Friday, 31 December 2010

Boris Johnson warns against "rhetoric" on bankers

Boris Johnson has warned that overblown government "rhetoric" about bankers could frighten off investment into London.

“The rhetoric is important,” he told the BBC. “You need to send out of a powerful signal to the world that we are open for business. I do worry a bit about the mood music.”

Overblown rhetoric eh? Of course Boris would never be guilty of such a thing:

"Up to 9,000 bankers could leave London in protest at the controversial and 'ill thought out' tax raid on their bonuses, the Mayor Boris Johnson warned yesterday...

He has had 'numerous' conversations with UK and foreign banks who are 'quite seriously reconsidering their earlier decisions to locate, grow or remain in London."

Quite seriously eh? So what happened to that exodus you spent so much time warning us about Boris?

"We have heard an awful lot about the stampede to Zurich, or wherever, but if you look at the numbers it hasn't happened"

Right. Which of course hasn't stopped you continuing to lobby for those same bankers to get even bigger tax breaks in the future, whilst raising fares and charges on the rest of us.

And of course your dedication to the cause has nothing to do with the fact that your campaign to be Mayor was mostly funded by the financial sector.

As you say, such "mood music" can be very important.

Happy New Year all.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Labour movement supporting Labour politician shock

Over the Christmas period Boris's little elves were working hard to promote the news that (and you may be shocked to hear this) trade unions are supporting Ken Livingstone's campaign to be Mayor.

The news that the Labour movement are supporting a member of the Labour party will surely rock Livingstone's campaign to its foundations, not least because of the large number of strikes on the Tube over recent years.

Now the fact that most of these strikes were undertaken whilst Boris was Mayor and were called by a union that does not support Livingstone shouldn't distract you from the killer fact that Ken is "the striker's friend." 

"Next year, every time we suffer at the hands of the unions – let’s remember who is really behind the misery we as Londoners are having inflicted upon us. And why."

So surely a vote for Ken is a vote for more strikes then?

*Boxing Day strike added to 2010 figure
And not if Boris's previous broken promises are anything to go on either.

Of course Boris's campaign are pushing the line that the recent strikes have been politically motivated in order to embarrass Boris and help Ken.

But if you look at the issue of ticket offices which is the main cause of recent strikes (Boxing Day excluded) Ken's position as Mayor was actually far more anti-union than his successor.

And in opposition it was Boris Johnson who was on the side of the strikers.

Isn't it funny how things work out eh Brother Boris?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

How bus passengers are funding Boris's congestion charge axe

At the last Mayor's Question Time Boris Johnson made a lot of fuss about the third consecutive freezing of his share of the council tax.

This has been heavily spun as a result of "prudence" on Boris's part.

However, this spin deliberately hides the fact that the overall cost of the Mayoralty on Londoners has continued to rise with fare increases massively outweighing any reductions in taxation.

And it also hides the deliberate political choice that Boris has made to cut taxes and charges for some, whilst hugely increasing fares for others.

This can be seen most clearly in Boris's decision to axe the Western extension of the congestion charge, which will come into effect this week.

TfL estimate that axing the charge will cost them £55 million a year.

So how can "prudent" Boris afford to lose so much income? Well by massively increasing fares elsewhere of course:

Increase in Bus Fares

Question No: 3888 / 2010

Caroline Pidgeon: What is TfL’s estimate of how much extra revenue the increase in bus fares from January 2011 will bring in 2011/12?

Answer from the Mayor: TfL estimates that the extra bus fares revenue in the year 2011/12 as a result of the January 2011 fare changes will be around £60m.

So that's £55 million less revenue from West Londoners paid for by £60 million extra from bus passengers.

It's a simple political choice. Force the cost of public transport up in order to keep the charges on property and motoring down.

Londoners can choose to either agree or disagree with that decision but the Mayor shouldn't keep pretending that he hasn't taken it.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Boris Johnson takes New Year's Wonga from loans company

"SOMETIMES YOU NEED SOME EXTRA CASH..." Photo taken by Diamond Geezer on the DLR
Not content with sending out JP Morgan's press releases for them Boris Johnson has now decided to take sponsorship from a high interest "short term loans" company over New Year's Eve. confirmed to me today that they are sponsoring free New Year's travel and their posters are apparently already being posted across the TfL network.

Now I know sponsorship is hard to find, but should the Mayor really be encouraging London's most desperate and needy to get themselves into even more debt over the Christmas period?

And how does this tie in with the Conservative party's pledge to "tackle Britains' debt culture"?

