris will have gone.


So barring the arrival of any mystery sheiks, Boris's Island will continue to resemble NeverNeverLand.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Counting the Cost of Boris's Fare Rise

Fare rises images by Beau Bo D'or

Political Animal would pay more

Dave Hill on congestion confusion

Boris Watch adds up his fare rise bill

Dave Cole on scrapping the WEZ

Wolmar thinks Boris learnt a lesson

Sunny Hundal on Boris's Achilles Heel

Left Foot Forward get out their abacus

TYR on London Tories and Fake Sheikhs

Val Shawcross on paying more but getting less

Me on today's fare rise announcement if you missed it.

Boris Johnson an elected dictator says Andrew Boff

Boris Johnson is an elected dictator whose job should be scrapped, a Conservative Assembly Member said today.

Following a call by Conservative Home to abolish the body that holds the Tory Mayor to account, Andrew Boff wrote:

"Abolishing the London Assembly would be a good first step on the road to abolishing the elective dictatorship that is the Mayoralty.

Assembly members do actually work very hard in my experience (this was not my view before getting elected) but they are doing a job that could be performed by the Boroughs or a beefed up London Councils ( http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk ).

There will be a saving but it won't be as much as £8m as some of our roles would have to be transferred to the Boroughs."

Boff has said openly what I'm sure other Tory Assembly Members would agree with privately, and it's certainly a principled stance to propose giving yourself the sack.

But if the Mayoralty is such a bad idea for London, then why did he stand for it himself?



-Update-
The Evening Standard have now followed up this story

Boris Johnson raises fares by up to 20 per cent

Boris Johnson will raise the cost of traveling in London by up to 20 per cent with bus users suffering the hardest, he announced today.

A single pay as you go bus ticket will rise to £1.20 with off peak tube fares also rising by almost 20%.

The congestion charge, held at £8 since 2005 will also rise to £10, although this will not come in until the Western Extension is scrapped next year.

Single cash fares on the bus will remain at £2 and some travelcard prices will be frozen.

The new fares will come into effect in January, just one year after a similar above inflation hike.

Liberal Democrat Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee Caroline Pidgeon said today:

"This will be a slap in the face for the millions of Londoners who will be seeing no increase in their pay packets this year. It is all very well Boris trumpeting a zero increase in his share of Council Tax. Fare rises affect far more people, at far greater cost."

Labour's deputy leader on the London Assembly, John Biggs, said:

"This is a massive kick in the teeth for hard pressed Londoners at a time when many are struggling with the recession. Not putting up council tax will save people pennies but this will hit them hard. Londoners will rightly wonder why Boris can apparently find £5bn of TfL savings but can't keep down their fares"

Former Mayor Ken Livingstone said today:

"I left Boris Johnson with very large Transport for London reserves and plans to raise more funds and protect the environment. He has cut investment, reduced protection of the environment and hammered ordinary Londoners with above inflation fare increases. In essence his policy is that the majority of Londoners should pay to subsidise the better off and worst polluters. That is no joke for London."

You can read a summary of the fare rises here.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Misconduct halts the Coleman "revolution" (briefly)

Brian Coleman's plans for a "revolution" on the London Fire Authority were brought to a halt today after one of his fellow Tories was suspended for misconduct.

As Paul Waugh reports, Brent Councillor Bertha Joseph has been barred from her council and LFEPA for six months after using charitable sponsorship money to pay for her ball gowns.

Fellow Tory Fire Authority Member Tony Arbour was also suspended from Richmond Council yesterday after being found guilty of disclosing confidential information.

A spokesman for Richmond Council said:

“Cllr Tony Arbour, ward member for Hampton Wick, has been suspended from Richmond Council duty for 28 days due to his disclosure of confidential information, prior to the completion of the purchase of land in Broom Road, Teddington, in February, 2009.

“The Standards Hearing sub-committee judged unanimously that Cllr Arbour had breached paragraph 4 of the Members’ Code of Conduct. The suspension will begin on 19 October, during which time Cllr Arbour will be unable to take part in formal Council business.”

However, unlike Joseph, he has not been suspended from LFEPA.

Joseph's suspension follows the defection of Labour member of the authority Betty Evans-Jacas to the Tories earlier this week.

Coleman was exultant at this move, giving him as it did, a working majority on LFEPA for the first time.

With this majority he would have finally been able to push through his planned "Coleman revolution." This is thought to include:
  • Changes to Firefighter shift patterns
  • Removal of beds from fire stations.
  • Removal of diversity officers
  • Removal of support staff from opposition members
  • Removal of his political opponents from committee Chairmanships
  • Removal of a fire escape at LFEPA headquarters in order to make a private entrance for himself and authority members.

With Bertha gone, Londoners will be spared this revolution a little longer.



-Update-
Paul Waugh reports that Joseph will not be suspended from LFEPA after all. The revolution is back on!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Boris Island gets lost in the Thames Estuary

The Mayor's road toll proposals are (we are told) of the long-term, last resort, blue-sky thinking, frankly never-going-to-happen order of Boris ideas.

