Archive for January, 2012

Boris secures £90million police investment.

January 31, 2012 Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, London mayoralty Comments Off

The announcement that the Met has been given a £90million government grant to keep officer numbers high after the Olympics is great news for London. It had been feared that police numbers could fall after the policing frenzy of the Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. That now won’t happen.

This is also obviously good news for Boris – on two fronts. Firstly, it means that his commitment to high police numbers and cutting crime can continue into the future. In every recent mayoral poll that has asked the question, Londoners have backed Boris as the candidate they most trust on crime and policing. That’s not serendipitous; that’s a reflection of demonstrably large cuts in crime – crime overall down by 10%, robberies down by 17%, youth violence down by 16%, bus crime down by 30%, the lowest murder rate since 1978. By May there will be one thousand more police on the streets than there were in 2008, and there are already one million more police patrols each year. This extra funding will ensure that continues.

Secondly, the news tallies with last week’s ComRes poll in which Boris led Ken 42%-21% as the most likely to be able to get the best deal for London from central government. According to the Standard article, Boris had lobbied ministers aggressively to ensure no fall in officer numbers at the end of the year, and got just what he was looking for. This follows, of course, his success in securing Tube upgrade and Crossrail investment (which the Evening Standard described as a “genuine achievement”), as well as a significant increase in HS2 investment in London. Any idea that George Osborne would respond as well to Ken Livingstone (who recently ‘joked’ that the chancellor should be hanged) is frankly ludicrous. London needs a mayor who can negotiate successfully with the chancellor, not one who facetiously wishes the chancellor dead.

Ken praises Boris on council tax.

January 30, 2012 Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, London mayoralty Comments Off

“Freeze council tax; keep costs down”, Ken Livingstone bleated yesterday on Murnaghan. Some people will have interpreted it as a statement of intent, a pledge even, a firm commitment from the mayoral hopeful. Those people would, I’d suggest, have been foolish. I see his words more as marvelling praise, a subtle tribute if you will, for Boris’ ability to do what he never managed himself. Because for a man who increased City Hall’s share of the council tax every year for eight years, a total increase of 153%, and all of that during boom years, to then suggest some kind of commitment to prudence, thrift and small-state austerity is frankly laughable. Surely the last thing Londoners need now is four years of socialism…

Incidentally, whenever I hear Ken make spending commitments, or indeed saving commitments, I’m reminded of that episode of Dead Ringers…

FactCheck: Far fewer Tube delays under Boris.

January 30, 2012 Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, London mayoralty Comments Off

Just a week after the Channel 4 FactCheck series adjudicated that Ken Livingstone’s pledge to cut fares is nothing other than an unfunded deceit, they’ve today dismissed more of his claims on transport. The claim on one of his election leaflets that “Fares might be soaring, but the service is plummeting! Delays and line closures have become a daily part of Londoners’ lives.” has been easily disproved by, erm, facts.

FactCheck have compared the average number of stations closed, number of journeys delayed, excess journey time and lost customer hours on the Tube under the two mayors. The number of stations closed over a four week period is broadly the same, but by all other measures things are significantly better under Boris. That there were over a million more ‘lost customer hours’ every four weeks under Mayor Ken is frankly staggering.

Ken’s supporters have always enjoyed rabidly tweeting #GetAGripBoris!! every time a tube runs a minute late, but the actual stats clearly show that Boris has a far better grip on the Tube than Ken ever did. With his fares pledge dismissed, and these stats showing how much better things are under Boris, it seems that transport might not be the easy vote-winner that Ken had been hoping for…

Tom Watson owes another Twitter apology.

January 26, 2012 Boris Johnson, London mayoralty Comments Off

Tom Watson, that bastion of integrity, had to endure embarrassment today after an intern used his Twitter account to make a joke about “twit-rape”. Having apologised on her behalf, he’s insisted that the intern will keep her job, which strikes me as a very harsh punishment indeed.

His apology for a blunderous tweet reminded me of something I’d seen a couple of days ago…

The article Watson links to is quite a funny story about how Boris accidentally skied into a young Italian boy when on holiday. Boris apparently stopped, apologised repeatedly and checked that the lad was ok. The story’s only come to light after the father of the boy wrote to an Italian newspaper, praising Boris’ manners and politeness…

“He kept insisting that it was entirely his fault. He was the perfect English gentleman, very courteous and very polite. He and his family were very affable.

In the end it turned out we were staying in the same hotel and I saw him a few times afterwards and he was very pleasant, smiling and saying hello. He was on his laptop some of the time and all the children were playing but he didn’t ask them to be quiet. I just wish that our politicians in Italy were as pleasant as him and I wish him all the best for the Olympics this summer.”

Anyway, you get where this is going don’t you? The collision occurred on Boris’ Christmas holiday, and has only just come to light. The article makes that quite clear. Boris isn’t on holiday this week. Just yesterday, he presented his 2012/13 GLA budget to the London Assembly, answered a couple of hours of questions on it, and then headed straight to Davos to represent London at the World Economic Forum.

