Snipe - The Scoop

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Muslim slammed for speaking at event with ministers

A Muslim is facing questions over his judgement after appearing at the same event as members of a government that suggested killing Iraqis was justified.

Azad Ali spoke at yesterday’s Progressive London conference, which was also attended by Equalities Minister Harriet Harman and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband.

Another Muslim said:

"This Muslim may have once justified the hypothetical killing of British troops, but this government authorized the actual killing of innocent Iraqis. I don't know what the Muslim was thinking!"

Also at the event was the controversial head of a bus drivers union. In recent year bus drivers have been implicated in a number of road deaths.

Some have even been linked to bendy buses.

A spokesman for the Muslim said today:

"This Muslim did not share a platform with any cabinet ministers. You should speak to the organisers of the event about who they have invited."


In other News, somebody asked: "Is this the same Andrew Gilligan who worked for Iranian state television alongside holocaust deniers and anti-semites?"

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

BORIS AND THE POLICE: An Apology

In recent years, we in the Conservative Party, may have inadvertently given the impression, that Boris Johnson's chairmanship of the Metropolitan Police Authority was a vital part of making London safer and a sign of the strong leadership the Conservatives would provide nationally.

Manifesto commitments such as "I will chair the Metropolitan Police Authority," "I will use my influence as Mayor and chair of the MPA to reduce the burden of form-filling" and headlines such as "Commisioner Boris" and "Boris would become Police Commissioner" may have suggested to some that he would personally take charge of London policing.

We now realise that his time is far better spent elsewhere and we would like to apologise for any confusion caused.

Boris Johnson passes the buck on policing London

Boris Johnson today stood down as the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, stating that he no longer had enough time to devote to the job:

In his crime manifesto Boris told us that:

"It is important for the Mayor to take a public lead, so I will chair the Metropolitan Police Authority. I will take personal responsibility. No offence will be too trivial to demand my attention. No challenge will be so big that I shrug my shoulders and pass the buck. "

That rather large buck has now been passed to his Deputy Kit Malthouse.

The far less trivial challenge of writing a £250k column for the Daily Telegraph, will remain firmly in Boris's hands.

Green Party member of the MPA Jenny Jones said today:

"The Met are facing difficult times ahead, with budgets being cut in all areas. The chair of the MPA needs to take the time to understand this complex organisation to provide effective leadership. Boris Johnson has not really been involved from the beginning and perhaps feels it is time to stop pretending"

Liberal Democrat MPA member Dee Doocey welcomed the move:

"This is welcome news as the Mayor has never been on top of this incredibly important job. I just hope that unlike Boris Johnson that Kit Malthouse actually reads and understands the Met's budget and then sets out to immediately reverse the damaging cuts in police numbers which the Mayor has for so long denied."

Labour MPA member Joanne McCartney said:

"This is another key election promise broken. Boris said the Mayor should be directly accountable for crime but, just as he plans to slash police numbers and funding, he cuts and runs. If he's too busy maybe he should spend more time on London and less earning £250,000 a year from the Telegraph."

The real reason for Boris's decision to stand down from the MPA is not yet clear.

Conservative Assembly Members were apparently not told about it in advance, and Boris only gave a cursory explanation at today's Mayor's Questions.

Quite where that leaves the Tories' reported plans to make Boris police commissioner is anyone's guess.

But with their other plan to scrap the MPA altogether, this could all just be a move to distance Boris from it ahead of time.


Boris pressured to release Prince Charles letters

The New Statesman, The Guardian and now the Evening Standard have all picked up on my Prince Charles story from yesterday.

According to the Standard:

"Mr Johnson is understood to receive handwritten memos from the Prince “every few months”. Sources also claim the Mayor has met Charles at Clarence House every three or four months.

It raises questions over how far Charles influenced the Chelsea Barracks housing project. The development was dropped last June by its Qatari backers after Charles wrote to them criticising its modernist appearance."

Of course there's nothing wrong with Prince Charles writing to the Mayor. Where the problem lies, is when the nature of that correspondence is withheld from the public.


"Political blogger Adam Bienkov, who submitted the FoI request, said: “Prince Charles chose to get involved in a highly political planning decision so he should play by the same rules as everyone else. If our future king is interfering with democratic processes then we should be told.

