Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Bertha Joseph "will not stand as a Conservative"

Boris Johnson's disgraced former fire chief Bertha Joseph will no longer be a candidate for the Conservative Party one of her colleagues said today.

Senior Brent Tory John Detre told me that Bertha had been a "hard working councillor" who was "hounded out by the Labour Party."

However, when asked whether she would stand for them again, he replied:

"No she will not stand as a Conservative."

Cllr Detre's comments came after Bertha resigned from the Fire Authority, and after I revealed that she was the subject of a new complaint about her association with a convicted fraudster.

The complaint, submitted last week, is due to be investigated by the Council in the run up to the local elections.

Labour group leader Cllr Ann John has since called on the Tories to rule Bertha out as a candidate.

Responding to Cllr Detre's comments today she said:

"The Tories promoted Bertha Joseph to be Deputy Chair of the Fire Authority after the Standards Committee had found her guilty of bringing the council into disrepute. She has since brought their party into further disrepute and they have been forced to ditch her only after months of bad publicity. Bertha Joseph is the kind of politician who gives all politicians a bad name, so good riddance."

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Labservatives Can't Win Here!

The Lib Dems have just launched a rather clever campaign for the "Labservatives" which urges voters to break the two party domination of British politics.

Now I have a lot of sympathy with this. I think voters should be encouraged to vote for whichever party they want to win, regardless of their electoral chances.

So why is it that the Lib Dems are so keen on dodgy graphs like this?

or this?

Could it be that they're not quite as against the "two horse race" as they'd like to make out?

Lib Dem and Labour street fight over Police cuts

Yesterday was the start of the local elections campaign here in London and the fight is already getting dirty.

One such scrap is taking place in ultra marginal Waltham Forest where the Lib Dems are furious at "Labour's lies" about police numbers.

Labour leaflets claim that the Lib Dems "want to cut the number of police in Waltham Forest" whilst being "in cahoots with Tory mayor Boris plans to cut police numbers."

The Lib Dems deny this, pointing to their fervent opposition to Boris's police cuts on the London Asssembly.

They also point to their cross party campaign to get more police officers in the borough, repeatedly acknowledged by the Labour Council leader himself:

One Lib Dem source told me:

"This is now the incredible fibs Labour are peddling on the ground. It is a fact that the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group voted against Boris Johnson's cuts in police numbers. The group's budget amendment not only proposed to reverse the cut in police numbers (455 officers over the next 3 years), but actually proposed extra police officers in certain key boroughs where there are high levels of gun and knife crime - that included Waltham Forest, where this leaflet is going out... The leaflet is not spin, but lies."

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest Lib Dems said:

"The Lib Dems voted in favour of (indeed helped to put together) the council budget which funds the ten extra police officers which Labour is trying to claim credit for. It seems Labour is desperately trying to rebrand a council campaign backed by all three political parties as one of their own, and turning history on its head to do so."

I emailed Waltham Forest Labour party for an explanation of their claims yesterday, but unfortunately they have as yet failed to respond.

So can anyone out there get to the bottom of this fight?

Is this just a bad case of spin, or outright lies?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Bertha Joseph faces further misconduct claims

Boris Johnson's former fire chief Bertha Joseph is facing further misconduct claims after a complaint was made about her association with a convicted fraudster.

Documents seen by this blog reveal that Bertha recommended the late Aloysius "Rocky" Fernandez for an honour despite his previous conviction for fraud.

The recommendation was typed on headed paper from "The Worshipful the Mayor of the London Borough of Brent."

In the letter she recommended Fernandez as an "unsung hero" who "is always ready to go 'beyond the call of duty' and never asks for anything in return."

Fernandez was dismissed from Brent Council's social services department in 1997 for housing benefit fraud.

He would later plead guilty at Harrow Crown Court.

In a statement released by the council at the time a spokesperson said:

"Fraudsters deprive those in genuine need and reduce the amount the Council can spend on services. It is doubly bad when one of our own officers is committing fraud against us."

