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.