However, they do at least make it into his Transport Strategy released today. How about this one:

“Boris Island”, as the £40billion proposed site two miles off Sheerness has been called, could be entirely bankrolled and owned by sheikhs.

The Mayor's deputy, Kit Malthouse, said it could be built within 10 years. Plans indicate it would dwarf the capacity of Heathrow's two runways.

He added: “We have had an incredible amount of interest from countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, which have signalled they would like to fund the airport. It is possible we could build it without taxpayers' money.

“Who wouldn't want to own an immovable fixed asset just off the coast? It's extremely valuable and the owners of sovereign wealth funds know they could bequeath it to their children.”

Ooh how exciting. A fantasy airport built by Mystery Sheikhs for the benefit of Mystery Sheikh children. Where's this to be found in the Mayor's Transport Strategy?

Nowhere is where. There is not a single solitary mention of it anywhere within Boris's 356 page report.

So what has happened to this project launched from a dredger last winter, and ceaselessly trailed by failed airline tycoon and Deputy Mayor for Boondoggles Kit Malthouse?

I phoned up City Hall to ask. Where was the now long overdue feasibility study?

"Doug Oakervee's study will be coming out shortly" they told me.

"Is there a fixed date for his report?" I asked.

"No there's no fixed date." they replied.

Oh well, I'm sure it will be worth the wait in the end.



-Update- The Kent Messenger reports:

The idea of an island airport has been universally condemned in Kent, with politicians from all parties and local councils and environmental groups saying it is a non-starter...

A spokesman for the mayor’s office said: “Kit Malthouse made the comments during the Tory party conference.

“There has been interest from all quarters and from different parts of the world but it’s irrelevant at the moment as we are waiting for the feasibility study from Doug Oakervee to come out.

“Nothing is definite at the moment. It is not definite that it can be done or that we would want to do it but there’s a lot of interest in the idea. At this stage the most important thing is the feasibility study.”

Hardly a ringing endorsement is it?

Boris will introduce road tolls as a "last resort"

Another day, another unwelcome headline for the Mayor in the Evening Standard:

"Motorists face being charged to drive on London's busiest roads under radical new plans by Boris Johnson.

Drivers could be forced to pay for every mile they drive — on top of the congestion charge — as the Mayor fights to plug a multi-million-pound hole in the Transport for London budget.

If previous government proposals are followed the cost could be up to £1.34 a mile. Someone with a 12-mile round trip to work in central London during the day could pay a total of £20...

The busiest areas in London would be targeted. These include Edgware Road, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Embankment and busy suburban areas such as Croydon and Greenwich"

The proposals are contained within Boris's Transport Strategy released today (more of which later).

If implemented they would go some way to making up the lost revenue from scrapping the Western Congestion Charge, and towards paying for the removal of bendy buses etc.

However, when I contacted City Hall about it this morning, I got the following response:

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London's transport advisor, said:

"There is absolutely no scheme in the Mayor's Transport Strategy to introduce road user charging in London. (my emphasis)

Except...

"The strategy is a comprehensive look at how to manage the growing demands on transport in London over the period to 2031. As such it includes the flexibility that, if the raft of other measures to address congestion and pollution do not have the expected effects, road user charging could at that time be considered. This would be very much the last resort, and very much in the long term." (My emphasis)

So it is in the strategy but it isn't?

And it's a long-term problem, which is why we won't see this (non-existent) proposal implemented any time soon?

Oh dear. Back to the drawing board I think.



-Update- More on Boris's Transport Strategy:

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Boris Johnson and Veronica Wadley cronyism row

Boris Johnson was accused of cronyism last night after it emerged he tried to install former Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley as London Arts Council Chair.

Two of the three members of the selection panel described Wadley as "manifestly the least qualified" candidate for the job and agreed not to forward her for interview.

One panel member described Wadley as "inadequate" with "almost no arts credibility" and only Boris's Adviser Munira Mirza disagreed.

However, this decision was overruled by Boris, who described Wadley as "highly qualified" and subsequently recommended her for the position.

News of her imminent appointment was then leaked to the IoS and the process was only stopped because it was judged that Boris had broken the Nolan rules on public appointments.

In a letter sent to the Department of Media Culture and Sport, panel member Liz Fogan said that:

"we are left with a due process that was not followed, a candidate who was manifestly less qualified than three of her competitors and three distinguished candidates put through a process that seems to have had questionable validity. My conclusion is that the Mayor's intended appointment was based on reasons other than the selection of the best candidate for the job."

Ridding Cronyism from City Hall

Under Wadley's editorship, the Evening Standard ran a relentless campaign against Ken Livingstone and for Boris Johnson.

The close relationship led to the paper being referred to as the Evening Boris and it's new owner has worked hard to restore it's political independence.

Boris too, was accused of cronyism last year after he installed one of his major election donors onto the board of the LDA.

It was also reported that he intended to appoint his brother Jo as "Director of Strategy" at City Hall. The appointment never occurred.

Wadley's defence, that one panel member was "a lefty" (Liz Fogan sits on the Scott Trust) is to be expected.