Joseph claims that she was not aware of Fernandez's conviction until much later.

She told me yesterday:

"Brent Council employs a lot of people, I couldn't be expected to know about every disciplinary action taken"

However, the conviction was widely known and Joseph was a close associate of Fernandez.

At one point she was involved in a legal dispute between him and two of his clients.

Lorraine Moss and Richard Byrne claim they paid Fernandez £10,000 for legal representation, which he failed to provide.

After refusing a refund, Fernandez turned up at their house with the police and Bertha Joseph by his side.

Moss claims that Fernandez tried to force his way into their home before serving them with a "non-molestation" injunction.

A judge would later lift the injunction stating that there were "considerable mysteries" about how it had been obtained.

Lorraine Moss believes that Bertha gave Fernandez the credibility he needed and greatly added to their difficulties.

After the incident Moss wrote to senior Conservatives with her concerns and has now made an official complaint to Brent Council.

Asked about this incident, Ms Joseph claimed that she did not know why Fernandez had taken her along to Moss's home:

"Rocky and I were members of the same charity committee and we were going somewhere else and he said that he needed to deliver some papers first. I had no idea what he was going to do before we got there. I do not remember exactly what happened."

Within months of the incident Joseph and Fernandez fell out spectacularly.

The cause is unclear, but Fernandez would later submit a number of complaints against her to Brent Council, one of which led to her suspension.

Bertha Joseph said yesterday:

"Rocky was a good man but like lots of people he switched. He made lots of other complaints against me but they were all thrown out. He wasn't a well person."

Ms. Joseph also denied reports that Boris Johnson sacked her from the London Fire Authority last week.

She said that she had taken the decision to stand down herself, so that she would no longer be a "distraction" to her party.

"It was very painful but I didn't want to be a distraction to the good work being done by Boris and the Conservative Party."

She said that that the claims against her had been a "smear campaign" and that she had never tried to conceal the donations used to buy ball gowns:

"There was never any attempt to conceal. This whole episode is a smear campaign by the Labour party because when you consider what has happened in the house of commons I am not a cab for hire, I didn't claim for pornographic films... I was raising money for charity."

She said that she was "guilty as charged" of failing to declare this money but denied any dishonesty.

Asked whether she would stand for re-election she said:

"Well you never know do you? I think that it is an exciting time for the Conservative party and there is a general election coming, so you never know."

Bertha Joseph remains suspended from Brent Council. They will now consider the new complaint made by Lorraine Moss.

The Metropolitan Police are also looking into a separate allegation of theft made against her.

-Update- Brent Council have now confirmed that they will investigate the complaint by Lorraine Moss before the elections.

Evening Standard: More Trouble for Bertha

Friday, 19 March 2010

Why Brian Coleman was sacked

Brian Coleman was sacked as Chair of a National fire council because of "multiple concerns" about his behaviour towards others.

The sacking, which I first reported on Tuesday has now been picked up by the Local Government Chronicle:

"London Assembly Member and Barnet LBC councillor Brian Coleman (Con) has been sacked as chair of the National Joint Council for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services.

The decision to remove him from post was made by the Local Government Association’s political group leaders, and conveyed in an e-mail from chief executive John Ransford.

It follows complaints about Cllr Coleman’s behaviour at a meeting of the National Joint Council (NJC) in December last year.

Cllr Coleman said he accepted he had been “extremely rude” at the meeting, but insisted he had been enraged by what he described as fellow councillors’ stretching of business. “

"The cause of this sacking was pressure from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish members of the NJC, or as a senior officer from the LGA described them to me, ‘the Celts’,” he said

Now I've also spoken to people involved in this and they've told me that "the cause" was Brian's consistently belligerent attitude and abusive behaviour towards other politicians and members of staff.

Behaviour that he has repeated at Boris Johnson's Fire authority.

