Friday, 31 December 2010

Boris Johnson warns against "rhetoric" on bankers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year all.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Labour movement supporting Labour politician shock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

How bus passengers are funding Boris's congestion charge axe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increase in Bus Fares

Question No: 3888 / 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 20 December 2010

Boris Johnson takes New Year's Wonga from loans company

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

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

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

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

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

Martin at Mayorwatch has a statement from TfL

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think that opportunity has already been lost Boris.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Boris Johnson: severe delays in service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Richard Barnbrook warned not to bully staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 13 December 2010

How far will the government go to stop protests?

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

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

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

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

One Met officer welcomed their use telling the Telegraph

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

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

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

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

According to one MPA report these methods include:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

How the bendy bus "beat the tube strike"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Does this make anyone else feel uncomfortable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 December 2010

1000 fewer police officers in London this year

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boris Johnson a "buffoon" says Guto Harri

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

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

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

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

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

Bloody lefty BBC bias eh?

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

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