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Archive for the ‘London’ Category

Jan 27,2009

As I pressed “publish” on the previous post, the BBC was announcing that the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is to be Sir Paul Stephenson.  We will know soon enough if they are right.

However, journalistic rumours about who the successful candidate is have been swirling about all day.  Indeed, only two hours ago, I had a call from a journalist inviting me to confirm that the successful candidate was Sir Hugh Orde.  Five minutes later I got a call from another journalist – from the SAME national newspaper – inviting me to confirm that the successful candidate was Sir Paul Stephenson.

Jan 27,2009

I am told that the name of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner will be announced tomorrow morning at 9am.  There is to be a photocall with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Mayor Boris Johnson.  Mayor Johnson (he is the Latin scholar after all) will say “Habemus Papam”.  There will be a puff of white smoke and when it clears there – revealed – will be the new Commissioner.

The Home Secretary and the Mayor having interviewed the final two candidates – Sir Hugh Orde (Chief Constable of Northern Ireland) and Sir Paul Stephenson (Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police) – on Monday.  I hear that they readily reached a consensus on which of the two was the best person to succeed Sir Ian Blair and the Home Secretary has now made her formal recommendation to the Queen.

I genuinely do not know which of the two it will be. 

However, the good news is that the Home Secretary and the Mayor agreed on the choice – so whichever one of the final two it turns out to be will take up the role with the confidence and support of both the Mayor of London (and Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority) and the Home Secretary. 

What is more the person who is appointed will have been chosen from what is probably the strongest and most impressive field there has ever been for the Commissioner’s job.  

Either of the final two candidates would make an impressive Commissioner.   They would each bring their own styles to the job, but whichever it turns out to be, I wish them well.

Jan 22,2009

An unedifying spat has broken out between London Boroughs as to which Councils can use the Olympics rings logo in the run up to the 2012 Games.  Apparently, the five Boroughs around the Olympics Park believe that they should have the exclusive right to use the logo.

They are wrong.  The bid was for London as a whole.  All of London (and indeed the rest of the country as well) should feel ownership of the Olympics.  Yes, of course, the five Boroughs face more disruption than the rest, but they will also get more of the long-term benefits.

Grow up and stop being parochial.

Jan 15,2009

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.

Jan 12,2009

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 ……

Jan 12,2009

On my way home tonight I saw three Atheist Buses in under ten minutes on Tottenham Court Road.  Is this a record?

Of course, it may mean that all the cheery posters, saying, “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”, may have been confined to bus route 29 (a very fine route which can take me from Finsbury Park to Trafalgar Square), but I prefer to believe that it means that the message will be seen by most Londoners as they go about their daily lives.

My optimism that rational thought might prevail was unfortunately punctured when I got home and read Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian.  Her (somewhat confused) argument seems to be that the Atheist Bus campaign is the product of middle class patronising triumphalist atheists intent on destroying the hope of downtrodden poor people that their faith will lead them out of poverty, that Barack Obama is a practising Christian (which she says will upset the trio of intellectuals who launched the campaign) and that faith-based institutions are helping address disadvantage in the Inner City.

It is hardly “triumphal atheism” to say, “There’s probably no God” – if anything it is “tentative agnosticism”. 

The fact that Barack Obama is a believer simply explains his personal motivation and the background to his philosophy – more dangerous are those political leaders who believe that they should use their political position to impose their religious beliefs on others (Madeleine Bunting seems to be suggesting that this is what Barack Obama is doing, but I would suggest that it is rather premature to define his Presidency in these terms when he has yet to be inaugurated.). 

And, of course, there are many faith-based organisations that are doing good things in the Inner Cities and elsewhere.  However, the list of terrible things that have been and are being done in the name of religion would more than fill an article and could indeed be the framework for describing much of world history.

So, I remain convinced that the Atheist Buses, encouraging people to think for themselves, are a rationalist beacon that we should cherish rather than rubbish.

Jan 9,2009

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?

Jan 4,2009

In his New Year interview with The Observer today, Gordon Brown talks about creating 100,000 jobs by a programme of public works, focused on school repairs, new rail links, hospital projects, investment in eco-friendly projects and the broadband infrastructure.