This was confirmed by the LGC:

"A senior LGA source said that complaints about Cllr Coleman had not been limited to the NJC’s non-English contingent and that efforts to resolve the dispute had failed.

“There are multiple concerns about Brian Coleman’s behaviour in a range of different circumstances,” they said.

“This case isn’t an isolated incident, it is repeated bad behaviour.”

Unfortunately, it's bad behaviour that Boris Johnson appears willing to tolerate. Why is that?

More evidence of Brian Coleman's tirades at staff

After watching yesterday's shameful events I popped into the Fire Authority's legal department to have a look through some documents.

Unlike at City Hall, the results of investigations into members of the authority are not published on the website.

If you want to see what the likes of Brian, or Bertha have (or haven't) been up to then you have to go into the offices and ask. And you have to know what you're asking for.

The documents I was interested in were the decision notices, which detail the results of Standards Committee investigations into members of the authority.

An official handed me a slim folder with all the notices published (hidden in a file) since the authority was set up.

They told me that one complaint about a member had been "withdrawn" from the file, although no explanation was given for this.

Looking through the remaining notices it soon became clear that there had been a change of policy within the last couple of years.

Whereas previously the names of the accused were included (as they are at City Hall) their names had been removed from the later complaints.

However, I could at least read them. Two were complaints about a suspended councillor's continued role on the authority (Bertha Joseph obviously) but one was even more interesting.

I wasn't allowed to photocopy it although I did take a sneaky picture of it on my phone.

Here's what I transcribed:


A complainant alleged that a member of the authority had verbally abused a member of the canteen staff and had on a second occasion also behaved abusively to her.

The facts if proven, would constitute a breach of the LFEPA's Members Code of Conduct paragraphs 3 (i) and possibly 3(2) (b)

However in light of

a) the lapse of time since the events complained of
b) the apparent fact that an apology on behalf of the member concerned had been conveyed to the member of the catering staff concerned and
c) the apparent unwillingness of the member of catering staff to pursue the matter; the Sub Committee decided that no further action should be taken.

This document corroborates my story from last September that

  1. A member of the Authority's catering staff claimed that Coleman had launched into an "aggressive and rude" tirade against her.
  2. The woman, who was employed within the brigade headquarters, said that Coleman had reduced her to tears on two separate occasions.
  3. The brigade's Director of Resources Barbara Riddell personally apologised for the incident on Coleman's behalf.

This "aggressive and rude" behaviour is also why Brian was forced out of his job as Chairman of a National Fire organisation last week.

At yesterday's meeting he told the authority that they could read "an exclusive account" of the "real reason" for his departure in the Local Government Chronicle next week.

The "real reason" is that he is a liability. After yesterday's dreadful publicity, even Boris Johnson should realise that by now.

-Update- I have now obtained a scanned copy of the decision notice. I understand that the decision is currently under review.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tories hide disgraced councillor from camera crews

There were farcical scenes today as London Conservatives tried to hide a disgraced councillor from television news crews.

London Tonight and the BBC had both come to film suspended councillor Bertha Joseph as she voted in favour of Boris Johnson's plans for the Fire Authority.

However, the camera crews were ordered to leave at the "discretion" of the Chairman Brian Coleman.

Opposition members spoke up against the order, but were shouted down by Coleman, leading the Liberal Democrat group to walk out in protest.

Officials confirmed to me that crews had been allowed to film meetings before.

Despite this Brian Coleman refused to allow a vote on the issue.

Liberal Democrat Authority Member Caroline Pidgeon said after the meeting:

“The Tories want to hide their shameful secret from the public that today’s Budget was passed due to the support of Councillor Joseph – someone who has been found guilty of serious wrongdoing and is unable to act as a councillor in her own borough.

“This is simply wrong and the Liberal Democrats want no part of this. It brings the Authority and the Mayor into disrepute.”

