The Thick of It

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Best Google Review ever

After this morning's fantastic Tweet from South West Trains:





For some reason this made me think about the secure training centre, HMP Feltham. Plenty has been written about how online reviews on the likes of Trip Advisor can make or break hotels and restaurants.  I then saw this, contender for best Google Review ever: 



"If you are young, and are travelling Europe, this comes a close second to the Youth Hostel Association. Although slightly outside London, its ideal for Heathrow airport (a short bus ride), and local amenities are good. Accomodation is pleasant with garden views, but meals are served communally, and peppered by remarks like, "you gonna eat that, mate?". Shower-time take you back to the days of Eton, and Rugby............ Like many cheap hostelries, you have to see "The Beak" who will decide if you are free to continue your European Tour, or whether you are given a free airline ticket back to your home country....usually Australia."

I apologise to my Australian cousins and anyone else for the casual racism, that aside, it made me chuckle.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Food is too important to gamble with

I love a bit of technology and I love a bit of politics, I especially love it when the two combine. Therefore my interest peaked today when I saw the World Development Movement's new take on one of my old favourite Nokia games, Snake.

This highlights the world trading market in food commodities and how fluctuations in food prices caused by this speculation can lead to both poverty and hunger. Rising food prices have been a problem over the last five years in the UK together with the developing world, where food price inflation has outpaced stagnant wages. Higher food prices hits the poorest hardest because food takes up a larger proportion of their spending than the better off.

On 4 September the EU will be meeting to discuss regulating these markets, it will be interesting to see how much they are able to get through. Click the image below to play the game and add your name to the list of those supporting regulation and stabilisation of food markets:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Labour romps into poll lead

With YouGov reporting that Labour is now 14% ahead of the Tories in its latest opinion poll it would be tempting for Labourites to get carried away thinking of victory in a 2015 general election. It might also be tempting to note that Labour is now ahead on "handling the economy". Tempting too to note that Ed Miliband now has better, or least worst, personal ratings that David Cameron.

Of course as "they" say, it is a Snickers not a sprint and the real test will come in three years time. At the moment though it shows that Labour is starting to reap the reward of not being the Tories or the Lib Dems. What matters for Labour is if this is the start of a longer term trend. If so it looks promising though I'd still warn that it is insufficient to expect to win by hoping that the other side mess up. It isn't enough. That will only lead to either defeat or another hung parliament.

Some things have changed recently. Miliband is performing with more confidence. His media appearances are more frequent and more assured. The real test will be whether people start to give him credit for making the right (and popular) call on the key issues as they arise. He has done so without credit on bank bonuses and phone hacking. If he can close that gap and build a coherent and appealing alternative Labour stands a good chance.

YouGov's expert Peter Kellner speculates that the Tories are still the likely winners of the next election, though the prospects of that happening could diminish if the coalition continues to struggle.

That the outcome and both political and economic landscape are so unclear makes predictions almost irrelevant as so much will change in the next three years. Will that also include our leaders?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ken cuts Boris poll lead to 2%

With reports today that Ken Livingstone has cut Boris Johnson's poll lead to just two percent, I took a look at the history of these polls in the lead up to May's election.

You can see that we're now within the margin for error and that while Johnson has kept his neck in front, Ken is snapping at his heels as we have just two weeks to go:


With Labour having a strong lead over the Conservatives nationally and more so in London, it remains to be seen whether Ken can take advantage of that and get himself back into City Hall.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A sad day for football

Yesterday I was among at Wembley for the FA Cup Semi Final between Spurs and Chelsea. As someone who remembers watching the Hillsborough disaster unfold on TV when I was nine years old, being able to pay my respects to those who so tragically died attending a game just like I did, was important. I, like many thousands of others at Wembley and across the country yesterday was denied that chance.




Upsetting and offensive chanting marred the minute of silence so much that referee Martin Atkinson did one thing right yesterday and cut it short. It has been widely reported today that this was a minority of Chelsea fans. That was so, but unfortunately many more engaged in the same chanting before the game, outside the stadium. This was also peppered with regular anti-Semitic chants at the Spurs Jewish background.

Chelsea have rightly condemned this, but more must be done to stop this. I've been attending matches like this for many years and the atmosphere has changed little. While many in the UK can exclaim their anger at FIFA chief Sepp Blatter's ill advised comments about racism, we still  need to get our house in order.

While monkey chanting at black players is thankfully now a thing of the past, many more subtle forms of racist and seriously offensive chanting still pollutes British football.

It is time for clubs like Chelsea and Spurs to take this matter head on and ban fans who engage in such despicable behaviour - as happened when Spurs fans were prosecuted for offensive chanting at Portsmouth a few years ago.

It will only take a concerted campaign to rid football of this. The victims of Hillsborough deserve it. English football needs it if it is to continue to take the moral high ground on issues of discrimination as it so often does.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What Ken needs to do to win

My letter has been published in today's Evening Standard about what Ken Livingstone can do to win:


You get to read the others too as I've not got the inclination to spend my afternoon on Photoshop.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The problem with personality: Ken V Boris


The ongoing spat between relatively wealthy Ken and very wealthy Boris about who has paid tax properly is distracting us all from what each man is proposing to do to our city. That suits a Boris frightened by Ken's low fares policy. This has resonated with voters and brought his old rival back into contention. Boris' manifesto lacks substance and ambition, his vision for London is underwhelming, yet he was very forthright in campaigning for a cut to the top rate of income tax, which will benefit him by many £1000s annually.

