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Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

Wednesday
Sep 1,2010

In the run up to the first Mayoral elections in 2000 I was anything but a Ken Livingstone supporter.  Indeed, I even wrote an article in the Evening Standard entitled “London Deserves Better” arguing that neither Ken nor the emerging Conservative candidate at the time (one Jeffrey Archer – before he went to prison) were suitable candidates to be London Mayor.

But that was before I worked with Ken during his first term as Mayor.  For those four years, I led the Labour Group on the London Assembly and chaired the Metropolitan Police Authority and I saw at close quarters Ken’s commitment to London, his political courage and determination, and his ability to make things happen.

And a lot did happen.  There was the successful introduction of the congestion charge – something that most pundits were convinced would never happen when the provision was first included in the Greater London Authority Bill.  It required vision, drive and an attention to detail.  And Ken showed that he had all three.

There was the transformation of the bus service in London – so that the capital became the only part of the country where there was a shift of traffic away from other transport modes.  And, of course, those four years saw the birth of the Oyster Card – then an innovation, now an integral part of London life.

At the same time, London’s policing was turned round: morale increased; the haemorrhaging of police numbers (which had started under Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard) was reversed; Police Community Support Officers were introduced and began their visible patrols all over London, leading to the creation of Safer Neighbourhood Teams in every Council ward in the city; and crime rates that had been increasing for years started to come down.

In Ken’s second term, I was less closely involved.  However, all Londoners saw the leadership that successfully won the bid to host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 and that brought London together following the terror attacks in July 2005.  There was also the leadership shown on climate change, which established London as one of the leading cities in combatting the effects of global warming.

All of this was a big contrast with the Boris Johnson Mayorality, where despite the frequent announcements of “new” initiatives that either turn into damp squibs, like the “Story of London Festival“, or are re-packaged initiatives started under Ken’s period as Mayor.  The major so-called success has been the new cycle hire scheme – again originally initiated by Ken – but with the details mismanaged by Boris Johnson and his team – see the analysis by Helen at Boris Watch.

So why should Ken be the candidate in 2012?

The first point to make is that he is the best-qualified candidate.  An effective London Mayor must have a coherent vision for London.  And this means much more than merely stringing together a series of half-worked-through ideas.  Ken has that vision – a vision he has been refining and articulating throughout his political life.  What is more London’s Mayor must be committed to the job.  It should not be regarded as a stepping stone to some different office (as the current incumbent clearly regards it), nor should it be a consolation prize for someone who has failed in their political career elsewhere.  Ken is committed to London and I have already mentioned his political courage and determination, coupled with his ability to make things happen.

The second point is the breadth and clarity about what he would want to achieve for London and Londoners in the next Mayoral term.  This includes:

  • the visionary proposal to make London the world’s first ‘Smart City’, utilising cutting-edge technology to the full;
  • introducing electric buses to cut emissions;
  • managing the tube upgrades more effectively so as to minimise disruption;
  • refocussing housing investment on affordable housing;
  • reinvigorating London’s cultural life with a commitment to live music;
  • protecting and promoting jobs in London by engaging directly with the world’s great economies and capitalising on London’s diversity and diaspora to make this a reality;
  • making the Living Wage a condition of procurement; and
  • rebuilding the consensus on major infrastructure projects in London to strengthen not only London’s economy but to benefit the UK as a whole.

Can he win?  ConservativeHome clearly think he can, pointing out that “London isn’t the most hospitable territory for the Tories” and that it “won’t be easy” for Boris Johnson.  And as Steve Hart’s detailed analysis has shown the 2008 election:

“took place on a very bad night for Labour  …..  one of the worst nights of local election results since before the second world war, with Labour polling 24%.  …. On this terrible night for Labour Ken Livingstone actually increased his first preference votes from 685,541 in 2004, to 893,877 in 2008. This was not simply a consequence of a higher poll. He actually increased his share of first preference votes by 1.3% from 35.7 per cent to 37 per cent (the London wide Labour member vote increased by 0.32 per cent to 27.12 per cent, which was 10 per cent behind Ken?s vote).

Any reasonable interpretation of these results would suggest that on virtually any other Thursday of the last five years, Ken would have been likely to win. Ken?s share was higher than Labour achieved on General Election night in London – when the national results had Labour 10 per cent better than in 2008. On this alone, it is clear than Ken was outperforming Labour by a wide margin and also that, to a lesser extent, London Labour outperformed the rest of the country.”

The message is that Ken has consistently out-performed Labour in the elections he has stood in and as Steve Hart concludes:

“The evidence that Ken is a substantial electoral asset across London is substantial, whereas the only evidence regarding Oona is that she has lost a safe seat; and nothing whatsoever suggests that Ken?s rival for the nomination is an asset in any other part of London.”