“Boris Johnson has spoken about the importance of open government. He needs to stand by his word now and release this correspondence.”

If the Prince and the Mayor's involvement in the Chelsea Barracks decision was all above board then they've got nothing to worry about.

Just release all of the correspondence so that we can decide for ourselves.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Boris Johnson refuses to release Prince Charles letters

The Mayor's Office today refused to release correspondence between the Mayor Boris Johnson and Prince Charles.

They believe that my request falls under the following exemption in the FOI act:

Section 37 - communications with Her Majesty and honours:

Information relating to communications with Her Majesty, other members of the Royal Family or the Royal Household; and

Information relating to the conferring by the Crown of any honour or dignity.

This exemption is public interest tested.

They have given themselves another month to consider the public interest test.

Now I understand that royal correspondence would ordinarily be exempt.

But when our future King has directly involved himself in hugely sensitive planning decisions and major financial and political deals, then I think it pretty clearly falls within the public interest.

Internal Communications

The second part of my request was for all internal communications relating to Prince Charles within City Hall.

The Mayor's office are also refusing this part of the request on the basis of cost.

This is despite the fact that a similar internal request was fulfilled in relation to Brian Coleman and myself.

The Mayor's Office have given themselves until 24th February to decide whether the main part of my request falls under the public interest test.

This will be two months after I made my initial request.

Please email me at the usual address, if you can help me fight this case.


-Update- The New Statesman, Guardian and Evening Standard have all picked up on this story

Friday, 22 January 2010

David Cameron sinks Boris Johnson's Island Airport

David Cameron today ruled out building Boris Johnson's airport in the Thames Estuary.

Asked by the BBC whether he would go ahead with Boris Island he replied that:

"Boris is a great mayor of London doing an excellent job, but building airports is not his responsibility."

During his visit to Kent, Cameron said that Boris Island was "not our policy" and repeated his opposition to Heathrow.

Cameron's comments are a huge embarrassment to the Mayor who reportedly said that the airport was the biggest and bravest thing he could do.

In the past year Boris has made a high profile visit to the site of the airport, commissioned a lengthy feasibility study and set up a steering committee to take charge of the project.

In the process he has created big divisions within his own party, and caused embarrassment for his party leadership both nationally and locally.

The Mayor has repeatedly said that there should be further airport expansion in the South East.

Now that his fantasy airport is sunk, he must spell out exactly where that expansion should take place.


-Update- More now at the BBC, Liberal Conspiracy and Boris Watch

Boris Johnson silences dissent at rail summit

Boris Johnson has written to London Assembly Members asking them to "not participate" at an upcoming summit with train operators.

The summit would have been a good opportunity for London politicians to question our notoriously unaccountable train operators.

However, in a letter sent out to Assembly Members this week Boris writes that:

"As you are aware, when I was elected as Mayor of London I made a commitment to hold a summit with train operating companies serving the Greater London area. I am writing to invite you to attend as an observer, to the summit on the 12th February. Given the time constraints, as an observer I ask that you do not participate in the business of the meeting."

AMs have been badgering Boris about this "emergency summit" ever since he promised to hold one in his manifesto.

Initially promised within his "first few weeks" in power, the summit was inexplicably allowed to slip.

He eventually explained that this was simply to avoid a row:

Caroline Pidgeon AM: "I would have thought it would be wise to have a meeting with them urgently to try to bash their heads together and try to make progress on this, so why have you not met with them and will you now commit to meet with them to try to get this deal signed as soon as possible?"

Boris: "The reason I have not met with them, as you will appreciate, is because we are trying to do the deal before we have the summit. Like most summits the summit is basically intended to be totally pre-cooked by the Sherpas of the summit and nobody particularly wants - least of all me - all the TOCs to arrive at a summit where we have a row and a walk out. I want to have a glorious summit in which we walk out having done the deal."

But now the deal has been done, and Boris is to have his "glorious summit."

And no amount of bickering over ludicrous permit systems, fare inequalities, or snowmageddon will be allowed to get in the way.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Boris Johnson unaware of his own USA Day event

There's been much controversy over at The Guardian and elsewhere over Boris Johnson's plans to spend £75,000 on a USA Day.

Much has been said about what this means for Boris's transatlantic policy and his wider political philosophy.