-Update- Green Party Assembly Member Jenny Jones said today:

"The Mayor of London must understand promoting 2689% borrowing is stupid and dangerous. Reducing public debt, by promoting private debt is irresponsible politics. We live in an age where personal debt is an all time high and it is the money men who are profiteering from the excess. This is giving a platform to a loan company just as Londoners are hit by the January blues, when bills arrive and cash is short."

Martin at Mayorwatch has a statement from TfL

Diamond Geezer kindly sent me the picture above taken on the DLR.

-Update- (21 Dec) Boris was on LBC today with James O'Brien where he seemed mighty confused about the issue saying that Wonga's interest rates were "extortionate" whilst claiming that it was "perfectly acceptable" for him to promote them...

O'Brien – There is concern about your choice of Wonga as a key sponsor for TFL over Christmas and New Year. Ken Livingstone has had his abacus out and has calculated a 2689% APR rate on their loans and he suggests it is not very wise of  you are selling their advertising on the buses and tubes?’

Boris – Well they’re are legitimate outfit and they are licensed to trade in this city, and if they want to sponsor, reduce cost of travel in London then that seems to me to be something that is perfectly acceptable. But what I would say and I would stress this, people should be aware of the extortionate rates of interest that they can charge and people should not enter into irrational or unwise debt obligations...

O'Brien– But you appreciate seeing it on side of bus or tube can actually camouflage what you have just described as extortion?

Boris – Well as I have said I think it is very important that people are aware of the massive downside of getting exposed to debt on this scale and I will lose no opportunity to make that point...

I think that opportunity has already been lost Boris.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Boris Johnson: severe delays in service

It's the weekend before Christmas in one of the most developed cities in the world.

I get up in the morning hoping to finish my Christmas shopping only to find that all trains on my branch of the Southeastern network have been diverted.

I consider getting some kind of bus-DLR-tube combination into town but take one look at the TfL website and think better of it:

So on potentially the busiest shopping weekend of the year, the city and it's economy is all but cut off to me. And what's our Mayor Boris Johnson going to do about all this?

"I don't actually have any say in the matter"

Which of course hasn't stopped him having plenty of say on topics (like airports in Kent) which he has no official control over.

And on the TfL network of which he *has* got official control over, and of which he has said previously that "I am TfL" he told his Twitter followers yesterday:

Coping well? Is this the Pyongyang style approach to political communications? 

I mean in what alternate reality can this sorry state of affairs be described  as "coping well?"

Of course we all know Boris doesn't use public transport but he can't be that out of touch surely?

But then maybe we're being a little unfair on Boris. I mean at least it's only the trains and tubes that have ground to a halt this year and not the entire bus network like last year:

Come on Boris. You've been in the job almost three years now. Time to get a grip.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Richard Barnbrook warned not to bully staff

Richard Barnbrook has been warned not to bully members of staff at City Hall after a former employee accused him of "continual bullying" which reduced one member of staff to tears.

Neo Nazi activist Tess Culnane who worked for Barnbrook for nine months, alleged that he:

  • Failed to respond to requests from members of the public "on the few occasions he attended City Hall" and threatened the complainant with dismissal when she brought such requests to him
  • Had a "continual bullying manner" and constantly threatened to sack his staff and replace them with his own people. 
  • Forced the Complainant’s colleague, X, to resign because of his perpetual hectoring manner. The Complainant alleges that, on one occasion, Mr Barnbrook reduced X to tears, followed her into the ladies’ toilet to continue to bully her, and then followed her into the City Hall cafĂ© to continue to verbally abuse X and threaten her with the sack.

Culnane also submitted a recorded telephone conversation with Barnbrook and statements from three other witnesses.

The Standards Committee decided that there was not enough firm evidence to refer the complaint for further investigation.

However they noted that they were still "extremely concerned about the nature of the allegations" and referred Mr Barnbrook for official guidance from the Monitoring Officer "as a precautionary measure, sought to safeguard existing and future staff."

Last year Barnbrook was suspended by Barking and Dagenham Council for making false claims about murders in the borough.

He then went on to lose his seat on the council this May alongside every other BNP councillor in London.

He has since been expelled from the British National Party and has indicated his intention to stand as an independent member of the London Assembly in 2012.

Monday, 13 December 2010

How far will the government go to stop protests?

We're only seven months in but already the new government is ironing out their authoritarian streak.

As anticipated by this blog "kettling" is back, and Home Secretary Theresa May now says that she wants an even more "robust" approach to demonstrations.

She has even indicated that she "will not stand in the way" of water cannon. I bet she won't!

Water cannon are already approved by Home Office in Northern Ireland but have never been used on the British mainland.

