Tuesday, 28 September 2010

My local wonders and blunders

Living as I do in the social media capital that is SE London, I'm never that far from a top-draw hyperlocal news site, community website or blog.

However, my own particular patch of the city has remained totally unblogged and so yesterday I decided to set up a new community site: The Kidbrooke Kite.

So far there's only a couple of starter posts over there, but I've got lots of other ideas for stories to investigate and personal gripes to whinge about in the coming weeks.

I'm also looking for others to get involved in the project so do please get in touch.

So if you live in the area or are just interested in finding out more, please head over to The Kidbrooke Kite and associated Twitter page and follow or subscribe.

Wonders and Blunders

A while back I asked my Twitter followers for their suggestions of their favourite and least favourite buildings in the capital.

I was overwhelmed with the number of responses and discovered quite a few gems (and horrors) that I had never come across before.

Well I've now chosen my own two least favourite and favourite buildings in London and you can read exactly what they are and why over at Building.co.uk.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Some thoughts on Ken Livingtone vs. Oona King

I haven't written as much about the Labour Mayoral selection contest as I might have done, mainly because it has always seemed a foregone conclusion.

Nobody, not even Oona King herself could seriously have thought that she could beat Ken Livingstone to the nomination.

Her candidacy always appeared to me a face-saving exercise from those who had spent the past two years briefing that they would take Ken on.

In the event none of them quite had the guts to do it and so it was left instead to Oona.

Now I've met Oona and she seems like a decent and likable person, but from the start her campaign has been remarkably lacklustre and wrong-headed.

Rather than demonstrate her ability to take on the current Conservative mayor, she has been determined to re-run the same campaign against Ken that Boris Johnson ran in 2008.

  • A call for term limits? Check.
  • Cronyism accusations? Check.
  • Support from Andrew Gilligan? Check.
  • Focus on knife and gang crime? Check.
  • Vague promises to outer London? Check
  • Promises for a "new tube line" on the Thames? Check.
  • A new type of impractical bus? Check.
  • Self-inflicted Freedom Pass controversy? Check

And yet despite being fully versed in the 2008 Mayoral campaign she seemed to have little knowledge of what the current Mayor has done, nor even a clear idea of his actual powers.

And for somebody who was so keen on comparing their youth and energy to Ken, it was never entirely clear what she was actually doing day to day.

Policy launches were few and far between as were media outlets willing to cover them.

Her initial big backers in the party were ill-used and she failed to capitalise on an early lead amongst London MPs.

In fact so off-the-ball was her campaign that one Labour Assembly Member claims they were not even contacted by Oona until well after they had already publicly nominated Ken.

And now after a long and uneventful campaign, the game is surely over, a fact that is clear in Oona's briefing to the Standard that she will run again if (when) she loses to Ken.

Which is interesting considering that one of her main lines of attack was that Ken could not win an election he had previously lost.

Of course if she is serious about running again then there is nothing stopping her standing for the London Assembly and building up four years of experience in the meantime.

When I suggested this to her a while back she told me that she enjoyed her job at Channel Four too much, which begged my question: "then why are you standing for Mayor?"

Ken's camp likes to claim that Oona only ran because she was put up to it by Peter Mandelson at some party or other.

Quite how apocryphal this story is I'm not sure, but it certainly plays into their main line of attack, that Oona is a Blairite stooge.

This is an attack that Oona has understandably tried to dispel by both backing Ed Miliband for leader and (quite ungratefully) failing to acknowledge Peter Mandelson's endorsement.

But the simple truth is that even if Oona had run a faultless campaign her chances against Ken were always slim for the simple reason that she simply hasn't got the profile to win.

Because whatever the merits of Oona as a politician (and she does have them) the fact is that Labour were highly unlikely to choose a candidate that the vast majority of Londoners hadn't even heard of.

Realisation of this has come in the past couple of weeks with the steady trickle of Labour right-wingers to the Ken camp.

Because while they may not like everything about Ken or his policies, they like losing even less, and a victory for Oona would have meant a certain loss in 2012.

Mayoral contests after all are mostly about profile and not policies.

Because while Boris has done little for London since being elected he has done plenty for himself, using the job as a daily opportunity to puff his feathers and catch the media's eye.

And while the Prime Minister has to face an opposite (and alternative) number every day, in City Hall the incumbent can go for years on end without having to compete for publicity at all.

In its current form, the London Mayoralty is as close to an elected dictatorship as it is possible to get, albeit a dictatorship with very limited powers.

