Monday, 26 April 2010

East London Line to open tomorrow

The first phase of the new East London Line will open tomorrow, Transport for London confirmed today.

The section between Dalston Junction and New Cross/ New Cross Gate had been scheduled to open two weeks ago.

However it was called off at the last minute.

This was either because of unforeseen technical problems and political wrangling, or because of the evil all-powerful hands of Ken Livingstone - depending on your level of paranoia.

Boris Johnson will officially open the line at 9.45 tomorrow morning in Dalston Junction station.

Opposition leaders on the London Assembly have been invited, but are unlikely to attend due to concerns that Boris will turn it into a campaign event.

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

"Right in the middle of a General Election campaign, the Mayor is desperate to claim credit for something he didn't initiate. The East London Line opening will be welcomed by many Londoners, but must not be used as a political football.

"The fact that two 'official openings' have already been postponed on technical grounds clearly demonstrates that political convenience has been the key factor driving the date of the official opening."

Transport for London have denied this and insist that the Mayor's attendance will help publicise the line and increase their revenue.

A senior source in the organisation told me earlier this month:

"We want the revenue and the experience of people using it and we want the exposure the Mayor will get us by opening it...

"Ken Livingstone would have not given it a second thought to open a £1billion new railway for London and his reason for doing so would have been the same as ours, which is that it is a great thing for London."

A limited "preview service" will run on the Dalston - New Cross section for the next month, with a full service commencing towards the end of May.

The remainder of the Line is expected to open on the 23rd May.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Brian Coleman quizzed by Met after phone "threat"

Boris Johnson's fire chief was questioned by police this week after a woman accused him of a threatening and "intimidating" phone call.

Independent candidate Linda Edwards, who runs a charity linked to Barnet council claims Brian Coleman warned it would:

"suffer after the election” because of her candidacy and added it is “now open season for everyone to have a knock at you and [your charity] The Larches will suffer...

“After the call I felt he was trying to get me to pull out and not stand for the council. I was so worried by the threats he made about the charity and me.”

Edwards is one of a group of twelve independents standing against "the direction of some of the Council's policies and its failure to listen to local people."

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told me this morning:

"We can confirm on Monday 19 April police in Barnet received a complaint from a female complaining of an abusive phone call she had received from a man.

Officers from Colindale assessed the complaint and, after seeking advice from the CPS, deemed no criminal offence had been committed.

The man was traced and an officer spoke to him and advised him of his future conduct."

As somebody who has also received an angry call from Brian in the past, I can only hope that he takes that advice.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Nick Clegg bursts Boris Johnson's bubble

"Watching that debate, I had the clear impression that Cameron aced every question. His answers were clear, concise and knowledgeable, and in my focus group of 12- to 16-year-olds he was the overwhelming winner. "David Cameron knows more than the others," said the 12-year-old, "and everything he says is true!"

I suddenly have a vision of how Boris's policies are decided.

"As for Clegg, I remember thinking that it was indeed a historic debate – the moment when the idea of a third force in British politics finally shrivelled under the Manchester TV lights. He was by far the worst, with many of his answers seeming to be semi-masticated versions of something Cameron had already said."

By far the worst? Come on Boris, not even CCHQ tried to spin that one.

"And so you can imagine my amazement when those polls started to come in, and the news that the punters overwhelmingly scored it for Cleggie. It was one of those times when there seems to be only one solution to the problems of British politics, and that is to dissolve the electorate and summon a new one."

Yep, the plebs won't vote the way you've told them. Jolly bad show what?

"I can't think of anything worse for this country than some great ghastly soggy Lib-Lab coalition, dripping with piety and political correctness and unable to take the decisions we need for fear of offending the vast hordes of public sector special interest groups they collectively represent."

So much for our unifying centrist Mayor.

"That is why the current madness cannot last. The Lib Dems are everywhere today, like the orange spores of an exploded puffball. Next week they will be gone with the wind"

What a spectacularly patronising, head-in-the-sand piece. Was this really the best they could come up with?

Friday, 16 April 2010

David Cameron's phantom police savings

David Cameron said at last night's debate that "we're not seeing enough police on the streets."