One Met officer welcomed their use telling the Telegraph

“It is very effective. The truck simply comes up and it sprays, rather than jets. It is like being in a power-shower times 10 and it takes the air away, which makes it difficult to breathe, so you have to move."

Other reports of injuries caused by water canons are more worrying.

However May says that the police should "look across the board at all the options that are available."

The Metropolitan Police Service who have been calling for a "debate" on all crowd control options since as early as 2005

According to one MPA report these methods include:

"items such as water cannon, discriminating irritant projectiles, attenuated energy projectiles and long-range acoustic devices"

So that's the soaking, shooting, chemical spraying and deafening of protestors.

At what point will our new "liberal" government stop "looking across the board" I wonder?

-UPDATE- BBC: Met in talks with N. Ireland Police over water cannon

You can read more about moves to stamp down on protests and strikes in London in my latest Snipe column.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

How the bendy bus "beat the tube strike"

Ever since Boris Johnson gave up on his promised no-strike deal with tube unions we have been submitted to a long list of headlines claiming that the "Boris Bike" scheme has "beaten the tube strike."

See examples  here, here, here, here and my favourite here.

Now I enjoy a good "Boris Bike" ride as much as the next person, but if there was one vehicle keeping Central London moving during the tube strikes, it wasn't the one painted blue and sponsored by Barclays.

No the real vehicle moving masses of stranded Londoners around was the soon to be extinct London bendy bus:

*Figures for 2nd November for the evening of the 2 November through to 3 November inclusive.

Figures I've obtained via Freedom of Information reveal that on the last strike day recorded, more journeys were made on the supposedly "loathed" bendy buses than on all of London's trams or the DLR.

And this is despite the fact that five of London's bendy bus routes have already been taken off the road.

By comparison on the last comparable strike day (04/10/2010) "Boris Bike" journeys made up just 0.3 per cent of all public transport journeys (river travel and taxis excluded).

And according to one report most of those journeys would have been made by hire bike in any case.

Because the truth is, the bike hire scheme whilst great fun will never be a mass form of transport in London.

Walk around Central London today for half an hour and I bet you will see more people on just one bendy bus than on all "Boris Bikes" put together.

So while I'm sure I'll enjoy my next ride on a "Boris Bike" I won't fool myself into thinking I'm "beating the tube strikes" or taking part in a "cycling revolution."

I'll just be taking part in a niche activity enjoyed by a lucky few. Unlike riding a bendy bus of course, which is a mass activity objected to by an obsessed few.

Who has paid for entry to Boris Johnson's "business club"?

The following story appears in this morning's CITY AM:


LONDON mayor Boris Johnson played host to a star-studded launch for the corporate sponsors of the charitable Mayor’s Fund for London yesterday morning, with grandees of the City treated to an 8am poached egg and salmon breakfast in return for their paid-up membership of the London Business Club – an organisation for fund donors.

The newly refurbished Savoy played host to the likes of ITIS and Streetcar chairman Sir Trevor Chinn, Goldman Sachs head of economics Jim O’Neill and former chief economist and deputy chairman of Man Group Stanley Fink. They were rubbing shoulders along the breakfast table with incoming Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond, who flipped open his chequebook to deliver a £50,000 donation over the meal.

Does this make anyone else feel uncomfortable?

Senior hedge fund managers and bankers are paying for entry to a "business club" and on at least two occasions they have met with the Mayor of London and his advisers in private.

There is no obligation for any of their donations to be made public and at least one of the donors is the Chief Executive of the company awarded a multimillion pound sponsorship deal with TfL.

This deal which has still left Londoners with a multimillion pound bill, was chosen despite Boris's election pledge to provide cycle hire at "no cost" to taxpayers, and despite the fact that rival deals would reportedly have cost Londoners far less or nothing at all.

This deal was also described by one source as "payback" for Boris's support of financial institutions during the banking crisis.

The very same institutions whose chief execs are now paying for membership of Boris's "business club."

Now the Mayor's charity does seem to be doing some good work but that good work should not be allowed to get in the way of some important questions.

As it stands people who want to buy influence over politicians have to declare their campaign donations on an official register.

We may not like the fact that wealthy people can buy influence in this way, but at least we can find out who they are and how much they've spent.

No such declarations have to be made for donations to the Mayor's Fund. We don't get to know what they donate and we don't get to know what access they subsequently receive.

In his defence, the Mayor argues that the charity is independent.

But how independent can it be, when Boris is the major fundraiser, sole patron and apparent landlord of the charity on the third floor of City Hall?