Now this does not mean that Ken Livingstone is without his flaws – indeed no political leader with any flair ever can be.  Nor does it mean that I agree with all the judgements he made during his terms as Mayor (I disagreed, for example, with his decision to extend the original Congestion Charge zone westwards rather than creating a separate zone).  However, I am clear that having Ken Livingstone back as London’s Mayor would be good for London and Londoners and that Ken Livingstone is the candidate best-placed to win the Mayorality for Labour and to get rid of the current ill-focused and chaotic regime.

Wednesday
Aug 25,2010

Oona King exudes niceness.  She wants a London where everything is nice.  The problem with that approach is that it is not really rooted in the real world.

Being Mayor of London is rather more complicated than sitting on the seventh floor of City Hall and saying “Wouldn’t it be nice, if …..”

According to Ross Lydall at the Evening Standard, Oona King (or her campaign team) has decided that it would be really, really nice if  people could take their bikes onto buses.

Which prompts the question, does Oona King (or her campaign team) ever use London’s buses?

Most buses are now quite full.  And they are getting fuller as routes become de-bendified (the replacements cannot carry as many passengers – even when the frequency has been increased – as the original bendie buses did – despite the  substantial extra costs being incurred to fulfil Mayor Boris Johnson’s campaign whim).

Frequently, mothers with children in buggies are not allowed to board because there are already two buggies on the bus and it is not safe to have more.

So where are all these bikes going to go?  The whole point of using a bike is that the rider does not need to use a car or a bus.  Allowing bikes on buses is likely to mean that those with young children will not be able to board and other passengers will be squeezed even more.

I repeat the question: does Oona King (or her campaign team) ever use London’s buses?

Friday
Jul 30,2010

I have already explained that I really don’t mind.

However, just in case you really really want to cast your vote for this blog in the Total Politics annual beauty parade, this is what you have to do:

The rules are:
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and rank them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

So I’m not asking you to do it, but I really won’t mind if you do……

Thursday
Jul 22,2010

I have already explained that I really don’t mind.

However, just in case you really really want to cast your vote for this blog in the Total Politics annual beauty parade, this is what you have to do:

The rules are:
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and rank them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

So I’m not asking you to do it, but I really won’t mind if you do……

Wednesday
Jul 7,2010

Val Shawcross AM, the Labour Group’s transport spokesperson on the London Assembly, has put forward an eminently sensible response to the Mayor of London’s interminable consultation on his favoured pet scheme of the abolition of the Western half of the Congestion Charge Zone.  She has proposed that the current Zone be split into two separate Zones – each with their own charge.

Her proposal would turn the western extension into a separate zone with its own rules, operating times and charging structure.  West London residents would not have to pay to drive in the new zone but would lose the discount they currently enjoy for driving into central London.

She quotes Transport for London figures that show that the Mayor’s proposals would produce a 15 per cent increase in traffic levels as a direct consequence of removing the western extension zone and up to £70m of revenue lost every year.

When Mayor Ken Livingstone first proposed extending the Congestion Charge Zone to the West, I tried to persuade him to create two separate Zones then, so it is good to see Val Shawcross reviving the idea now.

It always seemed barmy to me to allow the residents of Kensington and Chelsea – some of whom are extremely wealthy – to drive in the original Congestion Charge Zone with a residents’ discount when they had previously had to pay the full Congestion Charge.  It was in effect a subsidy to the already well-off.  And, as I suggested to the then Mayor, hardly an egalitarian thing to do.

The present Mayor now wants to stop the residents of the Western Zone getting this subsidy.  I would support that if it were not for the loss of revenue that will make TfL’s budget problems even more difficult.

Val Shawcross is now offering the sensible way forward: the well-off residents in K&C etc will only get a resident’s discount when they drive in their own part of the Zone, but would have to  pay the normal Congestion Charge when they drive in the other part of the Zone.

So her proposal is fairer, generates a lot more revenue for TfL to invest in the capital’s transport system, and would also further reduce congestion and improve air quality.

It is such a good idea, maybe the current Mayor will pinch it.

Monday
Jul 5,2010

I am not looking for any recognition, as you know these things don’t matter to me at all and I am profoundly disinterested in where this blog comes in the annual Total Politics ranking of political blogs, so I really am not asking for you to vote for me or my blog ……..

but ……..

should you be so inclined (and I repeat I really, really don’t mind one way or the other), this is what you have to do:

The rules are:
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and rank them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

So I’m not asking you to do it, but I really won’t mind if you do……

Tuesday
Jun 15,2010

Mayor Boris Johnson used the opportunity of speaking to the London Congress of Borough Leaders to outline his wish-list of new powers.