So when Watson claims Boris is on another holiday, you can really only draw one of two conclusions. Either he misread the article, seized on it opportunistically and reported it inaccurately (hugely ironic, if the case, given his perennial pursuit of high standards of news reporting), or he deliberately lied in order to continue his somewhat desperate attempts to portray Boris as lazy (a line of attack that even other Labour MPs have scoffed at, and which can be easily dismissed by the fact that even Sonia Purnell admits Boris is a workaholic). Either way, Watson hasn’t yet apologised for the error or withdrawn the claim, despite its clear inaccuracy being pointed out to him. Time for another apology, Tom?

Boris JohnsHen? A poultry effort from Ken.

January 25, 2012 Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, London mayoralty 1 Comment

It’s hard not to be flattered by the attention Ken Livingstone’s official campaign team have given me today. They’ve set up a Twitter account – wittily called Boris Johns-Hen (geddit?) – the central premise of which is that Boris should attend debates whenever Ken requests one. In what is an interesting tactic, virtually its sole actions thus far have involved spamming me with tweets (just the 21 times so far today). 

Bear in mind that this stuff is officially endorsed by Ken Livingstone himself…

I ignored them initially because I have a busy job (something which I imagine the intern who’s been given the task of tweeting at me for the next hundred days can only dream of). And then I ignored them because the longer I went without replying, the more flustered they became, climaxing with some frankly sublime hyperbole…

Ah yes, of course, that parallel universe in which not chatting to a hen with barely any followers on Twitter shatters your credibility. Anyway, here are some points which Ken Livingstone and his team might like to reflect on:

1) Ken’s pledge to cut fares has been proven to be completely unfunded, as confirmed by both Brian Paddick and Channel 4′s FactCheck. It’s a dead policy. The request by Ken to “debate it” is nothing but publicity-seeking. Similarly, if Ken said he could build two million new homes, and pay for them with nothing but Venezuelan cocoa beans, Boris would rightly ignore any loony request to debate it.

2) There will be loads of mayoral debates between now and May. To suggest that Boris will not defend his policies, just because he hasn’t agreed to Ken’s specific request, is clearly absurd.

3) Boris is Mayor of London. He’s running the city, ensuring Londoners get value for money, securing government investment, ensuring the build-up to the Olympics is as smooth as possible. If he ran off for a debate every time Ken called, he would get nothing else done. And as much as Ken’s supporters like to portray Boris as lazy or “part-time”, even his biographer Sonia Purnell – herself often contemptuous towards Boris – admits that he’s a “workaholic”.

4) Boris explains and defends his actions all the time. Just today, he spent over two hours being quizzed by the London Assembly on his proposed 2012/13 GLA budget. The suggestion that Boris is in some way not accountable is not only ridiculous, but also an offence to the good work performed by the London Assembly.

5) Boris has been a far more accessible mayor than Ken ever was. Remember those stats back in the autumn which showed Boris had visited almost every borough in London more in three and a half years than Mr Livingstone did in his eight years? Remember Mayor Ken visiting Bexley just once in eight years? Remember Ken visiting Cuba more often than he visited Hillingdon during his eight years as mayor? He, not Boris, was the mayor who hid away in City Hall.

6) Ken’s debate record as mayor was hardly shining. Remember the time, just before the 2008 election, when he turned up to a BBC Asian Network debate half an hour late because he’d decided to have a lengthy breakfast?

7) It’s interesting that when Boris hasn’t been able to attend a debate (because, you know, he’s been doing his job) Ken has often withdrawn from the debate too. It suggests that he’s far less interested in explaining his policies to the London electorate and far more interested in slagging Boris off.

8) Sometimes when Ken withdraws from a debate, it all goes horribly wrong. Remember when he sent Val Shawcross to represent him at the Limmud Jewish Conference? She went completely off-message and refused to defend Ken for welcoming Yusuf al-Qaradawi to City Hall. Even as Ken’s running-mate, she couldn’t support his decision to associate with someone who defends Palestinian suicide-bombers, condones wife-beating, favours female genital mutilation, and advocates the persecution of Jews and homosexuals.

You could say Ken ended up with egg on his face. Cock-ed up, even. And as for this new Twitter account…well, it’s a pretty poultry effort, isn’t it? 

Some questions for Ken Livingstone.

January 25, 2012 Ken Livingstone Comments Off

Andrew Sparrow over at the Guardian will be interviewing Ken Livingstone later today, and has invited readers to suggest questions. I thought I’d chip in with a few of my own…

Ken’s Dead Deal.

January 24, 2012 Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, London mayoralty Comments Off

There’s always a risk in campaigns, debates and the like that opponents with antithetically different positions just shout “No you’re wrong!” “No you’re wrong!” “NO YOU’RE WRONG!” at each other, without any real progress being made. To an extent, that’s what’s happened over Ken Livingstone’s pledge to cut fares. Boris knows Ken’s wrong and is never going to budge from that position, whilst Ken’s never going to admit to lying to the electorate. So stalemate, then? Not quite. Enter stage left the neutrals…

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Brian Paddick had confirmed that, on fares…

“the mayor is right and Ken Livingstone is wrong. The money is simply not there to deliver a reduction in fares in London.”

