Monday, 24 January 2011

The myth of the "Fair Fuel Stabiliser"

Boris Johnson is the latest figure to complain about fuel prices and call for a "fair fuel stabiliser" to offset rising petrol prices.

Under this policy proposed by George Osborne, tax on fuel would fall as oil prices rise so as to "stabilise" the price.

According to Osborne (PDF) 

"Currently, when oil prices rise, the government receives a windfall increase in tax revenues, mainly due to taxes on North Sea oil production. And when oil prices fall, the government suffers an unexpected shortfall in revenues for the same reason."

Unfortunately for George the idea of a government "windfall" from rising oil prices is a myth. As the Sunday Times economics editor pointed out on his blog recently:

"Why is a fair fuel stabiliser, a Conservative policy before the election and now back in the news, not a good idea? Because, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, it is a myth to say that the government gains from a temporary (or permanent) rise in oil prices." 

And indeed if you take a look at the OBR's report from last year, you see that:

"Allowing for offsetting effects, particularly from the impact from a weaker economy means there is very little or no improvement in the public finances that could be used for stabilising the pump price."

In fact as these OBR spreadsheets show, rising oil prices can actually decrease the amount of tax taken by the government overall:

So if the government wants to introduce a "Fair Fuel Stabiliser" they will have to do it by raising taxes, charges and fares even more elsewhere.

And while motorists may save a few pennies, public transport users will continue to suffer ludicrously unfair and unstable travel costs.

In any case, for most families the effect of a fair fuel stabiliser would be barely noticeable with even George estimating (in 2008) that it would save them just "over £90" a year.

And with the cost of a single tank of petrol well on its way to that, it will be the fairness of that overall price and not its "stability" that most voters will focus on.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Ken Livingstone associates with more dodgy characters

Ken Livingstone was "under fire" last night after it emerged that he is secretly in the pay of the Iranian government (ie that he openly presents a book review show on Press TV)

The Evening Standard and the BBC questioned his "lack of judgement" and Toby Young at the Telegraph called on Ed Miliband to expel this "mouthpiece of a fascist regime" right away.

Now I think Ken's judgement here was wrong.

By presenting the show on Press TV he opens himself up to the old accusation that he is more interested in the problems of the Middle East than the problems of London.

And if Ken is serious about winning next year then he needs to concentrate on listening to Londoners and not get distracted by factional battles and international politics.

However, it did amuse me that neither the Standard nor the Telegraph thought to mention their own "shameful links" to Press TV.

Not least through their former and current employee, and fellow "mouthpiece of a fascist regime" Andrew Gilligan:

Andrew Gilligan, Bendy Buses
Yep that's him:

Andrew Gilligan, Bendy buses
Nor did the source of the story, Tory MP Greg Hands, think to mention that former fellow Conservative MP Derek Conway was also a "mouthpiece" on the channel.

As was LBC radio host Nick Ferrari who in case Greg Hands has forgotten, was David Cameron's personal choice for London Mayor.

All of which should remind Livingstone why he should never have accepted a place on the channel. 

You see you never know exactly what dodgy characters you'll have to rub alongside.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Brian Coleman forced to drop "gagging order" against opponents

Boris Johnson's fire chief Brian Coleman has been forced into a humiliating climbdown after I exposed his attempts to ban questions at Fire Authority meetings.

A spokesman confirmed this afternoon that:

"The Chairman has asked officers to withdraw this report pending a further, wider review."

The report which I have saved for posterity was due to go before the Fire Authority tomorrow.

The climbdown comes after my post was picked up by the Evening Standard and The Guardian and after both the Fire Authority and the Mayor's office were contacted by other journalists chasing up the story.

I'm told that Boris Johnson personally put pressure on Brian to drop his proposal, but it remains a lasting indictment of his judgement, that he apparently still has full confidence in him.

And while, Brian has dropped this outrageous proposal, he will still go ahead tomorrow with another outrageous proposal to sack all of London's firefighters.

Although at least now his opponents will be able to publicly question him about it.