Gordon Brown challenged him on how he would pay for this:

GORDON BROWN: Will you match our funding on the police? The answer is no from your manifesto. This is not Question Time.

ALASTAIR STEWART: Let Mr Cameron answer your point.

GORDON BROWN: It's answer time, David.

DAVID CAMERON: What matters is what comes out. I went to a Hull police station the other day. They had five different police cars, and they were just about to buy a £73,000 Lexus. There's money that could be saved to get the police on the frontline. The Metropolitan Police have 400 uniformed officers in their human resources department. Our police officers should be crime fighters, not form-fillers, and that's what needs to change.

The argument is clear. By cutting "form filling" we can reduce police spending and still get more police out on the street.

All we need to do is cut back on a couple of Lexuses Lexi. Just not his own.

However, as Sunder points out the Lexus claims are not all that they seem and the claims about the Met are even dodgier.

Now the first thing to point out about the Met is that it is currently being tillered by Boris Johnson.

And if uniformed police officers really are stuck doing pointless "form filling" then surely Boris should have done something about it by now?

But then perhaps the reason he hasn't, is because those officers are already doing the jobs that they're meant to do.

According to a statement put out by the Met today:

In the Election TV debate televised last evening (15 April), David Cameron commented that there were 400 uniformed police officers in the Met's Human Resources department.

In HR, in 2009-10, we have;

  • 208 police officers teaching new police officer recruits, specials and probationers
  • 26 police officers training new PCSO's
  • 63 police officers in the Driver Training School teaching and assessing advanced and response driver training
  • 55 police officers in various other training roles
  • 30 police officers undertaking Sergeant and Inspector assessments and other work in the Career Management Unit
  • 8 police officers in the Police Federation, Superintendents' Association and Staff Support Associations
  • 8 police officers in Positive Action, recruitment, Community Engagement, Duties and other areas of HR work

Total - 398

In 2010-11, this number reduces to 370.

So that's mostly training rather than form filling.

Of course it may be that some of this work could be done by police staff rather than uniformed officers.

But considering that Boris is also cutting police staff in some areas and Human resources funding generally, then it is hard to see how this could be the case.

And considering that Boris is also taking 455 police officers off the street then it is difficult to understand just who Cameron thinks will do this work.

Isn't the truth simply that if you spend less, you get less, and Cameron and Boris should not keep trying to pretend otherwise.

But then perhaps their policy of getting parents to run schools could be extended to the Met.

Anyone fancy training a few police officers in their spare time?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

David Cameron may scrap Crossrail: Greening

The Conservatives may scrap Crossrail if they win the election, their Shadow London Minister admitted today:

Speaking this morning, Justine Greening said that it was "possible" the project would be canned before adding that she "can’t give a guarantee that it will continue."

The comments came during an LBC debate between the London representatives of the three main parties:

LBC Debate: Thursday, April 15th 2010 09.25

Speakers: Nick Ferrari, Justine Greening

NF: Let’s go the Conservatives first. Your stance on Crossrail? Justine Greening.

JG: We’ve always been very supportive of Crossrail. We recognise how important it is for London as well but what we can’t do before the election is finished is write a budget when we’re not in government. And so we, we can, we’ve said that we know it’s important, we know that the tube infrastructure and investing in, that’s important, but we can’t do a line by line budget because we are in such a parlous state with public finances.

NF: So Crossrail will continue but you don’t know how?

JG: What, all I….

NF: So it won’t continue?

JG: We, we can’t, we can’t give a line by line budget on projects across government, including Crossrail. Everything’s up for review but we think it’s important.

NF: I’m sure this is my stupidity. Will it continue or won’t it continue?

JG: I can’t give a guarantee that it will continue.

NF: So it might not, it can go the other way? The Conservatives could scrap Crossrail?

JG: It’s possible but at the end of the day we’ve always said that we think it’s important project and, and actually the reason this is important is we, we want to be responsible so we can’t pretend that we can write an entire budget outside of government. We’ve said we’ll do one within 50 days of getting into government if we get elected and we will then provide some clarity and certainty.

Greening's comments come within two days of a Tory manifesto commitment to "support" the project.

