Friday, 27 November 2009

Boris Johnson to become Police Commissioner

The Evening Standard are reporting that Boris Johnson will become Britain's first 'elected' Police commisioner, if the Conservatives win the next election.

Forgive me if this prospect doesn't entirely fill me with glee.

I mean this is the man, who hired not one, but three men who have since had to resign due to allegations of financial misconduct or fraud.

A man who agreed to supply the address of a journalist, so he could be beaten up, and a man who famously gave a character reference for Conrad Black at his trial.

Now Boris Johnson does have many good qualities, and if you're in need of somebody to open a branch of Morrisons, then he's the man for you.

But if London absolutely must have an elected police chief, then it should be somebody with the time, the expertise, and the judgement to do the job well.

In other words, almost anybody but Boris.

Scrapping the MPA

Under the Tories' proposals the body which currently scrutinises the Metropolitan Police, would be scrapped and replaced by the London Assembly.

I heard whisperings of something along these lines well over a year ago.

Now I have lots of criticisms of the MPA, the main one being that they do not have enough powers and sway to properly hold the force to account.

But rather than empower this body, the Tories want to scrap it altogether, leaving Londoners with even less opportunity to challenge the police when things go wrong.

So while the MPA has spent large amounts of time scrutinising the policing of the G20, it is hard to see that how the London Assembly could ever effectively do a similar job.

So is the Tories' main priority here to increase accountability, or to get rid of a possible source of bad headlines for them in the future?

For Boris, the latter may currently seem like a wise idea.

But if and when things go seriously wrong again on London's streets, it will be Boris and not the police who will then take the biggest political hit.

Reactions and Links

Labour's London Assembly police spokesperson Joanne McCartney, said:

"Of course the police need to be held to account, but this would lead to less accountability, not more. Senior officers are rightly resisting this and I don't think there is much public appetite to see Boris Johnsons up and down the country running the police. The idea that we go down the American route of commissioners, mayors and politicians all trying to out tough each other with one eye on their next election is deeply worrying."

Green Party representative on the MPA Jenny Jones said:

"The MPA has always struggled to hold the Met to account, now more than ever under a Tory mayor, but that's because it's a small number of members dealing with a huge organisation. A single person like a mayor, even with a dedicated team, or using the Assembly as a scrutiny body, simply couldn't do the job. If the MPA needs reforming, then it should have more members, not fewer."

Former MPA Chairman and blogger Lord Toby Harris has some fun with the idea and then sets out an alternative proposal

"First, a directly-elected MPA Chair, separate from but elected on the same day as the Mayor of London (this could be Kit Malthouse’s big moment, if he doesn’t become an MP first). Second, retain the MPA with a mixed membership of elected members (drawn from both the London Assembly and the London Boroughs with a Party balance proportional to the votes received by each of the major Parties across London) and independent members (appointed after public advertisement on merit). And third, greater clarity on the role and powers of all concerned."

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“Only the Conservatives could believe that bumbling Boris Johnson is the solution to making the police more accountable. Police chiefs are unanimous in their opinion that Tory plans to politicise control of the police will lead to populist pandering of the worst kind. The police need to be more accountable to the community they serve but that is best achieved through an elected police authority that is representative of it.”


"Plodfather" image by Beau Bo D'or

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dan Ritterband thrown out of London Assembly

Boris Johnson's Director of Marketing Dan Ritterband was thrown out of a City Hall meeting yesterday after a clash with John Biggs and Mike Tuffrey.

For some reason, the link to the webcast was taken down shortly after the meeting finished and was only reposted this morning.

However, it's here now you can also subscribe to my new Youtube channel where I will occasionally upload and link to other clips from City Hall.

I will also link to earlier clips, such as this classic row between John Biggs and the Worshipful Brian Coleman.



-Update- Dan and John have now kissed and made up (sort of)

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Boris Johnson and Leo Boland go Pyongyang style

Leo Boland, Boris Johnson
Opposition groups on the London Assembly have long been suspicious of the 'cosy' relationship between Boris Johnson and his new GLA Chief Executive Leo Boland.

Boland was brought in at great expense from Barnet Council and now earns £15,000 more than George Osborne's "fat cat" limit.


Incidentally, he also earns over £20,000 more than the Chief Executive received under the 'profligate' Ken regime.

