Friday, 6 December 2013

Autumn Statement: Some are more in it together than others



For MSN Money.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Nick Clegg: Lib Dems are not a 'wonky shopping trolley'

Nick Clegg today denied the Liberal Democrats are lurching to the left, as he applauded his party's decision to privatise the Royal Mail and oppose higher taxes for top earners.

Speaking to me at his monthly press conference, he rejected the suggestion from sacked Lib Dem minister Jeremy Browne that the party risked looking like a "wonky shopping trolley".

"I have to say that at our last party conference my party decided to stick to the tough fiscal approach we have taken rather than lurch to the left", he said.

"We decided to commit to civil nuclear power provided there is no public subsidy, we decided to not turn the clock back and repeat our previous policies on tuition fees and we decided not to revert to the 50p rate of income tax."

"Subsequent to that conference we've had one Liberal Democrat secretary of state deliver privatisation of the Royal Mail, and another one deliver massive Chinese and French investment in new civil nuclear capacity. Anyone who wants to say to me that's the record of a party lurching to the left really has a completely different understanding of shopping trolleys and left and right than most people do in British politics," he added.

He also denied his recent U-turn on free schools was a lurch to the left, saying he was "utterly bemused" that it had been seen in this way.

So where does all this leave his attempts to differentiate the Lib Dems from the Tories? Answers in a shopping trolley...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

David Cameron's speech has changed nothing

Cameron is still on course to lose the election and nothing he said today will change that.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Ed Miliband's speech most left wing for a generation

Latest article for MSN: 'Red Ed' wears label with pride at Labour conference

Friday, 30 August 2013

New for MSN: Back to school

"Over recent months Miliband has become an almost mythical creature. We sometimes read of things that he plans to say or do, but we never actually see him doing them. We assume he's still the leader of the Labour party, but without physical evidence, we really cannot be sure."

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Working for Politics.co.uk

I'm pleased to announce that next week, I shall cross over the river to join the good people at Politics.co.uk as the newest member of their editorial team.

I've been a long-time fan of the site and I'm really excited about working alongside Ian Dunt and Alex Stevenson.

Ian has written some very kind words about my appointment over here.

The job will involve spending a lot of time in Westminster. However, I still hope to continue as a regular contributor to The Scoop blog and elsewhere.

My new email address is Adam.Bienkov@politics.co.uk


Thursday, 1 August 2013

At MSN: On London 2012


New(ish) article for MSN: What has London 2012 really done for us?

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Osborne's sleight of hand

New article for MSN.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

At Comment is free

Five things Boris should be doing rather than spending a year writing about Winston Churchill

Friday, 10 May 2013

Queen's speech: David Cameron doesn't want to win friends, just destroy foes

MSN Queen's speech: David Cameron doesn't want to win friends, just destroy foes

Friday, 3 May 2013

David Cameron set to take the wrong lessons from UKIP surge

UKIP have set a trap for the Tories and now David Cameron is walking into it.

New article for MSN: Local elections 2013: a victory for 'none of the above', not Ukip

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher: incompetent, divisive and cruel

New article for MSN: Margaret Thatcher promised harmony, but brought only discord

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Was Gordon Brown the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times?

Conservative Home has an article this morning criticising David Cameron for failing to win a majority against "the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times."

This is a phrase used so often that nobody stops to question whether it is true.

So was Gordon Brown the most unpopular PM of modern times?

Well luckily it's very easy to check. Pollsters IPSOS Mori have recorded public satisfaction with British Prime Ministers for decades.

Here's their latest graph showing the popularity of Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron over the course of their terms as Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown certainly was very unpopular and had a quicker fall in popularity than other recent Prime Ministers.

But by the time he left office in 2010 he was actually slightly less unpopular than David Cameron.

In April 2010, after almost three years in power, Gordon Brown had a net satisfaction of -24.

In March 2013 after almost three years in power David Cameron has a net satisfaction of -30.

So David Cameron is more unpopular now than Gordon Brown was after a similar amount of time in power.

And it's not just David Cameron.

By June 1994 John Major had a satisfaction rating of just -54. Far less than either Cameron or Brown.

His predecessor Margaret Thatcher fared better, but even she became more unpopular by the end.

By March 1990, Margaret Thatcher had a net satisfaction of -56, the lowest of any Prime Minister in modern times.

Whichever way you look at these figures it's hard to claim that Gordon Brown was the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times.

However there is another simpler measure of popularity: winning elections.

By that measure, Gordon Brown is certainly the least successful Prime Minister of modern times, if not actually the most personally unpopular.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Boris Johnson appoints Deputy for being Mayor

Boris Johnson has appointed City financier Bob Zirconia as his new Deputy Mayor for Being Mayor.

Zirconia's responsibilities will include managing Transport for London's £8 billion budget, holding the Metropolitan Police to account and 'being the Mayor'.