“It is time that the Mayor took decisive action and sacked Bertha Joseph”.

However, the Mayor has repeatedly refused to sack her from his Fire Authority.

Today's budget meeting was his last opportunity to do so before the elections.

Boris wrote to Bertha two weeks ago today, giving her 14 days to respond.

However, even if Boris does choose to sack her now it would make little difference.

In order to get through his policies, he has given up his principles. Bertha Joseph was always expendable once that happened.

Any claim to have "cleaned up London politics" should now be treated with the scorn it deserves.

-Update- Bertha Joseph has now resigned:

A spokesperson for the Mayor said:

"Bertha Joseph has offered her resignation from the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and the Mayor has accepted it.

Councillor Joseph still disputes the complaint made against her but the Mayor believes the first tier tribunal made a compelling case against her continuing to serve on the authority.

The Mayor had allowed Ms Joseph two weeks to make her case to him, in the interests of natural justice and due process.

In the last hour, she has written to the Mayor to offer her resignation. As there are no more scheduled meetings of LFEPA until after the local elections and the authority is about to go into purdah, the Mayor will await the annual review of LFEPA membership in May before appointing a new member to the Board."

London Assembly Labour Leader Len Duvall said:

"You have to question the integrity and judgement of this mayor standing by someone who has been disgraced and banned from public office. It's not the first time one of the mayor's appointments has had to leave under a sleazy cloud but he could have done the right thing a lot sooner."

London Tonight and the BBC had damning reports:

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Boris Johnson's secret plans to close ticket offices

Boris Johnson was accused of lying today after it was revealed that he plans to permanently close a number of Underground ticket offices across London.

The Mayor has repeatedly denied that he will close any ticket offices, and even campaigned on the issue during the election.

However, a leaked TfL document today reveals that at least eleven ticket offices will permanently close with many dozens more having their hours drastically cut.

Asked at City Hall today whether he planned to close any ticket offices, he replied:

"The first and most important point to make is that no ticket offices will be closed, alright? They're not going to be closed."

Pushed on this point, he replied:

"The answer to the number of ticket office closures is: nil."

However, soon after the meeting finished, a TfL document emerged, detailing just such a series of closures.

According to the plans, the following ticket offices will now permanently close:

  • Charing Cross (Trafalgar)
  • Monument
  • South Woodford (West)
  • Woodford (West)
  • Earls Court (Warwick Road)
  • Aldgate East (East)
  • Cannon Street
  • Canary Wharf (East)
  • Waterloo (Main - Excess)
  • Waterloo (Shell)
  • Wembley Park (Bridge Road)

Remaining ticket offices will open later in the morning and close earlier at night. Many will also close in the afternoons.

TfL confirmed that the document was genuine but said that all closures would be open to consultation.

Labour Assembly Member Navin Shah who has long campaigned against ticket office closures said today:

"Boris Johnson has misled Londoners. These documents released today show that he was not telling the truth. Several ticket offices will close, others will close for most of the week and large numbers of offices will see their opening hours drastically cut. Nearly five hundred ticket office staff will be lost under these Conservative cuts and many stations will feel less safe and less friendly as a result."

The revelation comes after the Mayor announced plans to cut up to 800 members of staff across the network.

It also comes as Tube unions threaten to strike over the cuts.

Asked about the Mayor's comments today a spokesperson said:

"This Mayor takes his promises to Londoners extremely seriously. Every station that has a ticket office will continue to have one.”

Even if there's nobody actually in them...

-Update- Read the full list of closures here

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Brian Coleman forced out of National fire job

Boris Johnson's fire chief Brian Coleman has lost his position as Chairman of a National fire board after increasing concerns about his behaviour.

The LGA confirmed to me this morning that Brian is no longer Chairman of the National Organisation of Employers of Local Authority Fire & Rescue Services.

A spokesman said that Brian had lost his position but would not confirm the exact date or circumstances of his departure.

