Thursday, 22 March 2012

Does anyone on Boris Johnson's campaign understand social media?

If they do, they should probably have a chat with their campaign chief Lynton Crosby.

Earlier this week Lynton's team launched a ham-fisted attempt to steal the Mayor of London's official twitter account.

This resulted in a full blown Twitter storm, official complaints and reports in those well known radical outlets The Daily Telegraphmajor tech websites and even the local press.

After accusing the mayor's followers on Twitter of "hysteria" they backed down and deleted all references to the campaign from the official feed.

Next, for reasons best known to himself, Lynton decided to launch an attack on the strictly impartial MayorWatch website.

MayorWatch's crime? To politely request that Boris's campaign send them some press releases.

Rather than contact Mayorwatch and apologise for failing to send the releases he'd requested, Crosby instead took to Twitter.

This jibe was apparently based on the fact that Guardian Journalist Dave Hill had earlier highlighted Mayorwatch's request on Twitter.

Mayorwatch, who has been covering City Hall for over a decade, has since received messages of support and disbelief about Crosby's response from right across the political spectrum.

If Lynton wanted to have a crack at one of Boris's critics then he chose completely the wrong person.

Instead of engaging with an impartial and influential news outlet, Crosby has instead chosen to alienate them. Bizarre.

As if that wasn't enough, Boris's campaign have since been highlighting "Londoners" who have come out to wave placards at Ken on one of his campaign visits.

They've even posted a video titled "Londoners confront Ken Livingstone in Croydon"

The thing is, if you want to pretend that something is coming from ordinary Londoners, it's probably best not to have the cameraman telling them to shout "louder."

It's probably also wise not to have previously posted pictures of these same ordinary Londoners wearing campaign t-shirts whilst sitting on a campaign bus:

Online campaigning has yet to be a major factor in winning UK elections. 

If Crosby's attempts this week are anything to go by then it's unlikely to be so in this Mayoral election either.

Boris Johnson's bus fare rises in full

Boris's record in office has been pretty meagre. So meagre in fact that he's taken to inventing achievements.

Recently he claimed to have saved London households £445 in council tax over four years, rather than the £3 he's actually saved us this year.

However, speaking on BBC 94.9 this morning Boris boasted that "bus fares are still lower in real terms than they were in 2000."

Now bus fares may well be lower in real terms than 2000 but they're significantly higher in real terms than they were in 2008, when Boris came in.

Here's the facts:

Single Oyster bus fare in 2008: 90p
Single Oyster bus fare in 2012: £1.35

Percentage increase: 50%

7 Day bus pass in 2008: £13
7 Day bus pass in 2012: £18.80

Percentage increase: 44.6%

Monthly bus pass in 2008: £50
Monthly bus pass in 2012: £72.20

Percentage increase: 44.4%

Annual bus pass in 2008: £520
Annual bus pass in 2012: £752

Percentage increase: 44.6%

Source: bus fares 2008, bus fares 2012

Even the cash fare (which TfL today told me that only 1.2% of bus users actually pay) has risen by 15% over the last four years.

So when Boris claims that bus fares are lower than 2000, what he's really saying is that bus fares went down by so much in Ken's time in office, that even his own 44%-50% rises haven't managed to cancel them out.

As TfL themselves put it:

"Over the last decade bus fares in London have reduced in real terms although the trend over more recent years has been upwards"

Upwards by as much as 50% in fact.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

At the Guardian on London's cable car

The Guardian asked me to write a short piece on a local landmark, building, or piece of infrastructure  that had seen changes under either Boris or Ken. I chose the new cable car at Greenwich

You can also read some of my recent contributions on London politics to The Scoop blog and Snipe Magazine over here.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Camerawoman confronts Guido Fawkes bloggers

A female journalist this morning confronted bloggers Paul Staines and Harry Cole of the Guido Fawkes blog after they rushed into a crowd at a mayoral campaign event causing her to be knocked over.

The camerawoman for ITV was kneeling down to sort out her equipment when a man dressed in a chicken suit accompanied by Cole and Staines barged into them.