Once in power it is incredibly hard for an opponent to unseat you, unless they have an even bigger and more persuasive profile than your own.

Boris managed it in 2008 through sheer force of personality, and he is understandably confident of retaining it in 2012.

But by choosing their candidate early, the Labour party hope that they can now share at least some of that profile in the final year and a half of Boris's term.

Of course I could be completely wrong and Oona King could be about to secure a famous and historic victory.

But whoever is announced as the winner in two days time, they're going to have a lot of work to do to in the run up to 2012.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Boris Johnson scraps targets for new gypsy pitches

Boris Johnson has scrapped all targets to provide new gypsy and traveller pitches across London.

Under the previous government the Mayor was obliged to draw up targets for new pitches for each borough.

This was deeply unpopular amongst some boroughs and one City Hall source memorably described them as a "political hand grenade."

However, in reality the targets were actually fairly modest, and even these low targets were reduced further earlier this year.

And now that the new government has scrapped Regional Spatial Strategies, he has now decided that no targets are needed at all.

The decision has been slipped out as a "minor alteration" to the London Plan.

Spelling out his reasoning for the alteration, the Mayor states that the targets had "proved problematic" and that it could "far more effectively [be] done locally."

Quite how this would create more provision for gypsies is not spelled out.

However, the news has been greeted with delight by Barnet's own Brian Coleman who told the BBC earlier this year that "itinerant" gypsies should "stay put in Ireland."

I guess at least with Brian Coleman he's not hiding his real motives.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Boroughs reject Boris's traffic light removal plans

Boroughs across London have hit out at proposals by Boris Johnson to remove dozens of traffic lights describing them as poorly thought out and dangerous.

Correspondence between the boroughs and Green London Assembly Member Jenny Jones reveal a widespread reluctance to remove the lights amidst concerns about cost and safety

Both Lib Dem run Kingston Council and Conservative run Havering rejected all of TfL's suggestions, whilst Tory run Bexley said they had "no immediate plans" to remove the lights.

Tory run Richmond also said that it was "unlikely" that they would remove any of the proposed lights.

Meanwhile Kensington and Chelsea said that the discussion was "premature" whilst Harrow council pointed out that two of the suggested crossings were only installed two years ago.

They also point out that the latter two form part of the London Cycle network, a scheme that the mayor is presumably signed up to:

Jenny Jones AM said today:

"I am glad that local authorities are rejecting some of the Mayor’s suggestions and taking the time to consult local people and the vulnerable about others. It seems ridiculous to be taking out crossings which have only been put in two years ago. A more sensible and cost effective approach would be to have a systematic review of whether traffic signals are worthwhile, when they are actually due up for renewal. There seems to have been a lack of clear communication between Transport for London and the boroughs.”

TfL estimate that removing the 145 crossings would cost around £1 million although this figure is disputed by some.

Labour London Assembly Member Val Shawcross said of the plans today:

"Not only have these plans given rise to serious safety concerns but, at a time of huge government cuts, wasting such a large sum of public money on a potentially dangerous scheme that it seems no one wants strikes me as madness."

The principle of removing traffic lights did get support from one council however.

Motorist-loving Barnet said that they "generally support" the scheme but added that the suggested sites had already been considered by the council.

They expressed regret that TfLs propoals were released before they were able to "correct this mistake."

  • You can read the full list of proposed removal sights here.
  • You can also read longer quotes from the councils and a list of disputed crossings here

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Has Boris nobbled Brian Coleman over allowances?

Three months after I revealed that Brian Coleman was giving himself another big allowance increase, the Mayor now finally appears to have stopped him.

Boris Johnson told the Assembly today that Brian had taken an "entirely spontaneous" decision to forego his planned increase:

"[Brian] seems to have disappeared so he can't hear my congratulations but I think he did the right thing, as you doubtless know he came to me because he was aware of some troublemaking and muckraking that was going on about these allowances and he came up with a fresh set of proposals."

Brian's "spontaneous" decision comes within a week of the Evening Standard revealing the dire relationship between the two:

According to Boris's former deputy Ian Clement:

"Boris dislikes Brian intently. He will avoid having a meeting with Brian at all costs. Bit of bad blood due to what happened during the election period. But also, he doesn’t like the way Brian does business. He doesn’t like Brian as a person. Doesn’t like the way he handled the Fire Authority in the first year."

For some reason Brian Coleman left the chamber today while the above was being discussed.

Although perhaps he just had more pressing business to attend to.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Chicken Feed: London bites

This is the first of a regular series of posts highlighting just some of the best recent bloggage, journalism, and writing across London.