And how independent can Boris be when his own charity is so dependent on the continued generosity of a wealthy few?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

1000 fewer police officers in London this year

A recruitment freeze by Boris Johnson will lead to over 1000 fewer officers in the Metropolitan Police Service this year alone, the London Assembly have warned.

Figures unearthed by the Budget and Performance Committee show a predicted reduction of over 1000 officers between March 2010 and 2011 with more expected in the years to come.

The reduction is caused by a recruitment freeze which began in February this year.

The number of officers funded by third parties such as TfL is also set to reduce by around 25% over the next three years following government cuts.

The Met hopes to replace the 1000 warranted officers lost this year with an increase in the number of unpaid "Special Constables."

However a promise made just last year by Boris to "flood the capital" with 10,000 extra specials was described as "probably unachievable" by the Met this week.

Boris Johnson a "buffoon" says Guto Harri

Given the investigation into Boris Johnson's failure to declare his relationship with Helen Macintyre, it's worth pointing out that Helen isn't the first "close personal friend" that Boris has given a job to.

For that honour you have to go right back to Boris's old university friend, former rugby team-mate and bloody good chap Guto Harri.

Harri was given the plum role of Director of Communications (£127,784) when Boris first entered City Hall and has deservedly kept it ever since.

Still I do wonder whether Guto declared his own "close personal relationship" with Boris before filing this report for the BBC back in 2007:

In the clip Guto waxes of his old chum that "few have such a rare combination of qualities. Man of the people and toff, classical scholar and buffoon, much loved celebrity and politician." 

Bloody lefty BBC bias eh?

Still at least Guto ends the report wondering "is he actually qualified for the job?"

And luckily for Guto, old "buffoon" Boris decided he was...

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Me at the New Statesman on the Lewisham Protests

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Boris Johnson under investigation for misconduct

The following story appears in today's Observer. For some reason it isn't online so I've reproduced it below:

Boris Johnson faces probe over gift to key project

The Observer, 28-11-2010

Boris Johnson, the London mayor, is to be examined over allegations of misconduct involving the appointment of a woman with whom he allegedly had an affair and a private payment of £80,000 towards a key mayoral project. 

Allegations that Johnson broke the Greater London assembly's code of conduct are to be discussed by a standards committee later this month, according to letters seen by the Observer. The assessment subcommittee will discuss whether to take further action over the claims. 

Johnson could face an internal investigation or a formal inquiry by the local government watchdog, the Standards Board for England, which could ban him from public office for up to five years. John Biggs, deputy leader of the Labour group on the assembly, wrote to the assembly's monitoring officer, who investigates claims of misconduct, alleging that "the mayor may have brought his office into disrepute by failing to declare a close personal relationship with two people". 

The claims centre on art consultant Helen Macintyre, who allegedly had an affair with Johnson that began in January 2009. The following month Johnson met Macintyre and her then partner, Pierre Rolin, at a conference in Switzerland where it is understood they had drinks together. That May, Johnson signed a decision to approve a donation of £80,000 towards a 400ft tower project at the Olympic site. The donor was Rolin, a Canadian billionaire property adviser.

Boris under investigation for cronyism shock!

You can read the background to this story here.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Where is Boris Johnson's No-Strike Deal?

Here's the election leaflet Boris Johnson handed out to Londoners two and a half long years ago. Let's have a read shall we:

Let's break that down:

"There have been 16 tube strikes since Ken Livingstone became Mayor. Two for every year"

Two for every year! Can you imagine such a thing?

"Boris Johnson has a plan to deal once and for all with the unions?" (2008)

Oh really? So what is it?

"He will be proactive and negotiate a no-strike deal with the unions" (2008)

Right, so how many times have you proactively met with the unions since you were elected Boris?

"I have not spoken directly with union leaders but with plenty of people in Government" (2010)

Hmm. So that's no times. What about the rest ?

"At £4 London's single cash fare is three times the price of the European average"

My my that does sound bad. So you've brought that right down then Boris?

Next year "the zones 1-6 cash single fare will rise from £4.50 to £5.00" (Jan 2011)

So that's a 25% increase, not to mention the 44% increase to PAYG bus fares since 2008.

"Imagine another 4 years of it"

Indeed. Or another six years of it for that matter eh Boris?

Thanks to Val Shawcross AM for the scan of the leaflet.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Brian Coleman calls firefighter union thick thugs

There were calls for Boris Johnson's fire chief to stand down today after he labeled firefighting union members as "thugs and bullies" who are "thick [and] can't string a sentence together"

In an interview with the Ham and High out today Brian Coleman said that most firefighters were "decent" but added that:

"The union are thoroughly unpleasant and nasty lot - they always have been. They are not affiliated with the Labour Party and stories about bullying and intimidation go right back to the strike in the late 70s. You just have to stand up to thugs and bullies...