But I guess you get what you pay for, and while the former Chief Exec Anthony Mayer was widely seen as independent, Boland is increasingly seen as "The Mayor's man."

And so it was that when I first published pictures of Boris's Fire Chief Brian Coleman asleep at his desk, it was apparently Boland who intervened to flush out the whistleblower.

One source told me that they had been warned off of passing stories to Tory Troll, and another had their GLA email account openly searched for correspondence with me.

Now Leo Boland has turned his attention to the Assembly itself.

A leaked document sent to Tory Troll reveals that he is pushing for the rights to monitor, and review all official scrutiny reports produced by the Assembly.

According to the proposals, Boland would be able to:

"review draft scrutiny reports before their publication for the purposes of providing quality control and oversight of the written output from the Authority. This opportunity for review would be personal to the Chief Executive and would not be delegated to any other officer."

This is being proposed because:

a. It would provide the Chief Executive with direct oversight and input into the quality of scrutiny reports.

b. The Chief Executive would be aware of reports before their publication, and would be able to anticipate any potential issues of conflict or controversy. (my emphasis)

Under these plans Boland would not only have the powers to 'anticipate' these conflicts and controversies but also potentially to step in and eliminate them.

This would massively blur the separation of powers between the GLA executive and the body that is elected to scrutinise it.

It would also further weaken the work of an Assembly already earmarked for abolition by senior members of the Conservative party.

A report on the plans to be discussed by Assembly leaders today acknowledges these worries but insists that:

"The Chief Executive has a statutory dual-facing role. It would be important to avoid any potential compromise of this position arising from any perception that the Chief Executive’s review of draft reports amounts to approving them or agreeing with their contents. It would equally be very important to avoid any perception of executive interference in the scrutiny function, particularly in cases where reports express disagreement between the Assembly and the Mayor."

However, whether these 'perceptions' are avoided or not, this is the implication of what is being proposed by Leo Boland.

The Assembly as it is, has very few powers, but what it does have is the power to scrutinise the Mayor and the GLA.

Any attempt by "the Mayor's man" to interfere with or weaken that power should be resisted at every step.

Otherwise the Assembly risks being reduced to the kind of North Korean levels of scrutiny already practiced by some Tory AMs.



-Update- Dave Hill has some responses from AMs to this story.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Meet London blogger Andrew Gilligan

"This isn’t a blog, Adam - it’s a column. You can tell the difference because it only appears once a week and it never goes into obsessive detail about buses." Andrew Gilligan - 2008

So anyway, here's Andrew's new blog, in which he posts several times a day and goes into obsessive detail about buses.

So far it has no independent blog roll, no interaction with commenters and almost no links to original source material.

But apart from that it's almost like a real blog.

Just be careful of any strange characters you happen to meet in the comments.


Andrew Gilligan Identity pic by Beau Bo D'or

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Boris Johnson: I won't slaughter harmless pooches

Boris Johnson today squashed his Deputy's proposals to wipe out all breeds of bull dog, saying that the last thing he wanted was to see "harmless pooches being slaughtered."

The comments came after his Deputy Mayor for Policing Kit Malthouse called for all bull dog breeds to be "phased out" within the UK.

The proposals were modeled on a scheme in Ontario, where owners who refused to have their dogs neutered, had them taken away and killed instead.

The plans sparked a letter writing campaign with at least 18 breed clubs believed to have written to the Deputy Mayor.

Such was the anger that one dog owners magazine went so far as to call Mr. Malthouse "The Biggest Moron in Britain."

Asked by the leader of the Conservative group Roger Evans to calm these fears, Boris replied:

"Obviously what you don't want to get into is a return to the dangerous dogs kind of legislation where you have harmless pooches being slaughtered in the name of allaying public panic. That is not what we want. We want to see a whole hearted assault on those who are using dogs as weapons and are deliberately setting out to intimidate people in their neighbourhoods with these dogs."

For some reason Kit Malthouse did not sit in his chair during the session but instead watched the exchange from the gallery.

His colleague Roger Evans, who raised the issue with the Mayor today, had already spoken out against Kit's plans earlier this week.

Commenting at Dave Hill's blog Roger wrote that:

"I'm not in favour of banning things - deprived of 'status' dogs, the owners would just find another way to make a nuisance of themselves. We need legislation which targets those few antisocial individuals and removes them from circulation."