She later told me that she was "shocked" by what had happened and had received a bash to her leg as they rushed in.

I managed to get some footage of her confronting Cole and Staines telling them that they "nearly broke my neck."

They didn't seem majorly concerned as you can see below.

(I've had some difficulty embedding this so you may need to click through to Youtube on some browsers.)

The footage also shows Paul Staines shouting "c***" at a Labour staffer. 

For some reason Cole's and Staines' own footage of their stunt doesn't include any of this. I wonder why?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Did Boris Johnson sign off a tax dodge?

Dan Ritterband (pictured right)
It's good to see Boris Johnson campaigning against tax avoidance all of a sudden.

Not least because he has spent the past few years campaigning to avoid more tax himself.

Still let's not underestimate the zeal of the convert. On Sunday Boris was on fine form telling the Andrew Marr show that:

"I want a crackdown on tax dodgers and tax avoiders of all kinds."

Perhaps he could start his crackdown at City Hall where some cad named Boris Johnson signed off a payment of £22,912.50 to a limited company called "DJR PR" in 2008.

Could this be the same DJR PR whose sole director is Daniel James Ritterband, Boris's former campaign chief and current Marketing Director?

Oh yes so it is:

The 'transition' here refers to the first two months of Boris's term when we paid a team of consultants and former campaign workers over half a million pounds to help get him started.

Some of this team, including Ritterband, subsequently went on to become full time GLA employees.

I emailed Daniel asking him whether he had paid full income tax on all of the £22,912.50 that taxpayers paid him to transition Boris (and himself) into his new job.

Shortly afterwards I was contacted by a spokesperson for the GLA who told me that:

"DJR PR has not conducted any business since June 2008. All applicable taxes have been paid on fees paid to the company."

"Applicable taxes" rather than income taxes.

The spokesperson also confirmed that the £22k consultancy fee was paid solely for the services of Ritterband. 

However, despite apparently doing no business since 2008, Ritterband's company continued to accrue considerable assets. I've uploaded the company's accounts here. See what you think.

So what's going on here? Can Ritterband be labeled a "tax dodger" who set up a company in order to pay less taxes out of the money taxpayers gave him?

Or did he just legally do what many thousands of other people who are self-employed, freelancers or consultants currently do?

Under Boris's logic the answer is pretty clear. Time for another crackdown I think.

Friday, 2 March 2012

At Channel 4 News

Channel 4 News interviewed me about Boris Johnson's record as part of their introduction to the Mayoral race. Read all about it.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Boris Johnson's imaginary council tax savings

Boris Johnson's claim to have saved the average household £445 in council tax, is based on comparing his record to what he imagines Ken Livingstone would have done instead.

In an email to supporters, Boris's campaign chief Lynton Crosby claims that Boris is:
"Cutting council tax, having frozen it for the last three years saving the average household £445"
They repeat this claim on their campaign website [and in Boris's 9 point plan for London]

However, Boris campaign today told me that this is based on how much they assume Ken Livingstone would have raised the GLA precept by, had he won in 2008.

They say they have calculated the average rise under Ken's previous time in office and applied it to Boris's time in office.

According to one Conservative Party website the 'saving' is calculated by:

"the cumulative impact on a band D household of the average increase under Ken Livingstone of 12.58% had it been applied between 08/09 and 12/13, including taking account of this year's cut."

So they are assuming that Ken would have raised the GLA precept by a total of 60% between 2008 and now.

However, in Ken's last four years he only raised it by less than half of that.

  • GLA precept on Band D 2004 - £241.33
  • GLA precept on Band D 2008 - £309.82 (total rise 28%)

They're also ignoring the fact that Boris's precept freeze has been substantially paid for by a central government grant which went to all local authorities that implemented a freeze.

As a result of this grant every local authority in England froze their council tax last year and most are expected to do so again this year.

Ken could also have benefited from such a grant had he won.

Of course it's possible to imagine that Ken could have instead raised his precept by 60%. 

But Boris's claim that he has 'saved Londoners £445' is just that: imaginary.

-Update- The £445 claim is now point two in Boris's "9 point plan for London"