Personally I think the event sounds like a good idea, but it does seem as if we've all been wasting our time a bit:

Vanessa Feltz: While you're on the line Mayor Johnson, rumours have reached us that you have found £75,000 for a special USA Day. Is this true?

[Pause]

Boris: Err... Pass Vanessa.

Vanessa: What do you mean pass? This isn't Mastermind.

Boris: [Nervous giggle] Er it sounds to me. Er what we are certainly doing is er, trying to promote tourism...[waffle]

It may be that what you're talking about is a plan to get... I think associated with the National Football League. I'm looking at my. I'm looking at Rebecca. Rebecca is nodding....

These plans were first signed off by Boris last summer, and I spotted them again in written answers he gave last month.

Good to see that he still has his eye on the ball.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Boris Johnson: The King Canute of housing

Boris Johnson is in Charlton today celebrating the success of his housing strategy.



Or five years ago in fact:

[Labour] Leader of Greenwich Council Chris Roberts said:

“We are delighted that Mayor Johnson should visit a housing development in Greenwich. Planning for the development began in 2006 when Greenwich Council agreed to sell the land to a housing association. Funding was then identified from central Government and Greenwich Council granted planning permission on 18 May 2008, within days of Mayor Johnson’s election."

Another one of Boris's big achievements then!

Boris Johnson and Freedom of (some) Information

Over the last eighteen months I have submitted a number of Freedom of Information requests to City Hall.

All of these have been answered either dead on, or some time after the twenty working-day deadline.

Over Christmas I sent a request for copies of all correspondence between the Mayor and Prince Charles.

Although this has still not received a response, I was surprised to see that a very similar request was fulfilled within just two days


So what was it about Darryl's request that demanded such quick attention and my response which didn't?

Could it be that the documents released to Darryl reveal the Mayor in a good light and the documents withheld from me do not?

I emailed them to ask.

Dear Public Liaison unit,


I submitted a FOI request for all correspondence between Prince Charles and the Mayor last month. For some reason I did not get a response or an indication of when I would receive a response, although I understand through another employee that you did receive it.


Can I ask why this is taking so long when a very similar request has been answered within days?


http://853blog.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/southeasterns-snow-failure-boriss-intervention/


Yours sincerely


Adam Bienkov


Today I received the following back

Dear Mr Bienkov


Thank you for your email.


The Freedom of Information request you submitted last month is receiving attention. For your information the 20 working day deadline for response to your request is 27 January 2010, but we aim to reply to you as soon as possible.


The request to which you refer in your email was on a different matter.


A different, and less politically convenient matter obviously.

Now I've no doubt that I will eventually get a response from the Mayor. But can I really trust that all relevant correspondence will be released?


Boris Johnson is facing calls for an internal review over how a Freedom of Information request relating to the appointment of a key London arts post was handled after it emerged relevant emails were not included in the information released.

The relevant (and politically inconvenient) emails were later leaked to the Guardian.

So what role does the Mayor's private office and political aides have in deciding which information is released to which Londoners and when?

Perhaps I should submit another FOI...

Monday, 11 January 2010

Conservative Home scrape Boris Johnson's barrel

Conservative Home today lists Boris Johnson's "100 achievements" since he was elected Mayor.

A few are real achievements but most are either deliberately misleading, or point to some new definition of "achievement" that I've yet to come across.

Here's a sample:

1. "Frozen the Council Tax for two years running."

Yes, but he's also raised public transport fares for two years running. This cancels out any council tax savings by many, many times over.

5. "There are 400 more police officers for buses."


63. "Knife crime is down by 30%."


79. "Overall crime on the Tube and DLR is down by 8%. Robbery is down by 29.2%, violent crime is down 2.6% and public disorder offences are down by 4.5%."

Yes but Gun enabled crime has gone up by 67.1%, Homophobic crime is up by 27.6% Rape is up 22%, other sexual offences are up 2.2%, Residential burglary is up by 7.5%, business robbery is up 3.3%, Residential burglary is up 7.5%, and racist crime is up by 6.9%


If they'd kept to a dozen achievements, then they would have been alright, but you can sense that even Harry Phibbs was struggling here:

"27. The Queen's portrait unveiled in City Hall."

Er... great and

"73. Boris Johnson appeared in EastEnders visiting the Queen Vic."

And perhaps most notably of all:

"56. Stood up to Government bullying - notably over their interference in his proposed appointment of Veronica Wadley as Chairman of the London Arts Council."