Sensible advice, very wisely taken.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Boris Johnson and Chris Grayling: before and after

Boris Johnson attacking Chris Grayling for comparing crime levels in London to The Wire:

“Someone the other day compared London with Baltimore, absolute nonsense. You know, this programme, The Wire in Baltimore.

“There are 35 murders per 100,000 in Baltimore, there are approximately three murders per 100,000 in London. It is far, far more dangerous in Baltimore than it is in London, especially for gun crime.”

He's absolutely right of course. London is a relatively safe city, and remains so despite the recent rise in gun crimes.

By speaking as he did, Grayling was committing the worst kind of political scaremongering, deliberately exploiting fears in order to win a few more votes.

So what was Boris thinking when he did exactly the same and worse during his Mayoral campaign?


I'm sure that Grayling will have learnt his lesson now. Only whip up fear where you've not already won.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Lest we forget...


Expenses image by Beau Bo D'or

Who is this mysterious follower of Kit Malthouse?

The Deputy Mayor of London Kit Malthouse speaking at Mayor's Question Time last month:

"There is an increasing trend, and I have raised this a couple of times before in the Assembly, for opposition Members, and in particular John Biggs, to ask very wide and open and specious and facetious questions which are designed to be provocative and not, actually, designed to do what we are supposed to do, which is scrutinise the working of the Mayor. They have become overtly political and sour and I think that does a disservice to all the people watching both here and on the web. I think you need to get a grip on this."

Indeed. Here at the Troll, we also get a lot of 'overtly political and sour' comments from certain individuals. Like this one:


Or this one, left from the same IP address earlier this year:


Both these comments (and a number of others) were left by somebody repeatedly searching Google for "Kit Malthouse"


And it appears that I'm not alone. Since beginning this post, I've been in contact with one other blogger who has also noticed this strange pattern of searches and comments.

So who is this rather 'sour' individual? Well here's all of their contributions to Wikipedia:


Classical Music and Kit Malthouse? A perfectly acceptable if slightly narrow set of interests.

And what have they added to our knowledge of these vast and important subjects? Well here's all of their additions to Kit's page:

birth date =Birth year and age 1966
birth place = Liverpool
nationality = United Kingdom British
nationality = United Kingdom British
spouse = Juliana Farha
party = Conservative Party (UK) Conservative Party
party = Conservative Party (UK) Conservative Party
children = 1 son
profession = Chartered Accountant
website = www.kitmalthouse.com

Malthouse was born on October 27th 1966 in the Toxteth area of Liverpool in the North West of England. He was educated at [Liverpool College]. later he studied Politics and Economics at the [University of Newcastle Upon Tyne], under [Professor Hugh Berrington], one of the last great academic Liberals, and [Professor Michael Clarke], now Director of the [Royal United Services Institute]. On graduation he moved to London.
==Business Career==
Kit trained to be a [Chartered Accountant] at [Touche Ross & Co] (now Deloittes), qualifying in 2004. He then left and worked as Finance Director of the Cannock Group of companies. He led the management buyout of the part of that group called the County Holdings and is now chairman of the company. In 2006 he was a founder director of Alpha Strategic PLC where he also remains as a director.

=Career at Westminster Council, 1998-2006==
-
During his eight years on the Council, Malthouse had two major jobs, first in charge of Social Services and second, as Deputy Leader in charge of finance. Both these roles involved in him a number of high profile campaigns:

Malthouse was elected to the council in May 1998 representing St George's ward in the Pimlico area of central London. Following boundary changes he was re-elected in May 2002 for Warwick Ward also in Pimlico.

Within the first 12 months Malthouse was appointed as Chief Whip of the Conservative Group, and shortly thereafter, following a change of leader to [Sir Simon Milton] he was appointed Chairman of the Social Services Committee. Two years later he was elected Deputy Leader of the Council and became Cabinet Member for Finance.

During his time on the Council Kit was involved in a number of high profile campaigns

Malthouse is a member of the board of the [[Association of Police Authorities]] and the [[London Regional Resilience Forum]]. He also sits on the Ministerial Steering Group of the [[London Criminal Justice Board]].
Following the resignation of [[Ray Lewis]] Malthouse also inherited responsibility for devising the Mayor's youth plan, designed to produce long term cultural change in those young people drifting into crime and violence. The plan, called [["Time for Action"]] was published in November 2008.
Kit Malthouse is also Chair of the [[London Hydrogen Partnership]] and leads at [[City Hall]] on proposals for a new [[Thames Estuary Airport]] to replace [[Heathrow]].