-Update- Green Party member of LFEPA Darren Johnson said today:

"Brian Coleman has made himself look completely ridiculous by issuing such draconion proposals and then being forced to backtrack. Backbench representatives being able to ask questions of those in power is a basic of any democratic system.  I still find it worrying that the chair is wanting a review of Members Questions, but I hope that it will include his failure to provide adequate answers and allow discussion.";
Investigative journalist David Hencke has now written about this:

David Hencke: Blogger's victory safeguards public scrutiny

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Brian Coleman's Pyongyang-style firewall

It's not just elected politicians who Brian Coleman and his cronies want to prevent asking questions but his own staff as well.

I'm told that this blog has been completely blocked by the powers that be at the Fire Brigade's Union Street HQ.

Staff have been barred from accessing a wide range of blogs including one written by a Conservative Assembly member, and another by a former member of the Fire Authority itself:

Roger Evans AM - BLOCKED
James Cleverly AM - BLOCKED

I mean how paranoid do you have to be to prevent staff at a public body from reading the views of its own members?

And what exactly is it that Brian is so desperate to hide from his staff?

Monday, 10 January 2011

Brian Coleman slaps "gagging order" on opponents

Boris Johnson's fire chief Brian Coleman has been accused of trying to slap a "gagging order" on his political opponents.

Coleman, who has been charged with implementing a range of controversial cuts to the fire service, has called an "extraordinary meeting" of the Fire Authority this Thursday.

At the meeting members will receive a report on:

"a proposal from Chairman and Leader [Coleman] to revise the Standing Orders of the Authority in order to cease the practice of Members of the Authority putting questions to the Chairman and Leader of the Authority."

A spokesman for the Fire Brigade declined a request to explain or comment upon on the proposal, saying that the full report would be published later today.

-Update- The full report has now been published. It claims that:

"LFEPA is an executive board, not a scrutiny body"

Before adding that:

"There is no statutory requirement for question time. The Authority may therefore decide to remove Standing Order 21 [allowing questions to the Chairman]."

Leader of the Labour group Navin Shah described the proposal as a "draconian measure" and added that:

"The contempt and arrogance shown by Councillor Coleman and his cronies in proposing this gagging order is a shameful and blatant attack on the basic right of elected Members to be heard in the public domain."

Last year Coleman hit the headlines after ejecting two camera crews from a public meeting in which disgraced councillor Bertha Joseph was used to vote through his budget:

Coleman has also previously reduced the number of questions members are allowed to ask and removed their right to bring delegations to meetings.

However, this move would constitute a far greater attack on democratic procedures at the Fire Authority.

I will update this post as and when the full report is published. Now published. See above

-Update- Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson claims Brian had threatened to ban questions if he asked a question about injured firefighters:

"Prior to the last Fire Authority Meeting Brian Coleman rang me up and threatened to abolish Members' Questions at meetings altogether if I went ahead with a question about injuries sustained by picketing firefighters during the recent dispute. His autocratic behaviour is just incredible. Being able to table questions is an important part of the democratic process and it is just incredible that anyone would want to remove this right."

Lib Dem leader on LFEPA Cllr Terry Stacy said today:

"Mayor Boris Johnson and London Borough Council leaders across the city have to face an open public question time on what they are doing with public money.  But Brian Coleman wants to put himself beyond questioning and silence any opposition.  If he gets his way opposition groups will have no way to get concerns about how he is handling London’s fire service onto LFEPA’s agenda."

Friday, 7 January 2011

Will Andrew Gilligan now admit he was wrong?

Andrew Gilligan writing last year in a post lovingly titled "New Tory policy: Boris Johnson to walk on water"

"The new Tory proposals to give greater power over the River Thames to Boris Johnson are a useful step forward in a campaign that I and the think-tank Policy Exchange have helped wage to make the river a genuine public transport highway...

I smiled to myself a few months ago when a rival, Labour blogger with a reliable record of not knowing very much announced that Policy Exchange’s river report had “sunk at a rate of knots"

And so did I smile to myself when my original post turned out to be 100% on the money after all.

As I've written before and as Gilligan acknowledges today, Boris has followed almost none of the recommendations made in his original dodgy dossier.

Perhaps now Andrew would like to congratulate me on my foresight?