The City Hall press release quotes Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, as saying:

“I welcome this contribution from the Mayor of London. The new Government is committed to genuine decentralisation of power. In London, this means transferring power and responsibility down from Whitehall and its quangos progressively downwards to City Hall, to London boroughs and to local neighbourhoods.”

He also indicated that the Government would be publishing a Localism Bill in the autumn that would provide an opportunity to amend legislation.

So does the phrase “welcome this contribution” amount to an endorsement of the Mayoral package?

I am not sure that it does.

I raised the issue in today’s Lords Question Time (on a question about whether there would be a consultation about the role and number of elected mayors).  The exchange with the Lords’ Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government was as follows:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I add to the congratulations to the noble Baroness on her appointment. I fondly remember working opposite her on many occasions when she was a stout defender of traditional London boroughs and structures of local government. The Mayor of London today has made a power grab to take over the London region of the Homes and Communities Agency, the Olympic Park Legacy Company, the Royal Parks Agency and the Port of London Authority. It has also sought greater powers over traffic control and awarding rail franchises on routes into London and the allocation of the adult skills budget in London, and to have a greater say in health provision in the capital. Are those proposals supported by Her Majesty’s Government and, if so, will they be the powers on offer to the other prospective city mayors?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I appreciate that the Mayor of London is looking for greater powers and devolved policies. As the noble Lord will know, we welcome the contribution that the Mayor of London makes, and the new Government have already committed to genuine decentralisation of power. That may mean transferring further powers to the mayor, but that matter is still under consideration.”

Again, “the contribution” made by the Mayor was welcomed.

But then the put-down (I’ve added the emphasis): 

“That MAY mean transferring further powers to the Mayor, but that matter is still under consideration.”

 Sounds like a touch of the long grass there …..

Monday
Jun 7,2010

Ken Livingstone has announced that one of his objectives if re-elected as Mayor in 2012 will be to make London the world’s first “Smart City”.

The examples he give include:

  • easing parking chaos in London if re-elected by bringing in a system like that used in San Francisco, where 6,000 of the 24,000 metered parking places are fitted with sensors that allow drivers to find spaces via wi-fi. The American city’s $23 million network shows available spots on motorists’ mobile phones and electronic street signs. If drivers want to add more time to a parking meter they can also do it by mobile.
  • using real-time “smart meters” to cut energy use in homes and businesses. In Sweden these have resulted in a 24 per cent reduction in energy use.

He expands on his ideas in more details at LabourList.

What he demonstrates is a long-term strategic vision for London that would not only benefit its residents but give London the edge in international competitiveness.  His ideas also highlight the lack of strategic vision currently displayed by the Conservatives in London.

Monday
May 10,2010

Associated Press has reported that a man has been detained at Karachi airport after electrical circuits and batteries were found in the soles of his tennis shoes.

The man concerned told investigators he bought the shoes from a market in Karachi and had no idea there were circuits inside the soles.  Ostensibly, the circuitry is for massaging the feet (sic), but batteries and circuits hidden in a shoe are reminiscent of Richard Reid, the 2001 shoe-bomber.  Pakistani police are still examining the shoes, pointing out that similar materials can be used in the construction of bombs.

Whatever the outcome of this particular investigation, it seems likely that the practice of requiring airline passengers to remove their shoes for scanning will continue and perhaps be intensified as a result of this incident.

Wednesday
Apr 21,2010

Civil servants are supposed to be in “purdah” during the General Election campaign.  However, despite central Cabinet Office guidance, Government Departments seem to be developing rather different interpretations of what this means and some seem to be taking it to ludicrous extremes.

Three examples that I have come across this week illustrate the point:

  • one Government Department has cancelled a meeting that takes place in private, whose papers and proceedings are classified, is only attended by civil servants and official representatives of public bodies, and does not take decisions – canceled in the name of “purdah”.
  • another Government Department allowed a meeting of an officially-constituted Advisory Group (on a fairly non-controversial area of work) to go ahead (on their premises) attended by about twenty voluntary sector representatives – but no civil servants attended in the name of “purdah”.
  • a third Government Department has instructed a contractor to stop working on a Departmental programme (one that is likely to continue in some form whatever the result of the election) because the work involves talking to the external bodies that deliver the programme concerned – business-as-usual-not, in the name of “purdah”.

I am not sure that any of the decisions make particular sense, but they all stretch the meaning of “purdah” as previously interpreted.

Presumably, civil servants are now so busy producing policy options for so many different permutations of electoral outcomes that day-to-day government has had to come to a grinding halt – no wonder it took them so long to notice the volcanic ash crisis.