Brian himself has also failed to respond to my questions about this.

However sources within the National Joint Council tell me that Brian's chairmanship was recently the subject of a vote of no confidence.

They say that there have been "major grumblings" about his behaviour at meetings, and that complaints have been made by members.

A snapshot of this can be seen from this account of last week's LGA fire conference. According to one person who was present:

"Coleman is Conservative national lead on fire issues at the LGA, and since the Tories control the LGA, was in overall command of the conference. He was bullish and unpleasant (as I understand he often is) in introducing Roger Hargreaves, who is CLG's director of FiReControl, and then, from the chair of the conference, continued to snipe during his speech."

Brian's "challenging" behaviour has been the subject of complaints before.

Last year I obtained leaked minutes describing a complaint about Brian's "aggressive and rude" comments to a member of the LFEPA catering staff.

Worries about this had already been picked up by an earlier Audit Commission report.

He was also censured last year for his "unlawful" and undemocratic chairmanship of an LFEPA meeting.

Yet this is the first time that Brian has actually lost one of his many "catered" positions.

Perhaps the Toad is finally beginning to turn.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Boris Johnson breaks promise on ticket offices

Boris Johnson will break his promise to keep all ticket offices manned on the London Underground it was announced today.

Up to 800 jobs will go across the network including 450 ticket office positions and 200 other station posts.

TfL admit that this will mean many more unmanned ticket offices across the network, although none will close permanently.

In Boris Johnson's Transport manifesto he promised to ensure that "there is always a manned ticket office at every station."

However, the recession, losses from the PPP, and Boris's own spending commitments means that he will now break that promise.

The Liberal Democrat's London Transport spokesperson Caroline Pidgeon said today:

“Boris Johnson was elected promising to defend ticket offices and stop any planned closures that the previous Mayor was proposing across the London Underground network. Today’s announcement is a breathtaking breach of that key commitment he made to Londoners. It’s a complete u-turn."

Labour's London Transport spokesperson Val Shawcross said:

"This is the latest in a long line of broken Boris Johnson promises. He was elected on a pledge of protecting ticket offices and the staff who keep our stations safe but cuts, especially at outer London stations, will make them less safe and passengers feel less secure."

Union bosses have also pledged to fight the decision. RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said this afternoon:

"If these cuts to jobs are bulldozed through by TfL it will turn London’s tube stations into a muggers paradise. RMT will fight to protect passenger and staff security on London Underground and in the event of compulsory redundancies and the undermining of tube safety we will have no hesitation in balloting for action.”

London Underground insist that there will be no compulsory redundancies, and point out that more and more people now use pre-paid Oyster Cards.

And with Boris already raising fares year on year, this is a painful but probably necessary pill for us to swallow.

Spencer Drury on Olympic failures in Greenwich

You can now read all three parts of my interview with the Conservative candidate for Greenwich and Woolwich Spencer Drury over here.

In the final part Spencer speaks out against building a temporary Olympic stadium in Greenwich Park and claims that the Council are failing local children.

Spencer was very generous with his time and I was impressed with his obvious knowledge and passion for the area, even if I don't agree with all of his politics.

Over the last year I've also interviewed Greenwich's current MP Nick Raynsford, and the area's London Assembly representative Len Duvall.

Go to my page at to read them all.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Greenwich Tories promise to close "morally wrong" council newspaper

In part two of my interview with Spencer Drury he promises to dismantle the "taxpayer funded infrastructure" of Greenwich Time and calls Chris Roberts a "divisive" and unpopular leader of the council

You can read both parts here.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Boris's Tunnel U-Turn a "huge disappointment"

Head over to for the first part of my interview with the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Greenwich Spencer Drury.

In it he speaks about the "huge disappointment" caused by the Mayor's decision to break his promise over Blackwall Tunnel and accuses Greenwich Council of failing to get a lasting egacy from the Olympics.