"Most of the union officials, if they had half a brain cell, they'd be dangerous. Most of them are thick, can't string a sentence together and frankly are incoherent. We have to break the FBU frankly..."

Coleman said that there would "inevitably" be job losses and confirmed that 27 fire engines could be cut despite Boris Johnson's denials.

"The dispute is not over by a long way so obviously the engines are still with Asset Co. They will remain there until the disputes over but it is meanwhile sensible to look at whether we need them. We have managed without them for a month, they've been sitting in a depot in South Ruislip - no one has noticed. We've got to save £60million in four years out of the Fire Brigade budget: we've got to make savings."

Green Party member of the MPA Darren Johnson said that Coleman was "addicted to conflict" and should resign:

"Brian Coleman's latest comments show that he has never been interested in resolving this dispute in an amicable way, he just wants to break the FBU. Even as the London Fire Brigade and the FBU are on the verge of an agreed settlement over shift patterns Brian Coleman weighs in and tries to wreck things. Brian Coleman has become addicted to conflict. It's time for him to go and the London Mayor should ask him to resign."

The interview comes shortly after Coleman's disastrous LBC encounter in which he contradicted the Mayor's promises to maintain fire engines and accused the Mayor of hanging him out to dry.

Labour's Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone said today:

"Boris must get a grip and sack his confrontational fire chief if we're to have long-term solutions to challenges facing the fire brigade."

The Mayor's office have yet to comment.

-Update- Labour's deputy leader on the London Assembly John Biggs has now written to Boris calling on him to sack Coleman.

FBU General Matt Wrack said today:

"It is important, if industrial relations in the fire service are to get back on an even keel, that we have someone sensible to talk to at the LFEPA.  I have been afraid recently, as his remarks became wilder, that Mr Coleman was starting to lose the plot. It appears he has now lost it...

"There are important things to talk about. There are the 27 fire engines which have been taken away from the London Fire Service.  Until yesterday, Mr Coleman was saying they were taken away because they were not needed.  Now we find they have been taken away because, in some way, Mr Coleman thinks it will punish the FBU.  It doesn’t punish the FBU; it punishes Londoners.  If there is a major incident – say a terrorist incident – we will need every fire engine we have, and I hope they will be speedily returned to their fire stations and be ready for deployment.”

Boris Johnson meanwhile says he has rebuked Brian but supports his "modernising agenda"

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Brian Coleman's lies exposed on LBC

I've just finished listening to Brian Coleman's extraordinary encounter with James O'Brien on LBC this morning.

You can listen to it from about 90 minutes in here, but if you haven't got the time the Standard's Ross Lydall has an excellent summary.

The interview exposes the fact that Coleman is indeed considering plans to cut fire engines despite the categorical denials given by both Boris Johnson and Coleman at last week's Mayor's Questions:

Ross Lydall also reveals the details of an off-air exchange in which Coleman disloyally accuses Boris of "hanging [him] out to dry." 

Coleman also apparently tried to smear O'Brien's mental health but I guess that kind of thing is to be expected from Coleman unfortunately.

But all of that aside the key point is that the man Boris has entrusted to look after London's fire service is a confirmed and disloyal liar. 

So just how much longer is Boris willing to put up with him?

-Update- LBC News story and James O'Brien's blog. Plus Dave Hill at The Guardian.

Monday, 22 November 2010

What has happened to the BNP's Great White Hope?

I haven't written much about Richard Barnbrook since my Guardian piece on him last year.

However, his decline has become if anything even more rapid than I foresaw back then.

First he was humiliatingly forced out of his "Barnbrook for Barking" campaign by Nick Griffin.

Then he forced the byelection of a local lollypop lady before losing that as well.

Then he resigned the BNP whip, singlehandedly managing to kick out the party from City Hall two years early.

And then he was permanently dispatched from the BNP with a caustic press release detailing his many alleged alcohol and competence problems.

And if none of that were enough he has now apparently suffered the ultimate humiliation of rejection by the thugs at the English Defence League.

I mean how incompetent do you have to be that neither the BNP nor the EDL want anything to do with you?

All of which makes me worry a little for Richard. 

At last week's Mayor's Question Time he failed to attend for the first time that I can remember and the Chair was given no explanation for his non-appearance.

So has anyone seen Richard Barnbrook, independent member of the London Assembly lately or has he finally done a Reginald Perrin on us? 