A City Hall spokesperson said today:

"Boris is very pleased to welcome Bob Zirconia to this exciting new role. This will allow the Mayor to concentrate on his statutory functions of posing on a bike next to Kelly Brook and reading childrens books with Peter Andre."

Zirconia will be paid £2 million a year for a two day week. No other candidates were interviewed for the role. A spokesperson for the Confederation of British Industry said today:

"Bob Zirconia has decades of experience in stripping value out of profitable businesses. We hope he can do the same at City Hall."

Johnson and his deputy will outline their vision for London at a 'city breakfast' event next week.

Zirconia said in a statement today:

"This is a tremendous opportunity going forward to get our ducks in a row, drill down and really push the envelope. London has unrivalled transportation assets which I hope to maximise for maximum customer value maximisation."

A spokesperson for the Labour Party said nothing.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Seven points about today's Boris vs. Cameron poll

The Evening Standard have splashed today on a new poll showing that Boris Johnson would hand the Tories a significant bounce if he took over as leader.

This is all good fun, but it doesn't really tell us a great deal new. Here's why:

  1. The results are almost identical to a previous Boris vs Dave Yougov poll in October which showed Boris giving the Tories a seven point bounce. This poll shows him giving them a six point bounce.
  2. Neither poll puts the Tories ahead in either vote share or seats. With Boris as Tory leader, Labour would still be the largest party and would be just a few seats short of an overall majority (on a uniform swing).
  3. It would not be a uniform swing. Almost all of the bounce in today's poll comes from lost Conservative and Lib Dem voters and current UKIP voters. Labour's overall vote does not change at all with Boris as Tory leader.
  4. Most of the bounce is in London, and to a lesser extent the South East and the North. Boris would not do much better than Cameron in the Midlands, Wales or Scotland. Note of caution: the margin of error on subsamples like this is quite large.
  5. The Boris bounce is also mostly among younger voters. Voters over 39 (the group most likely to vote) are far less impressed.
  6. Hypothetical polls like this are inherently unreliable. We don't know what a Boris-led Tory party would look like, when it might happen, who the other party leaders might be by that time, or how Boris would perform.
  7. Without that information, this poll only really shows us that Boris is more popular than David Cameron. We knew that anyway.

Thanks to @darryl1974 for the photo.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The picture that sums up Michael Cockerell's Boris documentary

Anyone watching Michael Cockerell's documentary about Boris Johnson last night will have noticed the strange absence of his political opponents and rivals.

In the past Boris's team have lobbied hard to prevent critics, especially his biographer Sonia Purnell in particular, from appearing on the BBC.

She was not asked to take part in the documentary last night.

Michael Cockerell took a much gentler approach than Purnell and was rewarded with lots of access to Boris and his family as you can see in the picture above:

I've written a full review of the documentary over at MSN News. Read on...

Monday, 25 March 2013

More dodgy crime claims from Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson released his new Policing Plan today. To mark the occasion he has written about his glorious record at cutting crime in the Daily Telegraph:

"In London virtually every single crime type is down – everything including violent crime, car crime, vandalism, knife crime, youth violence, burglary, murder and robbery. It came down under my predecessor, and crime has fallen a further 13 per cent since I have been mayor."

This just isn't true. Violent crime, car crime, vandalism and murders have all come down in recent years. However, knife crime, youth violence, burglaries and robberies have all gone up.

Here's the latest full year totals of crimes recorded by the Metropolitan Police so you can judge for yourself.

Robberies:

In 2007-08 there were 37,000 robberies.
In 2008-09 there were 32,555 robberies.
In 2009-10 there were 33,470 robberies.
In 2010-11 there were 35,850 robberies.
In 2011-12 there were 38,897 robberies.

So robberies have gone up to an even higher level than they were when he was first elected.

Burglaries:

In 2007-08 there were 93,894 burglaries.
In 2008-09 there were 93,553 burglaries.
In 2009-10 there were 92,796 burglaries.
In 2010-11 there were 93,375 burglaries.
In 2011-12 there were 96,181 burglaries.

Burglaries are up.

Knife Crime:

In 2008-09 there were 12,233 knife crimes.
In 2009-10 there were 12,560 knife crimes.
In 2010-11 there were 13,285 knife crimes.
In 2011-12 there were 14,121 knife crimes.

There has been a 15% rise in knife crime over the last few years according to these figures given to Parliament. (pdf)

Youth violence

In 2008-09 there were 6675 serious youth violence offences.
In 2009-10 there were 6777 serious youth violence offences.
In 2010-11 there were 6872 serious youth violence offences.
In 2011-12 there were 6906 serious youth violence offences.

Serious youth violence has also gone up in recent years according to these figures released under Freedom of Information.