Labour's London Minister Tessa Jowell who took part in the debate with Justine said today:

"It is now clear that Conservatives will not commit to the construction of Crossrail, which is vital for business, jobs and economic growth in London. This in stark contrast to Labour's clear and unequivocal commitment to Crossrail which will add ten per cent to London's transport capacity, create 14,000 jobs in the construction period alone and add an estimated £20billion to London's economy."

Liberal Democrat London Transport spokesperson Caroline Pidgeon said:

"The Conservatives are all over the place when it comes to Crossrail. The Conservative Mayor of London never tires of boasting about his support for the project and Conservative run Kensington and Chelsea Council are even demanding a further new station which will add to the cost of the project. Yet at the same time a London Conservative MP, speaking on behalf of the national party, is simply unable to provide a clear assurance that this much needed project will be completed."

Boris Johnson has repeatedly failed to get Cameron to commit to the project, even pushing Cameron live on air last week.

Until recently I had assumed that there was no way they would can it, not least because of the huge embarrassment it would cause Boris.

However, it now seems more and more likely that they will at the very least scale back the size of the project.

David Cameron should now spell out exactly where he stands before London goes to the polls.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

East London Line opening cancelled

The planned opening of the East London Line has been cancelled, following unforeseen technical problems and a bitter political row.

Boris Johnson had been due to open a "preview" section of the line at Dalston Junction station tomorrow morning.

However, the event spurred a long behind the scenes row between the Mayor and his opponents, who claimed his appearance would break election rules.

According to City Hall guidance:

"where a particular initiative, proposal, consultation or publication in the period could reasonably be regarded as giving a candidate or their supporters/political party an advantage in the election. In that case, then the initiative should be deferred until after the election...

“All GLA generated or funded publicity must be, and must be seen to be, politically neutral. Anything that could reasonably be regarded as giving a political candidate or their supporters/party an advantage in the election is not politically neutral. This applies no matter what the justifications for the publicity are."

Aware of the controversy, TfL had invited some opposition members to the event earlier this week.

However, these invites only went out in the last few days, and some opposition members believed the event would still have breached the code.

A spokesman for the Mayor insisted that the event had been cancelled due to problems in attaining the proper certification, and not because of the ongoing row.

However, the leader of the Labour group on the Assembly Len Duvall said today:

"Boris Johnson is in chaos over his stunt to hold an official event using taxpayers' resources during an election campaign. He's been trying to take credit for a project delivered with £1bn of investment under a Labour government and a Labour mayor, but his party still won't commit to complete the next step that London needs - the Crossrail link."

Labour have seized on what they believe is the lukewarm support given to Crossrail in the Conservative manifesto.

The Tories have pledged to "support" the project but have not specified whether it will be completed in it's entirety.

The East London Line will open in full after the general election next month.

No new dates have yet been set for the opening of the first section.

-Update- Boris will press ahead with the event, now expected to happen next week. A senior TfL source told me last night:

"It's not going ahead tomorrow as the line isn't ready, but it will, we hope go ahead when it is. We need the line open as soon as it is ready. We want the revenue and the experience of people using it, and we want the exposure the Mayor will get us by opening it."

A spokesman for the Mayor said:

"Under the pre-election guidance the GLA and TfL are expected to conduct business as usual. This is the long-awaited opening of a railway that will benefit 100,000 Londoners daily and certain publicity is required to make the trial of the new services effective. The Guidance provides that it is appropriate to mark this opening with a non-political event. Members of all the main political parties on the London Assembly have been invited as has the Chair of the Assembly Transport Committee."

The argument from the Mayor's side is that that publicising the new line is far more important than any political considerations.

Will it satisfy his opponents?

Tories "in it together" with underage drink sales

David Cameron spoke out against the evil of shops selling alcohol to kids yesterday saying:

"We're only going to [crack crime] when the country comes together, when shopkeepers stop selling alcohol to kids..."

He also proposed raising the maximum fine for this to £20,000, saying that "we're all in this together."

Which is strange really, given that his party is fielding this candidate in Bexley:

"A TORY candidate in the upcoming borough elections has had his shop’s drinks licence suspended for three months because of underage sales.