HMS Discovery: A Love Story by Richard Barnbrook (far right)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Boris Johnson on "kettling" protestors

Police should consider reintroducing the "kettling" of protestors following the scenes at Conservative Party Headquarters last week, Boris Johnson said yesterday.

Tory AM Gareth Bacon told the Mayor that the controversial method of confining protestors was "tremendously effective" and had only been stopped due to "howls of anguish" from the left.

The use of kettling was put under review by the Met last year following heavy criticism of its use during the G20 demonstrations. 

The Mayor said that the Met should investigate whether the "pendulum was allowed to swing too far" in the direction of protestor's rights.

TfL leak: tube stations unstaffed more frequently following cuts

A leaked document has revealed that increasing numbers of stations could be left unstaffed following cuts by the Mayor.

TfL and Boris Johnson have repeatedly promised that "future staffing proposals will continue to mean safe stations staffed at all times"

However according a document leaked to tube union RMT:

"There are a number of stations across the network which is [sic] left unstaffed from time to time.... With the OSP [station staff job cuts programme] and future station staffing changes it may become more of an issue at more locations more frequently.”

The London Underground document highlights concerns that passengers will be unable to hear announcements at unstaffed stations due to the disabling of the "long line PA" system.

Earlier this year another leaked document revealed that 439 shifts were left entirely unstaffed over a six month period, mostly at suburban stations.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said today:

“Unstaffed stations are a muggers and vandals paradise. The mayor has promised that there will be no unstaffed stations but his officials say not only that there will but that there already are. It’s about time they told the public the truth about their cuts plans."

Boris Johnson's "waterborne tube line" sinks at a rate of knots

I'm glad to see that a rare bout of common sense has broken out in the Mayor's office.

Asked by Caroline Pidgeon yesterday whether he would fight against dramatic cuts to the evening river service, Boris Johnson replied that:

"I don't propose to do anything to intervene here with Thames Clippers or to pour public subsidy into keeping the service going after nine o'clock"

Before explaining to a Tory enthusiast that:

"we are already subsidising passengers on the river quite considerably. We're subsidising more for instance than we are passengers on the buses. There is a limit to the amount of taxpayers money that you can pour into the River Thames."

Which is exactly what I have been arguing here on this blog for some time:

The river service whilst great fun to use, will never be a mass transport option for the simple reason that it is a far more expensive, slow and meandering option to get into town than the alternatives.

And when the government are slashing transport subsidies, the last thing the Mayor should do is pour even more money into a little used and inefficient service.

Of course being a politician, the Mayor has occasionally pandered to a number of special interest groups, not least of which is the "riverbus" lobby.

And amongst that group there are those who naively believed him when he told them that he backed a "dramatic expansion of the Thames Clipper commuter riverboat service."

Why they allowed themselves to believe this I can only guess although I suspect it may have something to do with a deep dislike of using the buses and trains with the rest of us.

So while I wish them well in their lobbying efforts, it seems the most they can hope for is a few extra signs and the occasional pat on the head from the man holding the purse strings.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Brian Coleman loses his cool in London Assembly meeting

It's not just students and anarchists losing their cool at the moment.

In fact Conservative London Assembly Member Brian Coleman nearly got himself thrown out of a City Hall meeting yesterday after this shouty tirade at the Chair Dee Doocey:

In the past Brian's been accused of reducing a young female member of the canteen staff to tears, and has reportedly apologised for shouting at the bereaved wife of a fire fighter.

So while Dee could easily deal with this outburst yesterday it really is time that his boss Boris Johnson had a word with him.

Because if he carries on like this, then at some point he's going to get both himself and the Mayor in some serious trouble.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Brian Coleman says brigade has "over-supply" of fire engines

Boris Johnson's fire chief risked further industrial strife today after he proposed cutting up to 27 fire engines across London.

In a last minute amendment to a Fire Authority budget committe, Chairman Brian Coleman suggested that:

"officers [should] explore, as part of the budget process, and report back to the Committee... on whether the Brigade needs all 27 of the fire appliances removed from stations during the current industrial action to be returned or whether there is an over-supply of appliances"

The fire engines were removed last month by the company hired to break the fire strikes and have not yet been returned.

Permanently removing all 27 would amount to an estimated 16% cut in the number of fire engines across the capital.

Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Mike Tuffrey said today:

“In the very same week that the fire union and management are finally sitting down and talking it is truly extraordinary that Brian Coleman should produce this ‘rabbit out of the hat’ proposal.   His badly timed proposal will only fuel the worst fears of the workforce.