On a side note, last year I emailed Gilligan and his editor explaining that contrary to his claim above, I am not and have never been a member or blogger for the Labour party.

Needless to say I didn't get a reply or correction and the former journalist of the year went on to write a second post repeating the same lie instead.

Dishonest yes. But given what else I have discovered Gilligan doing in the past I shouldn't really have been too surprised.

-Update- This post has now been included at number 480 in John Rentoul's series of "Questions to Which the Answer is No."

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Green Party Assembly Member Jenny Jones to run for Mayor

London Assembly Member Jenny Jones will tomorrow launch her campaign to become the Green Party's candidate for Mayor in 2012.

Jones who is a regular combatant of Boris Johnson on the Assembly was the former Deputy Mayor of London between 2003 and 2004.

She describes herself as a "critical friend" of the former Mayor Ken Livingstone, but has not announced whether she would recommend second preference votes for the Labour candidate.

She said today:

"London needs desperately the green measures that a Green Mayor would introduce for a cleaner, safer city. Whether it's cleaning up on air pollution, investing in public transport, increasing the supply of affordable homes, or keeping the police local, Greens deliver on their promises and work for the whole of London."

Her fellow Green Party Assembly Member Darren Johnson will stand as her running mate. No other candidates have yet to declare their intention to stand for the party.

If selected, Jenny Jones would become the third declared candidate for 2012 with the Liberal Democrats the only major party yet to choose a candidate.

Selection for the Liberal Democrat contender was recently delayed after only Lembit Opik got through the initial selection process.

Boris Johnson breaks promise not to raise congestion charge

It's worth noting that it's not just commuters who Boris Johnson has broken promises to but motorists as well.

As this clip from a Mayoral debate in 2008 shows* he promised drivers that:

"I would certainly not allow the congestion charge to go up above £8 which the Mayor promised not to let happen before the last election, and then broke his promise as usual."

This week Boris put the congestion charge up to £10 with a £12 charge if you pay the next day.

If you watch the whole debate you will also see Boris rail against the "scandalous" and "extremely high" public transport fares Londoners faced in 2008.

Of course he has since raised fares himself year on year, pushing the price of a single bus journey by an even more "scandalous" and "extremely high" 44 per cent.

Just another broken promise as usual eh Boris?
*Thanks to Helzbels for the spot

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The top ten most read posts of 2010

Inspired by Darryl here are my top ten most read posts in 2010:

London's least diplomatic councillor celebrated the end of the fire dispute by threatening to cut 27 fire engines across the capital. Picked up by this blog, the story went on to lead news bulletins,  and culminated in fiery stand-offs between Coleman, Boris and James O'Brien on LBC.

Suspended for using charitable donations to buy ball gowns, Bertha Joseph was allowed to keep her job on the fire authority in order that Boris could maintain a Tory majority. Again the story was taken up by BBC London, local and national papers.

Boris does his bit to "tackle Britain's debt culture" by accepting sponsorship from a loans company offering 2689% APR. Another scoop credited to this blog by the Guardian.

From February. A leaked report reveals early plans to cut back on the fire service.

One of the highest paid councillors in the country calls on the government to ban protests on cost grounds. Expect to see more on this kind of thing in the coming months.

"Barking Councillor Robert Bailey blamed a conspiracy against "the indigenous people of this country" today after he was banned from driving for 18 months." This post is from 2009 but still mysteriously gets dozens of hits every week. Are you out there Bob?

In 2013... possibly.

A hugely popular post this one, in which I dig out one of Boris's election leaflets and discover how spectacularly he has failed to keep his promises. Read and weep.

Not quite sure why this post was such a hit, detailing as it did a slightly dull political bust-up between Boris and his opponents, but you never can tell what people want to read, which brings me to the most popular entry of 2010. 

This post detailing serious doubts about the story leading all the news bulletins and newspapers at the time soon went viral and became the most-read post I've ever written, with over a hundred comments and 749 retweets. Within hours Christine Pratt's story had fallen to pieces and her patrons had scarpered.

Blogs eh? Nothing more than a load of gossip and abuse...