Yes that's right. Boris trying to reward his biggest supporter with a job (whilst ignoring the Nolan rules and the Freedom of Information Act in the process) is meant to be an "achievement."

Poor Boris. If this is the best his supporters can do, then he's in serious trouble.


-Update- Left Foot Forward have now picked up on this as well.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Boris Johnson and a "vacuum of leadership"

The Telegraph have a big story today on plans to cut the number of police officers across the country.

For some reason we heard nothing from the Telegraph (or their new "London editor") when I repeatedly revealed Boris Johnson's plans to do the same:






The Telegraph's £250k star columnist is also strangely absent from their story. Funny that.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling does provide us with a fantastic quote though. One for Boris to cut out and keep:

"There are plenty of inefficiencies in policing which could be tackled, but instead ministers are presiding over plans that will lead to fewer police officers on the beat. There is a complete vacuum of leadership at the moment, and no sense of direction."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Boris Island Airport is "pie in the sky" report claims

Boris Johnson's Island Airport plans are "pie in the sky" and would cause an environmental catastrophe a new report claims.

The report drawn up by Conservative controlled Medway Council, objects to the airport on nine separate grounds:

(i) It is unnecessary and not wanted
(ii) The cost of an airport would be prohibitive
(iii) The current infrastructure would not cope with huge increases in traffic
(iv) The environmental damage would be catastrophic
(v) The noise, light and air pollution would be intolerable
(vi) The risk of air strike from migrating and nesting wildfowl would be high especially as this is an internationally important site for wildlife
(vii) The airport would be disproportionately affected by fog and high winds
(viii) The airport would lead to blight in the surrounding area including falling property prices and uncertainty for many years about inward investment into Medway
(ix) Kent County Council is promoting Manston as an airport destination and this provides a viable alternative

Medway Council Leader Rodney Chambers said today:

“This report to Cabinet shows exactly what we already knew – that the Mayor of London’s plans for an estuary airport are completely pie in the sky.

“His feasibility study has not taken into account so many things such as the distance it would be from London and whether passengers or airlines would actually want this, it has ignored the fact that there is a port importing a huge quantity of Liquid Natural Gas everyday and has made only a very arbitrary study of the transport links needed.

“I urge as many people as possible to sign our petition and help us stop this ill thought out airport."

The Conservative leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter has also joined the campaign against the airport.

You can sign their petition here

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Boris Johnson stands up for Londoners

Boris Johnson spoke out today against charging hard-pressed Londoners out of the capital.

No, not those hard-pressed Londoners. No, they'll have to pay what they're told to.

No I meant these other, much more hard-pressed Londoners of course.

Poor beggars.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Dispatches from Planet Andrew Gilligan

The Telegraph's Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone blogger has taken one of his occasional looks at modern London politics.

And what do you know? Everything is rosy, fares are going down, and saying otherwise is stupid and "all lies."

It's all a bit sad really, because buried amongst the spin is an acknowledgement of exactly what I was arguing at the New Statesman over Christmas:

Andrew Gilligan at the Telegraph: "The real foolishness of all this is that there’s actually an excellent, and true, case to be made against today’s fare changes. With their single fare rising by 20 per cent, there’s no question that bus travellers are being hammered, even though they are the group least able to pay. Bus passengers tend to be poorer, more inner-city and more Labour-voting while more prosperous, more suburban, more Tory-voting rail users are protected."

Of course most readers will have ceremonially garrotted themselves before reaching that bit, but at least he includes it.

It's just a shame that when Ken put up bus fares to £1 (and then later reduced them to 90p) Gilligan described the rises as "monstrous" and "extortionate."

But when Boris raises them to £1.20 in the middle of a recession, Andrew has a slightly different spin on things:

"SO there I was, all set to write an angry piece about Boris Johnson’s “massive fare rises.” (The fare changes happen tomorrow, by the way). But then I thought: you know, I’d better check the new fares, hadn’t I?"

So he checks the new National Rail fares instead (which Boris doesn't control) and what do you know, he gets the figures he wants.

  • Read Andrew's dodgy dossiers in full here and here.
  • Then read me make exactly the points Gilligan says Boris's "stupid" opponents haven't made here
  • Then read the response from Gilligan's latest target here.