In later parts he accuses the Labour leader of the Council of being a "divisive" and unpopular figure and explains why he almost decided to quit politics altogether.

I will post up more links as the week goes on.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Tory Council demands meeting with Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is continuing on his Kamikaze mission to build an airport in the Thames Estuary, despite all major parties opposing it both nationally and locally.

Now the Conservative leader of Medway Council has had enough.

He has written the following open letter, demanding a face to face meeting with the Mayor:

Dear Boris

It would appear that a number of differing and conflicting views are coming out of your office with regards to the Thames Estuary airport.

Last week, I went with my fellow councillors as part of a delegation from Medway Council to see deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, to demand that your island airport plan is grounded.

We all made our view completely clear – that we are unanimously against this pie in the sky scheme.

Mr Malthouse told us that the steering group you have set up into the airport will continue and that he hoped that ‘from a personal point of view’ we will eventually see the benefit of placing a six runway airport on an island off the Kent and Medway coast.

This is despite the fact that the infrastructure needed for this would devastate the countryside here. Not to mention the damage aircraft landing and taking off in the estuary would do to the internationally renowned environmental wetland sites on the Hoo Peninsula and along the Thames where hundreds of thousands of birds migrate to annually.

Hours after our meeting it emerged that your chief engineer behind the airport plan, Doug Oakervee, had suddenly, and somewhat mysteriously, pulled out of an important meeting with the London Assembly on the airport due to take place this week.

Just days later, you were on BBC’s Question Time telling the audience: “I don't want to build an estuary in the, er, an airport in the Thames Estuary.”

This lack of clarity is confusing and I strongly feel this whole matter needs to be cleared up.

Last year, I wrote to you asking for a meeting with Medway Council's group leaders. You replied stating that you would not meet me at that time, but that we could see Mr Malthouse instead. As mentioned, we did last week.

In view of the events that followed, coupled with the fact that I do strongly believe it is correct and proper that we meet with you as the mayor rather than with a deputy, I now urge you to reconsider and agree to such a meeting.

As before, I would request that this meeting with you not only includes myself, but the other group leaders of Medway Council.

I feel that this is the only way we can properly tell you why we are unanimously of the view that your plan for an island airport off the Kent and Medway coast must not happen.

Your sincerely,

Rodney Chambers,
Leader of Medway Council

[my hyperlink]

Interesting that Kit Malthouse and Boris believe people will "eventually see the benefit" of the airport, when even their own party leader and councillors currently don't.

I wonder how they plan to change people's minds?

Mayor answers to London
Thames Estuary Airport
[Supplementary question]
Question number 2382/2008
Meeting date 12/11/2008

Question by Kit Malthouse

Mr Mayor, would you agree with me that if on 17 January this year BA flight 038 had come down 800 yards short of where it actually crash landed at just over the perimeter of Heathrow we would not actually be arguing about re-siting the airport, we would be discussing where the best place to put it is?

Answer by Boris Johnson

I could not put the point more powerfully...

Well I guess they could always raise fears and exploit personal tragedy? It's worked before.

-Update- Rodney Chambers has also written a piece for MayorWatch calling Boris "increasingly isolated" over the airport.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Cross-party coalition calls for end to Boris Island

Politicians from across the political spectrum today called for Boris Johnson to finally rule out building an airport in the Thames Estuary.

The calls from Labour, Lib Dem, Green and even Conservative politicians comes after the Mayor appeared to rule out the project.

Speaking on Question Time last night Boris said:

"I don't want to build an airport in the Thames Estuary."

However his aides later backtracked claiming that:

"The mayor was referring to the fact that there are no actual plans in place to build an airport."

Despite these denials, Boris does in fact have plans to spend £5 million on investigating just such an airport.

He also believes that it could be the "biggest" and "bravest" project he could do.

Labour Transport Minister Sadiq Khan MP said today:

"Boris Johnson's comment last night is further proof that the idea of a Thames Estuary airport is in chaos. It cannot be justified on transport grounds and has no serious support from any quarter. It is hard to see how any further public expenditure on this idea can be defended."