Wow, that's quite a biography. So what about the other important subject in their lives.

Well their interest and knowledge here seems rather narrower.

Here's their one and only (rejected) contribution, to the external links list of the "Classical Music" page:


Hmm. Would that be the same Dilettante Music that Kit Malthouse is a director of?

Oh yes, so it is:


So who is this mysterious commentator and why are they so fixated with the life and times of the most honourable Deputy Mayor of London?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Dog Owners bite back against Kit Malthouse

Dog owners have reacted angrily to proposals by Boris Johnson's Deputy Mayor or Policing Kit Malthouse to wipe entire breeds of dog off the map.

Under the plans, all bull dogs including the Staffordshire Bull Terrier would need to be registered, muzzled and neutered, effectively killing off those breeds within the UK.

Breed clubs across the country are now in the process of a letter-writing campaign to prevent these proposals from ever being implemented in the UK.

Writing in the Times earlier this week Kit Malthouse labeled the animals as "weapon dogs":

"As well as punishing owners appropriately for use of this weapon, we should be bolder about removing it from circulation altogether.

In Ontario, that is what has happened. The provincial government produced a law that banned all bull breeds and derivatives, including pitbulls and the Staffordshire bull terrier. All such existing dogs had to be registered, neutered and muzzled, leading to the bull-types dying out and owners learning to love the labrador or pug. The result? A huge fall in the number of dog-related injuries and incidents. This approach manages to be both humane to those who have a dog of this type and draws a line under the problem.

Serious penalties will make dog owners think twice, but surely it is time for us to look to our Commonwealth cousins and find a way gently to phase out the canine weapons that terrorise the streets of Peckham, Toxteth and Moss Side."

Kit does not mention the fact that in Ontario, owners who refused to have their pets neutered, were forced to hand them over to the state where they were then "euthanized" or killed.

In a letter to the Deputy Mayor sent yesterday, Helen Reaney of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Council writes:

Dear Mr Malthouse,

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is horrified at the irresponsible comments you made in the on-line version of The Times. Your suggestions regarding the Stafford are totally ridiculous and it is clear that any research conducted by the Deputy Mayor’s office has been totally inadequate, exhibiting an appalling degree of incompetence...


Eighteen Breed clubs across the country are now believed to be in the process of writing to Mr Malthouse about this, with anger spreading into the speciality press


While the RSPCA have also campaigned against the proliferation of "status dogs" they have instead concentrated on "the deed and not the breed"

Dangerous owners, not dangerous dogs

The problem dominated the RSPCA's first annual conference in June this year where Tim Wass, chief officer of the RSPCA inspectorate, made it clear that:

"Everyone is rightly talking about dangerous owners, rather than dangerous dogs."

With that in mind, the RSPCA believes that current breed-focused legislation is failing enforcers, dog owners and the dogs themselves.

Any future legislation should focus on the 'deed rather than the breed' of the dog. "Dogs are a product of their environment rather than their breed, and it is the growing culture of irresponsibility that needs instead to be challenged," explains Chief Officer Wass.

Neither Boris Johnson, nor the Conservative leadership have yet given their public backing to Kit's proposals.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Boris Johnson leaves Dial-a-Ride callers hanging

Hundreds of disabled Londoners have had their their requests for the Dial-a-Ride service refused every day, as TfL struggles to cope with the demand.

The service was relaunched last week, after a series of headlines about the many Londoners being left stranded by the service.

In the lead up to the relaunch, users were sent an email stating that:

From Monday 26th October, when customers call us they will notice some new features including:
  • Automatic estimates of how long it will take before an operator can take their call
  • Easier to understand options to choose from
  • Music whilst on you are on hold

They were told that the old contact numbers for the service would no longer work, and were given a new set of numbers instead.

They were then urged to phone 020 7466 0251 if they were still experiencing problems with the service.

Unfortunately almost two weeks after this service was launched, the number which is still listed on the TfL website remains completely offline:


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

"If the Mayor simply ensured that Dial-a-Ride users were listened to he would not make the insulting claim that Dial-a-Ride's service is continuing to improve."