First up is Darryl at 853 with a post about the disaster zone that is Greenwich town centre and a post about the long-running Gren-itch / Grin-ige controversy.

Also in Greenwich is the new regular Greenwich Podcast which seems to be a professional operation with all the right instincts (Gren-itch mispronunciation aside).

Meanwhile top London blogger Diamond Geezer continues his always brilliant and varied output with two posts about the tube ticket office closures and the state of Boris's State of London festival.

There's plenty of other top stuff over there so just bookmark http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com if you haven't already.

Back to City Hall and Mark Pack has a good piece on who the Lib Dems will choose for their Mayoral candidate. I'll have more on this myself soon.

Meanwhile Ken and Oona are still slugging it out although barring a major upset the outcome still seems like a foregone conclusion to me

The result will be announced next week after which a much closer race will attract far more coverage I suspect.

Other reading:

  • Ross Lydall - Evening Standard hack and BorisBike obsessive. Like his coleague Pippa Crerar, his blog is always worth a read.
  • Mind The Gap: BBC London's excellent transport correspondent Tom Edwards with more on the big transport stories.

Follow http://twitter.com/AdamBienkov for more links.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Boris running both for and against his own policies

Over the past week Boris Johnson has made a number of 'principled' stances against the government on Crossrail, immigration and er cuts to government advertising.

Long time Boris-followers will remember him trumpeting his own cuts to GLA advertising, but of course that's all forgotten now.

The real point of Boris's tell-it-like-it-is posturing was to prepare for his re-announcement of his long pre-announced decision to run for re-election.

Conservative Home trailed the announcement with claims that "internal polling conducted at City Hall" shows that 55% are satisfied with the Mayor's performance.

Now I don't know whether this "internal polling" involved asking people solely within City Hall because the only published GLA figures put satisfaction with Boris at just 26%.

But still Boris may have more than doubled his satisfaction rate in just a few months. It's possible. We'll just have to take him at his word.

Just like we'll have to take him at his word when he says he's fighting government cuts, despite the government saying that he hasn't even bothered to get in touch.

Of course taking people at their word can sometimes be dangerous.

So when Boris Johnson says publicly that he backs calls for more equal pay, it's probably worth checking that City Hall aren't privately lobbying against it:

Telling government that:

"Setting a top to bottom maximum ratio for public sector pay -like centralised pay bargaining- is likely to exacerbate problems of recruitment and retention in London’s public sector."

The Greens will be asking Boris about this apparent contraction at next week's Mayor's Question Time.

Just don't be expecting a straight answer.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Boris Johnson "dislikes Brian Coleman intently"

If you don't already read Pippa Crerar's Evening Standard blog then I suggest you bookmark it right away.

Today she has a great scoop on the continuing and deep dislike Boris Johnson has for his disgraced fire chief Brian Coleman:

According to a previously unpublished interview with former Deputy Mayor Ian Clement (admittedly not the most credible source but still)

"Boris dislikes Brian intently. He will avoid having a meeting with Brian at all costs. Bit of bad blood due to what happened during the election period. But also, he doesn’t like the way Brian does business. He doesn’t like Brian as a person. Doesn’t like the way he handled the Fire Authority in the first year.

"So I was tasked with finding a replacement, talking to a few people, seeing if we could find someone to slot in there when Boris, shall we say, did Brian’s legs."

Despite much provocation, Boris has still failed to nobble Brian's legs which has prompted some to wonder just what dirt Brian has on him.

Perhaps the real reason for his hesitance is the fear that Coleman would be more trouble outside the tent than in.

If so he's made a fundamental error.

Brian is a liability to both Boris and to London, and the sooner Boris "does his legs in" the better for all of us.

Tory AMs stage walkout over ticket office debate

There were shouts of "disgrace" in City Hall today as Conservative London Assembly Members walked out of a debate about the future of tube ticket offices

The Assembly were due to debate a motion on Boris's planned cuts to ticket office opening hours, when all the present Tory AMs walked out.

Under GLA rules the Chair Dee Doocey was then forced to bring the meeting to a close as less than half of the Assembly were present.

The issue of ticket office closures is what prompted yesterday's tube strike and there were shouts of outrage from those who had come to hear the motion debated.

Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon said after the meeting:

“It is shameful that the London Assembly has today been prevented from debating key issues including the threat to people living in homes owned by the Crown Estates and the planned reduction in opening hours at tube ticket offices. These are bread and butter issues for Londoners and the London Assembly is here to make sure London's voice is heard."