Labour Vice Chair of the London Assembly transport Committee Val Shawcross said:

"There is real confusion about the mayor's aviation plans and a multi-million pound, six-runway airport is not something to flip-flop over. We know that he is thinking of spending taxpayers' money on this which would be bizarre if it's not something he wants to do. Going into an election, Londoners deserve to know what the Conservative's plans are. Do they want this environmentally ruinous idea to go ahead or not? For once Boris should give us a straight answer.”

Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson said:

“I want the Mayor to confirm that he will not waste £5m of public money investigating a new airport in the Thames Estuary. Anyone can see that this plan is a non-starter, which is why numerous previous studies have all resulted in its rejection. The threat of birdstrike, the damage to the important ecology of the estuary, the impact on local communities and the lack of public transport links are just a few of the insurmountable problems. It would be inexcusable to spend £5m on completely unnecessary further research”.

Liberal Democrat Assembly Transport Spokesperson Caroline Pidgeon said:

"No attempt at spinning by the Mayor’s office can explain away the totally contradictory statements that the Mayor has made over the Thames Estuary Airport in the last 18 months. The Mayor must now listen to the incredible coalition of people who are opposed to the proposed airport and finally end the sorry saga of this pie in the sky idea.”

And the Conservative Leader of Medway Council Rodney Chambers said:

“It would appear from what the Mayor said on Question Time that he may be backtracking on his airport plan for the Thames Estuary. If this is indeed what he meant we would, of course, welcome this. It comes after myself and other group leaders from Medway Council went to see his deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, on Tuesday to demand he drops the scheme. And it follows our own survey, which was published in Monday’s Evening Standard, which shows that none of the major airlines using Heathrow want the Thames Estuary airport either. I would now call upon the mayor to clarify exactly what he meant. If he is making moves to drop the estuary airport it would be welcomed by people across Medway and Kent, but he does need to confirm this.

“I have said from the outset that this airport is a pie in the sky scheme and that phrase would appear to be getting more and more poignant as this goes on.”

David Cameron is also apparently furious about the plans.

It's time to listen up Boris. Nobody wants you to pour any more money into this scheme.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Boris Johnson "reluctant" to sack Bertha Joseph

The word coming out of City Hall is that Boris Johnson is still "considering" sacking the disgraced Deputy Chair of the Fire Authority Bertha Joseph.

Well don't hurry yourself Boris. It's only been five months since she was suspended.

Leader of the Labour group on the London Assembly, Len Duvall, said today:

"Boris has known about this since October, if not before. You have to wonder why it's taking him so long to decide whether someone who spent money intended for children's charities on ball gowns for herself is not fit for office? I understand Boris's reluctance to lose yet another appointment in sleazy circumstances but it's time he did the right thing and removed this councillor from his administration."

Boris had previously refused to sack Bertha Joseph, telling me that there was "nothing to prevent" her from staying.

However, things have got sticky for Bertha in the past few days and the police have even been called in.

Faced with this, Boris has now written to Bertha and given her another 14 days to think about it.

As Pippa Crerar reports at the Standard:

"She is effectively being told to go - I hear that she knows this and will do the right thing - but the Mayor is reluctant to give his political enemies the prize they have been so desperately seeking. Especially as Bertha was a Labour councillor at the time of the offences."

In other words she should go, but she shouldn't go. And it's all a vendetta. And besides she's Labour anyway. Or she was once. Or something...

Decisive leadership there Boris.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Boris Island engineer marooned in Hong Kong

The man appointed to lead Boris Johnson's beleaguered Island Airport scheme has pulled out of a key meeting with the London Assembly.

Civil engineer Doug Oakervee had for several months been booked for questioning by members of the Environment Committee.

However, Doug's employers Laing O'Rourke wrote to the committee's chair last week stating that "this is no longer the position."

