It is now clear that Damian Green was treated with kid gloves by the Metropolitan Police

Today’s evidence to the Home Affairs Committee by Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick about the processes surrounding the arrest of Damian Green MP by the Metropolitan Police as part of their investigation into Home Office leaks throws some interesting light on the whole saga.

Most importantly he was not subjected to a dawn arrest which would have been the norm for anyone who was not a member of the House of Commons.  According to Bob Quick, this was very much a “softer” option rather than the “customary, normal” option.

Moreover, the police went to “enormous lengths” to try to make the searches carried out at Mr Green’s home and offices in Kent and London “as discreet as possible”.  Again, this was the kid glove treatment.

A member of the public would also not have had two of his associates (in Damian Green’s case these two associates were David Cameron and Boris Johnson) contacted to alert them that his offices were about to be searched.  Nor would it have been customary to ask one of the associates (in this case David Cameron) to contact the individual concerned and invite him to contact the police.

According to Bob Quick, these efforts to soften the impact made the resulting investigatory process “more unwieldy”.

Whose fault will it be if London is in chaos tomorrow?

I gave Mayor Johnson the benefit of the doubt over Monday’s chaos in snow-bound London.  However, if the expected snowfall promised for tomorrow/Saturday materialises AND there is chaos again, it will be harder for him to escape the blame this time.

Some suggested that Mayor Johnson had been too busy writing his Daily Telegraph article last Sunday to check that the London borough councils had the appropriate number of gritting lorries ready to roll and at least ensure that the major routes were open so that the bus network could operate.  Maybe he did or maybe he didn’t.  If he did, no doubt he was assured that it was all going to be alright.  Even if he didn’t, he might reasonably have assumed that with the amount of warning that had been given of the bad weather, the various councils would have got their act together.

This time, those excuses will not be sufficient.

There is ample evidence from last Monday that the London Boroughs hadn’t got proper plans in place and, if they gave Mayor Johnson assurances that they had (assuming he asked), he now knows that those assurances aren’t worth very much.

What is more we have been warned all week that a second wave of heavy snow is likely, if not certain.

London Councils have now said that they have sufficient grit supplies to last the next few days, and that grit supplies will continue to be replenished – but, given the record of last Monday, is that enough reassurance?

By Tuesday of this week, Mayor Johnson was so confident that the situation was under control that he turned up unexpectedly at the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.  (He originally had been let off attending because he would be too busy keeping London functioning during the snow, but even after the Committee Chairman had announced at the beginning of the meeting that the Mayor would not be attending he showed up 90 minutes later.  It may be that his appearance was intended to deflect attention from what had been happening on the streets of London because he started a few other hares running …….)

So on the basis of all that can we assume it is all going to be OK, if the snow comes again in heavy quantities?

I hear, in fact, that the Councils are running short of grit and that it is at least possible that chaos will occur again.  If it does, the Mayor will look at best complacent and gullible and at worst incompetent.

So was it Mayor Johnson’s fault that there were no buses in London today?

The answer is probably not.  Yes, this was the worst snow London has faced in many years.  However, it was not exactly unexpected: the Met Office had been issuing severe weather warnings for several days and it was clear that London was likely to be badly hit.

Transport for London (Chairman: Mayor Boris Johnson) made the judgement very early this morning that it would be unsafe for the buses to run.  This was probably correct: an out-of-control double-decker or bendie-bus skidding down a hill is a pretty scary prospect.

However, the real issue is why were so few roads around London adequately gritted?  Even by midday some major arterial roads had still not been gritted by the relevant local borough councils.  When I was a London Council leader – admittedly more than ten years ago – I remember an annual ritual when as elected members we would be asking the Borough Engineer and his staff about the “gritting plan” for the Borough’s roads.

So Mayor Johnson – rather than appealing to heaven for no more snow (“it’s the right kind of snow, but the wrong sort of quantities”) – should be asking his mates in London Councils (now majority Conservative led) why they let Londoners down so badly.

Is Mayor Johnson Macavity or the Metropolitan Police Authority’s Cheshire Cat?

Mayor Boris Johnson’s attendance record at the three full meetings of the Metropolitan Police Authority since he assumed its Chair is as follows:
6th October 2008 – two hours
27th November 2008 – one hour
29th January 2009 – zero hours

The trend is clear.