Today there’s yet further independent backing for Boris’ position. Channel 4 FactCheck have adjudicated that Ken’s claim that he can cut fares by 7% without reducing investment or hitting services is pure fiction. They’ve spoken to Stephen Glaister, professor of transport and infrastructure at Imperial College, and Professor Tony Travers, director of the LSE London research centre at the London School of Economics, in coming to the following verdict:

“Mr Livingstone is wrong to claim there’s a £729m surplus, and there is no separate budget for investment projects. If he cuts fares, TfL expects to lose £1.12bn in income from fares – and that’s a hole he wouldn’t be able to plug without hitting the day-to-day funding for London’s transport or taking money from investment projects.

How he’d do that is up to him, but it could mean that tube and bus route upgrades are delayed, or TfL could be forced to shed some staff members.

Any mayoral candidate can raid the TfL’s coffers to cut fares. But cutting fares could mean cutting investment – which London’s transport system has been sorely starved of for decades. Investing money to bring it up to speed only began in earnest under the last Labour government.

And even now, Prof Travers said the system needs “billions and billions more money” to update it. “The underground still has bits of Bakelite signalling – stuff that would easily be more at home in a science museum,” he told us.

One way round it, would be to ask central government for more money, which Mr Livingstone did manage when Labour was in power. Prof Glaister said: “Ken in the past has had success blagging more money out of the government, but getting more from the current government looks entirely unlikely.””

Given this is Ken’s big flagship policy, such a dismissal of his claims by an independent study is hugely damaging. If he wants any credibility at all, he must now say how he would fund his pledge. Given the above, his options are increasingly limited. He could reduce tube investment, resulting in more delays, suspensions and cancellations, bigger queues and perhaps an end to Boris’ plans to roll out improved disabled access across the network. He could cut services – reduce the number of bus routes, cut the number of tubes per hour, perhaps scrap a large number of night buses, shed a huge number of staff. He could ramp up council tax – not exactly beyond him, given it rose by 153% during his time as mayor. Whatever he would do, he needs to be open about it, and end this current deceit in which he’s treating Londoners like idiots.

Ken doesn’t know when the election is.

January 24, 2012 Ken Livingstone, London mayoralty Comments Off

I always enjoy receiving emails from Ken Livingstone’s campaign team. They’ve ranged from the sublime – “Attend a dinner with Ken and special guest Ed Miliband for just £1,000 a table!” (which was followed up by a second email, a few weeks later, that could be loosely paraphrased as “Erm, does *anyone* want to come to this dinner?”) – to the ridiculous –  ”Donate money to help us colour in a chicken!”. The latest one was from Ken himself, and claimed excitedly that various events will be taking place this week to mark the fact that Thursday “26th of January marks 100 days to go” until the election…

The link from the email takes us to a page on his campaign site where it’s declared that tomorrow, 25th January, marks 100 days to go…

So which is right? Erm, neither. The ’100 days to go’ milestone is actually today, 24th January. Tomorrow and Thursday mark the somewhat less noteworthy ’99 days to go’ and ’98 days to go’ milestones. We know Ken’s not too strong on figures (see his unaffordable fares pledge for further evidence), but it would be interesting to know which of the two possible conclusions is correct – either Ken can’t count or he believes the election is on one of Friday 4th or Saturday 5th May…

Poll data provides cause for optimism.

January 23, 2012 Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, London mayoralty Comments Off

Based on my theory that Boris being behind in the polls will motivate his supporters to get campaigning, and thus ultimately be a good thing, today’s ComRes poll again showing Boris to be a couple of points behind Ken is no bad news. It also puts to bed the idea that last week’s poll could be ignored, as some suggested, “because it’s YouGov”. We are essentially looking at a neck-and-neck race, and should assume nothing else between now and polling day. 

Whilst clearly Boris would like to be ahead – miles clear, preferably – if he has a look at the detail of the poll data, especially at the non-VI stuff, various figures should give him optimism. He leads Ken on ‘best plan for the future of the London economy’, ‘best plan to bring down crime’, ‘best able to change London for the better’, ‘best representative of London’s interests overseas’ and (by a massive margin) ‘able to get the best deal for London from central Government’. The only question on which he trails Ken relates to the ‘concerns of ordinary voters’, and he must do more to show that he gets their problems at what is a massively difficult time economically.

Elsewhere, 39% of Londoners don’t think Ken can deliver his pledge of a 7% fares cut, while a further 31% aren’t sure. Those figures, particularly the first one, are really striking given the policy is relatively nascent and will be subject to another three months of scrutiny before polling day. Ken will be concerned that such a huge proportion of voters are already sceptical about what is his flagship policy. Perhaps it’s time for him to admit how he would fund it…

Do we really need democracy?

January 22, 2012 Boris Johnson, London mayoralty Comments Off

I find this idea hard to argue with…

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