"The fire authority has already produced a draft budget for next year which fully complies with the Mayor’s financial guidelines.  There is simply no need for such cuts despite some tough financial constraints.

“The Mayor must overrule Brian Coleman and make it crystal clear to Londoners that next year's budget will not see any ill thought out cuts to front line fire services.”

The timing is especially dangerous coming as it does within days of the Fire Brigade Union calling off a planned bonfire night strike.

The unions accepted arbitration on this occasion but have repeatedly warned in the past that Coleman has secret plans to close stations and remove fire engines.

Confirmation of this could bring the dispute right back to square one.

-Update (9/11) - The Evening Standard calculate the cuts could mean up to 500 firefighter jobs lost

Friday, 5 November 2010

Exclusive: "Social Cleansing" revealed at London council estate.

A London council is forcibly evicting tenants from a run-down estate in order to demolish their homes and replace them with far less social housing than was there before.

Council officials say the estate has "stigmatised" the area and insist that residents must be forced out before new homes are built in order to maximise the value of the land.

In the process playing fields have been concreted over, and hundreds of people have been left for years in frightening isolation in a crumbling, roach-ridden estate.

So am I talking about the Queen Caroline estate we've heard so much about in Tory Hammersmith and Fulham?

Or perhaps some other victim of Conservative "social cleansing"?

Actually no, I'm talking about the Ferrier Estate in Labour-run Greenwich, which surely has to be the grimmest place in all of London right now.

I've been covering goings on (or the lack of them) at the Ferrier for about a month or so and I'm only just starting to realise what a scandalous state of affairs it is.

The BBC to their credit have covered the story briefly but it's getting very little attention from the absentee local press and the Evening Standard.

Of course if this was a year ago and Greenwich was a marginal borough then perhaps we would have heard a lot more about it.

But sitting as they do in a rock-solid Labour seat, with a Council-run newspaper dominating the area, the Ferrier residents have little chance of getting themselves heard.

So even though my site The Kidbrooke Kite has only been going for a short while I'm already getting emails from residents desperate to voice their anger over their treatment by the council.

It's a sorry tale with many authors. So even though the Labour Council have acted badly, the coalition government are busy compounding the problem

Osborne's cuts to social housing means that much of the rebuilding may not now happen at all and a watchdog considering a complaint by residents has been summarily tossed on the quango bonfire.

All of which makes it a difficult story to get to the bottom of and an easy one for politicians and the press to ignore.

But with regeneration not due to finish for over a decade, the problems faced in Kidbrooke will sadly continue to run and run.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Brian Coleman asleep in The Mirror

It's good to see The Mirror running an "exclusive" picture of Brian Coleman asleep at his City Hall desk a mere year and a half after it was first published on this blog.

Still it is satisfying to see it in print, especially as Brian's appearing on our TV screens on an almost daily basis, Lord help us.

So while we're all looking, here's an (updated) list of highlight's from the life and times of our dear Brian.

During his time in office Brian has

Not to mention the small matter of accepting dinners and a £350 Harvey Nicks hamper off the company paid to (quite literally) break the fire strikes.

All of which has earned him repeated re-appointment by Boris Johnson.

Oh and the occasional well earned nap of course:

Monday, 1 November 2010

Labour Right reveal winning strategy for 2012 Mayoral election

Right-wing Labour MP Tom Harris posted the above image on his blog last night.

It's apparently a satire on the NEC's hypocritical decision to let Ken Livingstone off the hook last week.

But the thing about jokes is they're only funny if there's an element of truth in them.

And the truth is that there are those on the right of the party who would be far more relaxed about four more years of Boris than four more years of Ken.

Oona King's campaign (memorably described as a "boot camp for young Blairites") was always far more at ease attacking Ken than Boris.

Just as many Blairites now seem far more comfortable attacking Ed Miliband than David Cameron.

Chief among Labour's "Stop Ken 2012" campaign is London MP and Oona supporter Jim Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick was instrumental in stitching up the 2000 mayoral selection against Ken Livingstone and installing Frank Dobson (who came third).

He was also at the forefront of booting out Labour's Mayoral candidate in Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman and replacing him with Helal Abbas (who came a distant second).

Now Fitzpatrick wants to make it a hattrick by kicking out Ken Livingstone who is neck and neck with Boris and replacing him with some other dud.

That now looks incredibly unlikely. 

However at the very least the Labour right will spend the next year and a half doing all they can to undermine the Labour candidate and by default hand the election to the opposition.

Which is exactly what they're attacking Ken for.