The only way that Boris can claim that robbery, burglary, knife crime and youth violence are down is by cooking the books. 

Full Fact said last year of his method:

"measuring crime in this way is seriously problematic and masks crime trends during his own time in office"

As it clearly does when you look at the above figures.

The broader trend on crime is better for Boris. Here are the total recorded crimes over recent years.

Total Crimes

In 2007-08 there were 862,032 recorded crimes in London.
In 2008-09 there were 844,911 recorded crimes in London.
In 2009-10 there were 829,406 recorded crimes in London.
In 2010-11 there were 822,961 recorded crimes in London.
In 2011-12 there were 814,626 recorded crimes in London.

So crime has come down in London over recent years. However, it has only come down by about 5%, not by the 13% claimed by the Mayor.

Now there was a big drop in crime around the time of the Olympics last year, but even if you take the latest monthly figures, there has still only been around an 8% drop in crime since 2008.

My only criticism of Eddie Mair's interview with Boris yesterday is that it was yet another interview in which he wasn't questioned on his actual record.

The BBC had to go all the way back to his time with Michael Howard to find an example of his dishonesty.

Anybody who has followed his time as mayor knows that there are plenty more examples closer to hand.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Boris's calamitous Mair interview shows he has become battle soft

Boris Johnson had a terrible old time of it with Eddie Mair this morning.

It's so rare to see Boris submit himself to difficult interviews, that there was genuine shock from commentators on both the left and right at his performance.

The questions were not even that hard. They were all about controversies that happened long before he became mayor. They should have been incredibly easy for him to bat away.

That he couldn't is a sign of just how little used he is to serious scrutiny.

There are only four interviewers that Boris will regularly face for sit down interviews.

One is Andrew Marr who typically asks him very predictable questions about David Cameron and national politics.

The second is Jeremy Paxman, who is a good friend of Boris's, and usually just asks him knockabout stuff about wanting to be Prime Minister.

The third is Nick Ferrari on LBC radio and the fourth is Vanessa Feltz.

This is no accident. Boris's appearances are strictly controlled by his team.

Regular mayoral press conferences were cancelled right at the start of Boris's time in office and are only very occasionally held now.

Boris has refused countless invitations to appear on the London section of the Sunday Politics show and has only agreed to one interview with BBC London's political editor Tim Donovan in recent years.

During the last mayoral election, BBC London were denied access to him and were not even sent press releases saying where he would be from day to day.

Boris's team even threatened the BBC with a "wave of attacks" from "our friends in the papers" if they broadcast an interview with Boris's biographer Sonia Purnell.

None of this would matter if the press did their job, but the only newspaper to regularly cover his mayoralty is both owned and edited by his close friends.

As a result, Boris has become battle soft.

As I wrote in my piece for MSN News this weekend, Boris is just not used to being under fire.

When he does come under attack as he did at a disastrous appearance in Catford earlier this month, he handles it very badly indeed.

The main reason I find it hard to see Boris ever becoming Prime Minister is that I just don't think he would be very good at it.

Anybody who watched the hustings at the last mayoral elections, or sees him at his monthly mayor's question times, will have seen that he is actually a pretty poor debater.

Boris is great at the flag-waving stuff, and is always good for a colourful quote, but I just find it difficult to see him coping as the leader of the opposition, let alone as Prime Minister.

David Cameron may not be as likeable as Boris, but he can hold his own in the House of Commons. He can deal with difficult questions in interviews. He is just a much more professional politician.

Boris's lack of professionalism is a big part of his appeal of course, but I'm just not convinced it would survive the intense scrutiny of being a major player in national politics.

Boris has already had one parliamentary career. It was largely a disaster. 

I see no reason to believe that his return would be much more successful.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

George Osborne plays it too safe

Budget 2013: Osborne plays it too safe

Friday, 15 March 2013

Will George Osborne turn back from the cliff?

Budget 2013: George Osborne can save his career or the economy, but not both

Friday, 1 March 2013

David Cameron's attempts to mimic UKIP backfire spectacularly

Eastleigh byelection: Tories doomed to learn all the wrong lessons

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Why Eastleigh isn't a big test for Ed Miliband

I've read countless articles this week claiming that Labour need to do well in Eastleigh in order to prove that they're capable of winning the next general election.

Apparently the Eastleigh by-election is a 'big test' for Ed Miliband and a poor showing for Labour, would mean that he would be the "real loser" on the day.

So does this argument stack up? Not really.

As things stand Labour are projected to do only slightly better in the Eastleigh by-election than at the last general election.

That isn't great, but it doesn't tell us much about the national picture either.

In the run up to 1997 Labour suffered two truly dreadful results in Liberal / Conservative marginal by-elections in the South.

At both the Newbury and Christchurch by-elections Labour received an abysmal 2% of the vote and lost their deposit.

A few years later they went on to win the most parliamentary seats they've ever held in their history.