In November Mayor Johnson was being Macavity leaving after an hour so that his representative on Earth – Kit Malthouse – had to deal with a difficult discussion about the draft Policing Plan and the budget.

Today Mayor Johnson was in Davos for the World Economic Forum and he was being the Cheshire Cat: there was nothing for Macavity to avoid – if anything it was the most somnolent meeting of the Police Authority ever – so all we had was the memory of Mayor Johnson’s at the photo-call to introduce Sir Paul Stephenson as the new Commissioner.

(I am not questioning Mayor Johnson’s right to be in Davos – his predecessor liked going too. The issue is whether any Mayor of London can devote sufficient time to fulfil all of the expectations on a police authority chair.)

I am sure it is only a matter of time before Kit Malthouse gets what he wants and is annointed by Mayor Johnson as the actual Police Authority Chair …..

The only excitement – and that is over-stated – was a discussion about stop and search. Jenny Jones told us about the Mayor of Southwark who was stopped by the police when they spotted her taking photographs outside what turned out to be her own home. For Jenny Jones this was an example of abuse of police powers. However, many people might find it reassuring if the police stopped somebody taking photographs of their home and asked them to account for themselves. Kit Malthouse then told us that he had twice been the subject of a police stop and search – for some reason his Conservative colleague, James Cleverly thought this had been an intelligence-led police operation.

Tories vote FOR micro-management

The Tories sprang an unexpected vote in the House of Lords last night at 9.25pm on the previously fairly uncontroversial Marine and Coastal Access Bill.  The vote had not been anticipated and most Labour Peers had been sent home two hours earlier.  The Government won the vote by 39 votes to 33 – a majority of six (I was one of them!).

The issue was arcane.  The Bill would set up a new Marine Management Organisation to streamline and centralise the various aspects of marine regulation (I am afraid that is the extent of my detailed knowledge and understanding of this area).  The amendment would have written into the Bill that, if the MMO were to delegate any of its functions to another eligible body, then that body should have relevant expertise.  However, as Lord Philip Hunt (the Deputy Leader of the House) pointed out the MMO was accountable to the Secretary of State and therefore ultimately to Parliament for ensuring that all of its functions were carried out properly.  It was therefore unnecessary micromanagement to specify the experience required from any delegated organisation, as the MMO would be responsible for making sure the funtion was carried out properly in any case.

The Tories pressed the vote – probably just to test whether the Whips were doing their job properly by keeping enough Labour members around the House.  The Whips were and the Tories lost, but the Tories did prove their support for more regulation rather than less.

Mayor Johnson admits that it’s only the fear of plain-clothed police volunteers that keep him on the straight and narrow

The London Assembly and the Metropolitan Police Authority tonight hosted a celebration of the excellent work done by the thousands of members of the public who provide regular volunteer help to the Metropolitan Police.

Mayor Johnson told the throng in the nauseatingly-named London’s Living Room on the top floor of City Hall that the only reason he no longer committed crimes (for example, by cycling through red lights) was, not because of his innate respect for the rule of law, nor because as Mayor of London he should set a good example, but because he never knew when a Metropolitan Police volunteer in plain clothes might be watching. Fortunately, Len Duvall wasn’t there, so a referral to the Standards Board for moral turpitude and bringing his office into disrepute – on this occasion at least.

Tories attack South London in first Lords’ Question Time of 2009

In the first Lords’ Question Time of 2009, the Conservative Frontbench took it upon themselves to malign the people of South London, when Lord Howell of Guildford took it upon himself to say, “My Lords, I had the honour of being the Member of Parliament for Guildford for 31 years. I know that I do not need to teach the noble Lord any geography, but Surrey is not an island surrounded by sea; it is bang up against London, from which a large number of the criminal element of southern London descend into Surrey. That presents the policing of Surrey with a special problem, which I hope is taken into account in assessing proper funding to enable law and order to be maintained in that very pleasant county.”