Of course Tom's "satire" this morning would carry slightly more weight if he hadn't himself once openly and non-satirically campaigned for another Tory candidate:

But then I guess such high-minded principles can be very flexible things.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Cameron sharpens his axe for Boris's development agency

Staff at Boris Johnson's redevelopment agency were told today that only budgets "already legally committed" to would be paid next year as David Cameron gets set to axe the LDA.

News earlier this week that the agency's £489 million budget would be wiped out were confirmed by a spokesperson for the LDA today who said that the organisation would close entirely by 2012.

Their budget will be slashed to £56 million next year before disappearing altogether in 2012.

Hundreds of jobs will be lost in the process.

GLA Chief Executive Leo Boland told staff today that Boris was "continuing to negotiate with the Government over the LDA’s settlement" and "working through the potential impact" of the cuts.

However, the huge funding reductions means that many of the Mayor's development and environment programmes will soon cease to exist entirely.

Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson said today:

"The Government has cut the Mayor's plans to create 14,000 jobs, cut our energy bills and revitalise our parks. With no money to pay for his flagship programmes, his climate change strategies now lie in tatters. The Mayor's defence of the environment was more of a Maginot Line than a Stalingrad moment."

Continuing the theme Labour's mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone said that: 

“The Mayor’s so-called ‘Stalingrad-like’ defence of London is a sham. Events this week suggest an approach reminiscent of Dads Army than the Stalingrad style defence Boris Johnson promised."

The news follows a day in which Boris first made a passionate defence of housing benefits only to then make a humiliating reverse of his position just hours later.

His comments prompted open hostility from Cameron for the first time and the Prime Minister is now threatening to withdraw new powers promised to the Mayor.

All of which has caused some to ask just when Boris is going to find some backbone?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Thames Clippers cut back in the evenings

The Thames Clipper service is to be dramatically cut back on both weekday and weekend evenings, it was revealed today.

The last weekday service east which currently leaves the Embankment just before midnight, will now leave just after nine, and the last service west will now leave just after eight.

The changes come as the government implement big cuts to transport subsidies and as TfL are sacking staff and raising fares.

Under such conditions, the already heavily subsidised and inefficient river service was never going to come out well.

Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, who noticed the changes said today:

"No one would ever accept the last bus leaving central London as being as early as nine o’clock in the evening -   there is no reason why river transport should be any different...

"The Mayor was elected promising to improve river services and claiming that the river should be a vital part of an integrated transport strategy.  This decision totally shatters that claim."

While I agree that this will affect those (very few) people who use the late service, I disagree that such a little used and niche service should be protected when others are going to the wall.

The river is an enjoyable option into town if you can afford the price and time it takes, but it was never going to be a replacement for the other far more direct and mass transit modes.

Of course the decision will be bad news for those who prefer to pay to avoid using the trains and buses with the rest of us.

But when money is tight these are exactly the sort of services that should be cut back first.

More reaction from the Greenwich end of the service at 853

Monday, 25 October 2010

Tories rally against Boris Johnson's "obscene" airport plans

Boris Johnson has angered his Conservative neighbours in Kent once again after reports that he is considering resurrecting a project to build an airport on the Hoo Peninsula.

Plans for an airport at Cliffe were dropped by the last Labour government following strong opposition in the local area.

And earlier this month the coalition government appeared to rule out Boris's preferred alternative, an island airport in the Thames Estuary:

Boris Johnson's plan for an airport in the Thames Estuary suffered a fresh blow today after senior ministers ruled it out on cost grounds.

Senior sources at the Department for Transport suggested that unless an “innovative model” to finance the £40 billion scheme was found it was “unlikely” to go ahead.

I think "unlikely" is being a little generous to this total non-starter of a scheme. 

However, the slightly more feasible option of building an airport on the Hoo Peninsula is now being pushed by some airline tycoon or other, and the Mayor is happy to let it be known he's interested.

However the Conservative leader of Medway Council, is not so happy:

"I am furious that this unwelcome proposal to concrete over the Hoo Peninsula to create an international airport is back on the table....

The pie in the sky idea of building an airport in the Thames Estuary, being pushed by Boris Johnson to deflect the debate away from Heathrow expansion, is virtually dead.

Yet still Boris persists by resurrecting unacceptable proposals to build an airport in Medway that would cause massive environmental damage and be potentially dangerous to passengers and aircraft through the risk of bird strike...

This is an obscene proposal that must never be allowed to get off the ground."

The press release goes on in similarly annoyed terms for another few paragraphs, which leaves me wondering:

Why does Boris continue to pursue these schemes that have no backing amongst his own party and which aren't even within his jurisdiction?