Similarly the Tories suffered a dreadful result at the Liverpool Edge Hill by-election in 1979, losing more than half of their support from the previous general election.

Just two months later they went on to win the general election and stayed in power for eighteen years.

The reason Labour and the Tories did so badly at those by-elections, is because they were in seats that voters knew they had no chance of winning. 

Of course all parties would rather do well in un-winnable by-elections, but it doesn't really tell us very much.

If you want to know how a party is doing then you need to look at their performance in by-elections which they have a chance of winning. 

So far this parliament Labour have done reasonably well in both safe Labour seats and marginals.

Similarly the Lib Dems have done abysmally in un-winnable seats, but appear to be holding up relatively well in this winnable one.

That isn't to say that Labour have an easy route to victory in 2015. They don't.

Voters' unease about Ed Miliband and mistrust of Labour's record on the economy could still deny them a majority at the next general election.

Alternatively Ed Miliband could go on to win a convincing majority and consign the Tories to opposition for a generation.

We don't yet know which of these will happen. What we do know is that the Eastleigh by-election won't give us much of a clue either way.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Does the Telegraph ever check Boris Johnson's columns?

It was this big!
Boris Johnson likes to pose as something a history expert, and has fronted a number of books and programmes on the subject.

Unfortunately nobody seems to bother checking any of his historical claims.

Take this howler in his Daily Telegraph column today:

"Whatever happens on Thursday, it will be a victory for the Coalition that the Conservatives lead, and a defeat for Miliband; and if Maria Hutchings pulls it off – the first Conservative by-election victory, in government, for more than 30 years – it will be stupendous."

And stupendous it would be, if it were actually true.

You see the Conservative party have won not one, but EIGHT by-elections while in government over the past thirty years.


What they haven't done in over thirty years is gain a seat at a by-election, while in government. The last time they did that was in 1982.

Perhaps Boris had meant to write that. Perhaps he simply didn't care to check.

Either way, shouldn't somebody at the Telegraph check his columns from time to time? 

I mean it was only last week that he got the name of the Housing Minister wrong.

Other recent columns have been riddled with inaccuracies and falsehoods.

As Mayor he has repeatedly made falsehoods about cycling deaths, council tax, and much much more.

There are two types of politicians. The first type get their facts wrong. The second type, don't care whether they get their facts wrong.

Boris Johnson is unfortunately one of the latter.

-UPDATE- See also this recent response to another dodgily researched column.

Facts eh? Who needs them?

Monday, 18 February 2013

10 years of the congestion charge: time for a radical solution

New article for MSN: London congestion charge not radical enough

Boris Johnson's £2.6 million interest in the mansion tax

Boris Johnson is livid about plans by Ed Miliband to tax houses worth over £2 million.

"I cannot believe Miliband will pursue this policy through to the election. If he does, he will have signed his political death warrant."

His political death warrant? This mansion tax must threaten a lot of voters then?

Well no. According to the ONS, just 1.2% of all properties are priced over £1 million in the UK and they don't even bother to give a figure for properties over £2 million.

I wonder how much Boris's home is worth?

Well according to the Land Registry, Boris bought his Islington home four years ago for £2.3 million:


Since then it has risen in value to over £2.6 million, according to one estimate:


A £326,000 increase in just four years. Trebles all round!

So what's Boris so worried about?

"The end result [of a mansion tax] would be in many cases to force sales, and to reduce the value of property – and for a country whose wealth is, for better or worse, so tightly tied to property, that would not be a good outcome."

Well it certainly wouldn't be a good outcome for Boris and his £2.6 million home. What about the rest of us?
"Yes, of course we need people to be able to afford to live in Britain. But the answer is not to make it even more punishing to own a home in an expensive part of the country. The answer is to get going with a massive programme of house-building on the many brownfield sites."

Ah housebuilding. We're finally on to something to do with Boris's day job.

"If you listen to Nick Boles, the housing minister, you can see that he understands the urgency of the problem."

Which of course he would, if he was still the Housing Minister.

The current Housing Minister is actually Mark Prisk. 

You might have expected the Mayor of London to know that...

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Equal marriage is a big win for David Cameron


Saturday, 26 January 2013

Cameron's problem neverendum

David Cameron's buying time with referendum pledge

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Boris accused of cronyism over Andrew Gilligan appointment

Most of the news stories I write these days appear over at The Scoop blog.

Earlier on I reported that Boris Johnson is to hire his colleague and friend Andrew Gilligan as his new cycling commissioner. Read my original story here.

The Guardian have since published a story on it which I helped to write. You can read the report over here.

See also Gilligan's blog post on this here.

For all my other stories on City Hall and London Politics head over to The Scoop.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Politicians must wake up to anger over public transport

New article for MSN on fare rises and re-nationalising the railways