Now as an unrepentent North Londoner, I am rarely moved to defend those living South of the river, but this is really going too far.  What is being done to protect people from the hordes of bankers (to say nothing of hedge funders and other undesirables) who each weekday commute into London from Surrey and have over the last few years wrought such damage to our financial system and the well-being not only of Londoners but of people throughout the country and beyond ……

Mayor Johnson at the Mansion House – lots of style but not much substance

Last night was the annual dinner presided over by the Lord Mayor of London for the Governing Bodies of London.  The Lord Mayor is not, of course, Boris Johnson, who is the elected Mayor for all of London (not just the square mile administered by the Corporation of London).  This dinner packed several hundred of the capital’s politicians and administrators into an intimate dining room in the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor’s official residence.

The occasion importantly provides a platform for the elected Mayor to set out his views on the state of London and there was a bravura performance by Mayor Johnson, responding to a sober speech from the Lord Mayor on what is needed for London to survive the economic situation.  Essential the message was “times are tough” but “we are going to get through it”.  The package humorously presented (I suspect the audience would have been disappointed if Mayor Johnson’s style had been as straitlaced as the Lord Mayor’s) essentially boiled down to avoiding the over-regulation of bankers, some apprenticeships in tunnelling (building a “cloaca maxima” under the Thames), the new Routemaster (restoring every Londoner’s inalienable right to injure themselves jumping on and off a moving bus), the rent-a-cycle scheme (even if it’s wrong, we’re still going to do it), and a freeze on the Mayor’s precept on London Council Tax.

It was entertaining stuff, but on the day when the Bank of England had cut interest rates to their lowest level since the Bank was established in 1694 it all felt a bit light on substance.

Mayor Johnson was in many ways upstaged by Merrick Cockell, the Chair of London Councils (the umbrella body for the London Boroughs, which was known as the Association of London Government when I chaired it).  His speech set out what the Boroughs are and will do to help Londoners ride out the economic downturn and set out how the Boroughs, the Greater London Authority and central government should work together to deliver the most effective policies to enable London – the economic driver of the UK economy – to emerge stronger at the end of the current period and so best deliver a kick-start to the rest of the UK.

Merrick Cockell also got the best laugh of the evening, comparing the  GLA and London Councils with (among other things) Rod Hull and Emu with Mayor Johnson cast in the role of Emu

Strangely, Mayor Johnson referred to a couple of London Assembly members by name in his speech.  He highlighted the referral by Len Duvall of remarks made by the Mayor to the Standards Board (if the Conservatives are so confident that the issue is now going to go away following the decision to set up a “timely and proportionate” inquiry why mention it?) and he also made some remarks about how nice the Mansion House was and the sort of building appropriate for the style and status of an Assembly Member like Caroline Pidgeon – now what did he mean by singling her out?

The most shocking thing about Mayor Johnson’s performance was, however, his attitude to London itself.  He rightly said that 200 years ago London was the greatest city in the world.  Apparently, now, however, it is only “one of the greatest cities in the world” – can’t we expect a more upbeat attitude from our elected Mayor?

So how dangerous is Mayor Johnson’s new Routemaster bus going to be?

Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled his Christmas present to Londoners last Friday when he announced the results of the competition to design a new Routemaster bus for the capital.
Now far be it from me to mistrust Greek scholars bearing gifts, but the earliest Londoners will even see a prototype of the new bus will be 2011.

Of course, people have nostalgic memories of the old Routemaster. The open platform at the back provided an incentive to hop off and on at will – even when the bus was moving. One of the spectator sports for tourists was to watch City gents (ideally in bowler hats) run full pelt along the pavement into the road and then with a flying leap hurl themselves onto the open rear platform of an accelerating Routemaster. (I have to confess that even I did it on occasion, although – I know this is difficult to believe – I was young and foolish then and considerably less well-upholstered.)
However, there was a reason why the Routemasters were phased out (apart from them being colder inside than buses with doors). And that reason, of course, was that the encouragement to jump on and off them led to some appalling injuries to those who misjudged the jump.
An urban myth has been created that the bendie-buses have killed dozens of cyclists and pedestrians. (Mayor Johnson didn’t create this myth though he certainly fed it during his election campaign.)
The statistics I saw, when I was a member of Transport for London’s Safety, Health and Environment Committee, certainly didn’t bear out the myth: there were none of the falls down the stairs associated with double-deckers and serious injuries involving other road users were not statistically different from those for other types of bus.
So the question we will have to ask of the new Routemaster (if it is ever commissioned) is how many extra people will it kill or seriously injure? And is this really less important than nostalgic feelings and aesthetics?