However, it is Boris's decision which is the remarkable one, as much for its political naivety as for any apparent breach of the rules.

I mean how did Boris think this was going to look?



-Update-
London Assembly Chairman Darren Johnson said today:

"I would be extremely concerned if the mayor was not following transparent criteria for appointments. This London Mayor has only been in office a year and a half, yet we have had an extraordinary series of scandals and mistakes. An independent report commissioned by the Greater London Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority admonished the Mayor for his "extraordinary and unwise" behaviour when Damien Green MP was arrested. The rushed nature of his appointments of deputy Mayor’s certainly contributed to the subsequent loss of some of them. Finally, another deputy mayor had to resign after he was able to falsify his expenses over a period of several months.”

An aide to Boris Johnson said today:

"If he has to sit out for a new secretary of state, he will."

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Paxman: What a farce

After a year of softly-softly interviews with the likes of Vanessa Feltz, the BBC finally had a chance to grill Boris on his record yesterday.

The result was beyond terrible.

First up we had Andrew Neil, who given ten minutes to question the Mayor, decided to ask age-old questions about the Bullingdon Club and play an 18 month old clip of the Mayoral elections.

Worse than that, the vast bulk of the questioning was on an area (EU treaty law) where Boris has zero knowledge, control or influence over. Truly awful.

Next up we had Jeremy Paxman, who having seemingly missed Neil's interview, proceeded to ask almost exactly the same irrelevant questions all over again.

After the umpteempth question on Bullingdon, Boris quite rightly responds:

"Is that really what you are asking? Is this what Newsnight has come to? Is this what depths you have plumbed on this show?"

The interview breaks down into pure farce, with Boris deciding to ask his own questions before being asked to deliver his own speech direct to the camera.

All on the same day that Boris announces a major u-turn and a £5bn cut* in transport spending.

What a despicable waste of an opportunity.

*The only place you'll have seen this reported was on BBC London by Tim Donovan. This is one interviewer that Boris has serially avoided.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Barnbrook for Barking!

Say what you like about the BNP's Richard Barnbrook, he is always good comedic value.

Following his suspension, he's performed a mini-media blitz to restore his reputation.

So far this has involved a rather awkward press conference, a short interview on late night radio (in which we learned that Caribbeans can cook) and er, a new billboard on the A406:


I, Richard Barnbrook am going to be Barking’s next MP! I’m the candidate for the British National Party, which is the only Party that has the guts to tell it like it is. But even more than that, I’m an individual who cares; a real, ordinary person who lives in Barking and who’s a part of Barking.

That's right, Richard Barnbrook is planning to stand as Barking MP.

And he's a "real, ordinary person" you know? Rather than say, some kind of crazed racist superhero:


The comments underneath the announcement are good value:

Migrant Worker: Why don't those billboards make any mention of the BNP? Have you been booted out of the party?

5cc: That second picture is one of the funniest things I've seen in ages.

"It's quiet in the city. Almost too quiet. No knifecrime murders for the BNP to use to link to black people and call for the banning of the Notting Hill Carnival. If only there were some way of making the public think there were.

But wait! This is a job for Richard Barnbrook! ZAP! There's a made-up murder! KAPOW! There's another two! With his special 'make stuff up' powers, Barnbrook saves the day!"

Get yourselves a seat on the front row London. This is going to be priceless.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Decline of the Evening Standard

So it has come to this. London's sorriest "quality newspaper" is to become a freebie:

Editor Geordie Grieg told today's Channel Four News:

"Many things are free and make money - we hope for example that Channel 4 is one of them.

"We are going to remain a quality newspaper and that is what will make us attractive to advertisers."

Now Channel Four is free and it does makes money.

But it's lunchtime news bulletins? Not so much.

"Channel 4 is axing its lunchtime news bulletin and More4 News as part of a cost-cutting move that will lead to up to 20 job losses."

Whichever way you look at it, free news equals more job cuts and more news cuts.

The Evening Standard plans to survive, if it can, by sacking it's vendors, increasing adverts, and slipping in more 'unmarked advertorials' (see this gem called out by Private Eye)

In short they plan to survive by cutting costs, cutting quality, but increasing circulation

And they plan to do so after years of mega losses from London's freesheets.

For a man who bought the paper for just one pound last year (but who has since invested millions) it's a brave, possibly reckless, possibly idiotic move.

It also doesn't begin to solve what are long term, and chronic problems for the paper.

In recent months, the paper has tried hard to restore itself in our affections, but while the smell of sock has gone, the smell of out of touch London lingers on.


There are still good journalists at the Evening Standard

But sadly over the years they've been sidelined, by personal vendetta, and by the courting of a very small section of London society.

Bit by bit ordinary Londoners have deserted them, and now Grieg plans to win us back, by literally forcing the paper into our hands.

Whether this will allow them to survive financially remains to be seen, but whether it will ever be a truly "quality London paper" is sadly in greater doubt.



The "I'm free" and "Anything else?" images are by the ever-brilliant Beau Bo D'or. Head over to his place for more.