Jarnail Singh, known to his customers and fellow shopkeepers in Nuxley Road, Belvedere, as Mick Singh, appeared before a Bexley Council licensing sub-committee last week.

Bexley police asked for a review of his licence to sell alcohol at his Newscentre shop in Nuxley Road, after it failed a test purchase in December last year.

Sub-committee members heard how the 15-year-old boy was able to buy six cans of Guinness without being asked for any ID."

Mick is also facing prosecution for selling a box of fireworks to an underage boy.

He also once received a fixed penalty notice for selling six bottles of Smirnoff Ice to a 16 year old girl.

He will stand for the Conservatives in Belvedere next month.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

How will Cameron's marriage tax break affect me?

Conservative proposals to encourage marriage would increase the income of the poorest families by as little as 0.03%, the Institute for Fiscal Studies have estimated.

Under the plans, married couples where only one person works, would benefit by "up to" three pounds a week.

The biggest beneficiaries will see their income increase by just 0.18% whilst couples where both partners work will see no benefit at all.

According to the IFS:

"The average gains are small because the policy affects only a small subset of families."

And within that small subset are couples with no need for an "encouragement" to their marriage at all:

"If encouraging marriage is seen as desirable primarily for the impact that it has on child development, it is not clear that a policy where pensioner families make up more than a third of the beneficiaries and receive 31% of the gains is well targeted. In fact, only 35% of the families who gain from the policy have children, and only 17% have children under 5."

As the Times editorial puts it today:

"This is surely no time to be giving money away so that people can just carry on doing what they are already doing, namely being married."

As pointless money-burning policies go it seems hard to beat, although no doubt the policy will be paid for by much larger cuts to tax credits, and child trust funds.

However, the point is that it's a symbolic policy which "sends out a message" to the electorate.

Like Boris Johnson's precept freeze it symbolises how the party wants to be seen, even if the reality is the total opposite.

For another example take a look at the Conservatives' new "three strikes and you're out" benefit fraud policy

It's a tough, message-sending, Daily Mail pandering policy, which in reality will affect "zero. No-one. Ever."

I think that's the clearest message about a possible Conservative government we're likely to get any time soon.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Disgraced Bertha Joseph to stand as independent

Boris Johnson's disgraced former fire chief Bertha Joseph will stand as an independent candidate in the local elections.

The news comes a week after I revealed that she would no longer be standing as a Tory candidate.

It is not known exactly what type of ticket Bertha will be standing on, although it obviously won't be an anti-sleaze one.

Presumably it will be a "pro-Bertha Joseph keeping her last remaining allowance" ticket instead.

Bertha is currently suspended from Brent Council for using Charity money to pay for ball gowns.

The Mayor kept her on the Fire authority for many months after her suspension, only letting her go minutes after she voted through his budget.

However, Police announced earlier this week that they would not be investigating a complaint of theft against her.

Another complaint about her association with a convicted fraudster is to be investigated by Brent Council later this month.

Lorraine Moss who submitted this complaint said today:

"Richard Byrne and I are both very concerned that Cllr Bertha Joseph will be standing as an independant. Her past conduct and lack of credibility confirm that she is not a suitable candidate. However, she seems to want to blame everyone else for her predicament. Additionally, she still has the outstanding complaint to deal with and this could seriously affect her political career."

Labour Councillor James Powney who represents Kensal Green alongside Bertha said today:

"Bertha Joseph is welcome to stand. She chose not to when she defected to the Conservatives in 2007, despite public pressure for her to do so. She has also failed to put herself up when the Brent Standards Committee unaminously agreed on her breach of the Code of Conduct, and again failed to resign when a Judge upheld the Committee's decision.

Now that she is finally putting herself in front of the voters in her true colours, they can finally decide whether they want to be represented by the first councillor to be suspended for misconduct in Brent, and one who was suspended for the maximum possible period"

Voters will decide what political future Bertha has, if any, next month.

-Update- The nominations are in and three of Bertha's former Conservative colleagues will stand against her: Nana Green, Peter Osuhon and Joan Padro.