This is all eminently sensible, but should really be on a much greater scale. The 100,000 jobs presumably equates to the £3 billion of public investment included in last month’s PBR statement. I argued then that the balance was wrong with too great an emphasis on boosting consumer spending by cutting VAT.
Nothing that has happened since alters my view.
Yes, there has been a splurge of High Street buying – mainly of imported goods (this will no doubt help maintain world employment levels, but won’t do a lot in the UK and will further push down the value of the £ against the € and the $). Interestingly, elsewhere in The Observer, the excellent Bill Keegan (delightfully appointed a CBE in the New Year honours) points out that much of this High Street spending may have been overseas visitors capitalising on the low exchange rate.
Instead, we should be treating the economic situation as an opportunity to invest in the UK’s long-term future. The Government should set a series of infrastructure objectives to be achieved over the next four or five years and put in place the resources and mechanisms for these objectives to be met. For example, local councils could be tasked to achieve better insulation and energy efficiency in the housing stock in their areas, a major programme to further improve school buildings and health care facilities should be instituted, every home, every school and every NHS facility should be cabled and enabled to have high speed broadband access with public wi-fi access in every town centre etc..
The opportunity should be taken to improve skills and equip young people (and indeed any adult) with the training needed to achieve their aspirations in the modern world.
No doubt this is ambitious, but – as Barack Obama has preached about ‘The Audacity of Hope’ – perhaps in the UK a Labour Government should dare to put that hope into practice.

Dec 23,2008

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?

Dec 22,2008

A large amount of today’s news coverage seems to have been about the alleged “row” between the Conservative Party and Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, who has overall responsibility for the continuing police investigation into the leaks of material from the Home Office which led to the arrest of Damian Green MP.


The story so far seems to be that the Mail on Sunday for reasons best known to their editor (and no doubt completely unrelated to his role in the Green case) decided to investigate Assistant Commissioner Quick and, in particular, whether there was anything reprehensible in the wedding hire car business run by his wife.  They couldn’t find anything wrong, so instead published a story alleging a “possible” security risk because the family home of the head of Scotland Yard’s Specialist Operations Directorate was also where the vintage cars used for the wedding hire business were garaged.  Then to make sure that any security breach was maximised showed pictures of Assistant Commissioner Quick, his home and the vintage cars.


The following day, as Assistant Commissioner Quick was in the process of moving his family away from the security risk exacerbated by the Mail story, he was collared by another reporter and made some tetchy comments suggesting that the whole farrago was part of a smoke-screen set up to distract attention from the investigation being carried out into the leaks from the Home Office and intended to create sufficient fuss to get the investigation dropped.  No doubt he shouldn’t have been so tetchy, although I suspect most people in similar circumstances might have reacted in even more forthright terms.


In response, the Conservative Party threatened to sue for defamation and David Cameron went into over-drive and, using the prestigious platform of his end-of-year interview with the BBC’s “Women’s Hour” called for the offending remarks to be withdrawn and for Assistant Commissioner Quick to make a full apology. 


Finally, after an apology was made in more fulsome terms than I would have been able to manage in the same position, David Cameron declared that the matter was closed and that the Conservative Party were “drawing a line” under the affair.


So what exactly was the Shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, doing on BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” programme a couple of hours later?  Apparently, he was very keen to go on air (or so I was told, when the programme contacted me to join him to debate the issue – I declined on the basis that that nice Mr Cameron had declared the matter closed and therefore further discussion was pointless). 


What in the event Dominic Grieve said on the programme was hardly drawing a line under the affair, as he said Assistant Commissioner Quick should consider his position and stand down from his role in respect of the inquiry into Home Office leaks.


So either David Cameron was being disingenuous when he accepted Assistant Commissioner Quick’s apology and said that it “drew a line” under the controversy or Dominic Grieve was deliberately ignoring what his Party Leader had said.


Either way, it begins to look as though the Conservatives really are trying to make sure that Assistant Commissioner Quick stops his investigations.