This is the second time that Tory AMs have walked out of an Assembly debate on ticket office closures:

Labour Assembly group leader Len Duvall said today:

"They’re actions are disgraceful and bring the Assembly into disrepute. Londoners elect their Assembly members to represent their interests, not to close down debate when the tough questions come up. Boris Johnson made a clear promise to keep ticket offices open but is now breaking that promise. His Tory colleagues know that this will be deeply unpopular across London so they are running scared.

Former Mayor Ken Livingstone has sought to make Boris's broken promise to defend ticket offices an election issue.

However, his attempts are significantly weakened by the fact that he himself planned to close down ticket offices when he was Mayor.

Of course all of this could have been debated if the Tory AMs had stuck around.

But considering that six of their group didn't even bother to turn up today, then perhaps the actions of the rest are no great surprise.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Boris and Ken almost neck and neck in the betting

Ken Livingstone is now almost neck and neck with Boris Johnson as the most likely winner of the 2012 Mayoral election.

The latest odds at Ladbrokes show that Ken has surged to 5/4 just a short distance from Boris at 11/10.

Oona meanwhile has slipped down to just 9/1

To put those figures in perspective, a successful £10 bet on Ken would give you a return of £22.50 whereas one on Boris would give you £21.

Oona meanwhile would get you a whopping £90.

Of course it's just betting odds and we haven't seen a poll for a very long time, but as Boris wrote in the run up to the general election:

"Here you are looking at the predictions that people are willing to defend with their own money... The reason I trust the punters of Betfair more than I trust a poll in a Sunday paper is that the punters have thought it through with the care of those investing their own money."

So come on Boris put your money where your mouth is and tell us finally whether you're going to run again in 2012.

Boris's trumped up attacks on the Coalition

Boris Johnson in the Evening Standard attacking tube strikers for:

"a trumped-up and politically motivated attempt to have a pop at the Coalition government."

Now what kind of left-wing antagonist would do such a thing?

Oh yes here's Red Boris just a few paragraphs before:

"Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has been asked by the Treasury to accept astonishing cuts — of between 25 and 40 per cent. As I have repeatedly made clear to the Coalition government, I believe cuts of that order would be disastrous for London transport network.

I cannot and will not accept them, and am therefore fighting to preserve and improve our transport infrastructure."

And in his Telegraph column this morning:

"Of course it is a good thing to bear down on wasteful public spending, and the deficit must certainly be reduced. The question is how far and how fast this can be done without provoking a double dip recession – and the risk is that if there is a serious downturn at the end of the year, it is the Coalition that will cop the blame."

Or more importantly, it could be poor old Comrade Red Boris who cops the blame in 2012.

Now it seems to me that Tube workers are striking because of a very real threat to their jobs.

Could Boris's belated protests against his own government be similarly motivated?

Because for all Boris's earnest protests it's still not clear what he's actually doing.

After a series of stories about the Mayor being “ready to explode”, the Financial Times approached the Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles to see what was actually happening.

The paper was told that there had been “no conversation about funding between Pickles and Johnson” and that there was “no meeting in the diary” either. Pickles’ team claimed that “the whole exercise seems to have been artificially created to bolster Boris’s credentials.”

Times are hard in government right now. But for a Mayor struggling to be both in government and in opposition, the times must be even harder still.

Where's Boris Johnson's "cycling revolution"?

The latest edition of Snipe is out on the streets along with my take on Boris's promised "cycling revolution"

"The most remarkable thing about Boris Johnson’s “cycling revolution” is that there doesn’t appear to have been one. Despite millions of pounds of investment, reams of publicity and a high-profile cycling mayor, the amount of journeys taken by bike is low and is expected to remain so...

"Boris’s new bike hire scheme is proving popular but it’s on a frustratingly small scale with fewer than a third of the number of bikes as the Paris VĂ©lib’ scheme covering less than half of the area.

"And while lots of Londoners are using the new bikes, multiple software faults and delays to open registration mean that many more have chosen to keep away for now."

Since going to press, we've learnt that casual and tourist use has been delayed again, this time until Christmas.

It's a big blow to what I still think has been the best thing that Boris done as mayor.

That he and TfL are failing to capitalise on the scheme's early success is a real shame but is perhaps to be expected.

As others have noted, while a fantastic addition to London, it was never going to cause the kind of "cycling revolution" that has been seen in other cities.

To start a real revolution would need the kind of vision (and money) that Boris hasn't got.

Unfortunately what we do still have is a lot of PR for Boris and a glamour model as "cycling ambassador."

More key points from ibikelondon