According to company bosses, Oakervee is:

"required to be in Hong Kong to play a key role in our tender programme for the "Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and other major projects in the Region."

and is therefore:

"unlikely to be available to your committee for some months to come."

The news comes a day after:

  • Tory representatives of Kent Councils protested against the airport and the "predatory" Mayor.
  • "90% of airlines" came out against the plans.
  • After claims by Boris's former deputy that David Cameron was furious about the proposals.

Millions to be poured into the Estuary

Despite all this opposition, Boris still wants millions of pounds more to be spent on the scheme.

According to minutes of a meeting of the Steering Committee, Boris wants a further feasibility study into the proposals costing £5 million.

Boris believes it would be funded by "other bodies" including central government (unlikely) Kent Council (even more unlikely) and even Boris's own London Develeopment Agency.

Although quite why he thinks money for the development of London should be spent on the development of Kent is anyone's guess.

However, there are signs that even Boris's Steering Committee now have doubts about the airport.

According to the minutes of their first meeting last December:

"Sir David noted that the title of the group was to be the Thames Estuary Steering Group rather than the Thames Estuary Airport Steering Group...

The Group discussed its scope and role, with particular reference to whether or not it was to focus primarily on the feasibility of an airport in the estuary...

The work of the Group should not assume that a recommendation for an airport in the estuary would be the outcome."

The group agreed to meet "every two months" with the next meeting planned for the start of last month.

No further minutes have been published.

-Update- Chair of the Environment Committee and Labour Assembly Member Murad Qureshi said this afternoon:

"Oakervee's own feasibility study said that work on the Thames Estuary Development Study needs to start no later than the summer of 2010. His employer has told us that he is unavailable and this indicates that the next stage of development is unlikely to happen within that timeframe."

-Update- Medway (Conservative) Council have just launched this poster campaign against Boris's plans:

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Boris Johnson "aware" of secret donors

Boris Johnson today refused to release the source of a seven figure donation to his Mayor's Fund for London.

The existence of the donation from a "major bank" was first revealed last month, but the Mayor today declined to reveal who they were, saying only that:

"I am aware of the donor’s identity."

Boris has previously insisted that he would not be told the identity of donors to his charity, because of possible conflicts of interest.

Writing in response to a question from Liberal Democrat AM Mike Tuffrey last year he argued that:

"naming donors might give rise to the suggestion that certain individuals expect something in return for their donations. For this reason, I have agreed that I should not be informed of the names of the individual donors."

He has also previously refused to release more general details about the fund's supporters or funding partners

However it is now clear that the Mayor is not only aware of the source of at least two major donations, but is actively involved in encouraging others.

And while under electoral law all donations to Boris's political campaign must be declared, no such rule applies to donations to the Mayor's Fund.

Boris has repeatedly described the Mayor's Fund as an "independent non-political" charity.

However, far from being independent, it is actually based on the third floor of City Hall itself and has the Mayor as the sole patron.

And while he argues that "listing out individual donations might adversely impact on the level of donations" this does not alter the fact that the current set up is open to abuse.

As Mike Tuffrey said last year:

"I hope that this new charity is successful over the next few years.

"However we should not pretend this is just an ordinary charity. The Mayor must take steps to avoid the inevitable accusation that some donors are seeking to influence or win favour with him.

"I urge the Mayor to ensure that all donations of £1,000 or more are formally declared and open to public inspection. Large donations that are not publicly declared will generate controversy and in the long term harm the reputation of the charity."

The Charity Commission is very clear that all charities should maintain neutrality and independence from political parties.

No such independence or neutrality is possible with the Mayor's Fund for London.

If Boris is really committed to "cleaning up" London politics, then he should ensure that these conflicts of interest are dealt with right away.

-Update- Via Dave Hill I see that Barclays announced a £1million donation to MFL in December. Is this the seven figure donation?