"It is already bad enough that Dial-a-Ride users face extensive delays in booking trips but now every day 400 trips are refused to Dial-a-Ride users across London - a figure far higher than two or three years ago."

Dial-a-Ride is still largely popular and was made free for all users at the start of 2008. However, last year Boris johnson also placed a cap on the funding for the service.

This cap, along with the rising demand for the service, means that in some parts of London almost 20% calls were refused this summer.

But with those people now not even able to make their views about the service known, the real level of dissatisfaction could be even higher still.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Government slashes funding for Freedom Pass

Councils across London reacted angrily today, to the news that the government will slash funding for the Freedom Pass.

The capital had been promised a £58 million special grant for free bus travel this year but this has been reduced to just £29 million.

According to the proposals:

"it was originally anticipated that London would require a very significant grant to meet the cost of concessionary passengers from the surrounding counties now travelling for free on the extensive London Bus Network. It has now transpired that there have been far fewer of these trips than was anticipated"

The almost £29 million taken from London will help prop up the government's national concessionary scheme instead.

London Councils’ Chairman, Councillor Merrick Cockell, said today:

“The Government’s decision at this late stage to alter the deal already agreed is absolutely stunning and will be met with anger across the capital. Boroughs have already budgeted for this funding and now London is facing having the amount of funding it was promised almost halved."

Liberal Democrat London Assembly Transport Spokesperson Caroline Pidgeon said today:

“After Boris Johnson’s decision to hike bus fares by 20% Londoners now face a double whammy with this savage cut in funding for the Freedom Pass.

“London is the only major city in the country to be hit by these Government proposals. Hard up London council taxpayers, who are already facing a steep rise in fares, will now have to pay even more in their council tax to maintain London’s Freedom Pass.”

Thorns

Freedom pass funding has long been a thorny issue between the Mayor, the government and London boroughs.

Earlier this year Boris sought to remove some of those thorns by giving up his own reserve powers on the issue.

Unfortunately for some, he changed the way the scheme was funded, meaning some boroughs were forced to contribute much more.

And as boroughs across the capital announce plans to either freeze or reduce their level of council tax, this money will now have to come from elsewhere instead.

For many Londoners this will mean more hidden charges, more fees, and more rows over the future of the freedom pass itself.



-Update- Boris Johnson's transport advisor Kulveer Ranger, said:

"It is quite simply outrageous for the Government to announce they intend to reconsider funding arrangements that were already agreed and we will be seeking urgent clarification from the Minister on how this might affect Londoners. One of the Mayor's top priorities has been to protect the right to free travel for the less well off and elderly in the capital. He knows how important this privilege can be to the over 60s, which is why he found funding to make it 24 hours and why he will do everything in his power to ensure it continues."

Monday, 2 November 2009

Boris crosses to the Far East but misses Near South

Like the Olympic games, Boris Johnson needs a physical legacy to remind us all of him once he's gone.

Unfortunately, his plans for a living bridge, a second Blackwall tunnel and a Thames Airport are unlikely to happen soon, if at all.

So with both time and money short, Boris has to take his opportunities where he can.

And here we have the first part of Boris's physical legacy to London, a revolutionary new design of er... pedestrian crossing.

Based on crossings in Tokyo, the new design stops traffic in all directions, allowing shoppers to cross diagonally in an "X" as well as straight ahead.

The £5m junction is able to handle double the number of pedestrians and ease overcrowding at the busy intersection.

It will be officially unveiled at 0945 GMT by London Mayor Boris Johnson.

In homage to its Far Eastern inspiration, the mayor will strike a two-metre high cymbal as Japanese musicians play taiko drums.

A giant X, in the form of 60m (196ft) of red ribbon will then be unfurled by devotees of cult Japanese Manga characters dressed in colourful costumes.

Mr Johnson said the crossing, controlled by traffic lights, was "a triumph for British engineering, Japanese innovation and good old fashioned common sense".

Now the crossing and ceremony sounds great and all, but if Boris really wanted inspiration for this, then he didn't need to travel all the way to the Far East.

In fact just a short journey down to the Near South would have done as well.

-Update- Cllr James Cousins and Dave Cross and The Metro have joined the fight to reclaim Balham's honour