Ken needs to focus on policy to win, Boris on personality and negativity. Ken has become an easy having collected an army of both fans and enemies over several decades at the top of London politics.

London is generally a Labour city, yet polling suggests that Ken is under-performing Labour's London lead. Again, this is down to personality. People like his policies even when they don't like him. Ken could once lay claim to having one of the biggest personalities in politics, yet he is up against an even bigger one in Boris. That isn’t necessarily Ken’s fault, but he needs to fight harder to seize the political agenda back if he is to win.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

London mayoral race in social media

I thought it would be good to see how the social web commentariat is expressing itself towards the London mayoral race between incumbent Boris Johnson and previous mayor, Ken Livingstone. When we last looked at this Johnson was consistently getting more buzz than his Labour rival. Ken was only able to push above Boris after he made some "controversial" comments in an interview with the New Statesman. 

Looking at the number of mentions for each man across Twitter, blogs and forums we can see that Ken is now consistently jostling for position with Boris. High profile campaigns both for and against each candidate and the looming election date has slightly eroded the incumbency lead that Boris had held several months ago: 


In February both candidates had a net positive sentiment towards them in social media, with Boris having more detractors and fans, with feeling towards Ken more neutral. Just a month away from the election sentiment towards Boris has dipped, with him now receiving more negative than positive comments: 


Ken's results have markedly improved. He is now looking at a net positive result of 8%, against Boris' -2%. This suggests that the social media commentariat isn't swayed by the high profile negative media that the Labour candidate has been receiving recently.


Does it mean Ken will win? No, but it does give a useful insight into what the social web thinks about the two men in the bruising personality clash.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cameron presides over a reactionary government

David Cameron has belatedly allowed the publication of a list of dinner guests to 10 Downing Street, after the former Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas was caught claiming party donors would get a dinner invite and access to the PM and Chancellor George Osborne

Cameron caved in after constant pressure from Labour and the media but resisted strongly. He wheeled out Tory "dirty work man" Francis Maude for the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme and Five Live breakfast. He just wanted to bang on about Labour being funding by the trade unions that founded them, as if that was some sort of crime. It didn't wash and Maude "trended" on Twitter all morning. Poor Franny.  Why should he take the blame?

Unfortunately today's poor political management from Cameron and his team is part of a long running pattern. In opposition Cameron was quick to jump on any bandwagon he could. This included repeatedly talking down his country, remember "Broken Britain"? Apparently that was all because of family breakdown, yet 2011's youth rioting was instead due to a moral breakdown.

Whenever there has been a political storm under Cameron's premiership he has resisted weakly, then given in. The list is growing, with today's meek climbdown following these other highlights:


  • Being reluctantly forced into allowing a public inquiry into phone hacking at News International
  • Telling us all Liam Fox was doing "a good job", which he tried in vain to keep him in as pressure grew around his friendship with Adam Werrity
  • Telling us all that his spin doctor Andy Coulson was doing " a good job" which he tried in vain to keep him in as pressure grew around his involvement in phone hacking
  • Reluctantly bowing to public pressure to intervene and limit bonuses at state owned bank RBS



Cameron clearly doesn't feel that his government is strong enough to resist in such cases. If that is so why not just limit the political damage by admitting so immediately the next time something like this trips him up? That way he'd be able to recover and move on more quickly.

He won't do that because he either doesn't have the political judgement or the right advisers with that required judgement who are continually leading him down a path towards a lack of control that if faced with a more serious crisis of Black Wednesday proportions could fatally damage the government.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

An ideological Tory budget

Compassionate Conservatism has come to an end with yesterday's budget. David Cameron and George Osborne can no longer claim that they are on the side of the lest well off. We've all been given a tax cut, but this helps the richest more than anything else.

Replacing a tax on earned income with a mansion tax means many of the top 1% will be much better off, while the few who buy £2m+ homes will be worse off, but there aren't many of those. There are plenty more pensioners or low paid working families reliant on the savagely cut tax credits.

The Tories have been brash and bold. This was an ideological budget, cutting tax for the rich while squeezing the workless poor. It also did nothing to stimulate growth, so crucial in creating jobs and easing the pain for those at the bottom.

This was both brash and risky from the Tories, who are now upsetting an ever widening set of key groups:


  • Doctors - unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS
  • Nurses -  unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS
  • Teachers - cuts
  • Police - cuts
  • Army - cuts
  • Pensioners - cutting their tax allowances
  • Families - cutting access to child benefit and tax credits
  • Students and middle classes - trebling tuition fees
How big will the list become? Will Labour be able to take advantage? It can if it continues to focus on the tightening belt on the squeezed middle and not on class war. This represents a golden opportunity for Labour to capitalise on the government's growing unpopularity. The narrative for the next election has been set by the cut to the 50% tax rate. What hasn't been decided is whether it will make any difference. Except to the top 1% of earners who are quids in. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Boris Johnson ignores the suburbs & Ken gets a kicking

Further news of Boris Johnson ignoring his fans in the London suburbs fails to have dented his popularity. At a time when the Tory Party is consolidating a lead over Labour in the opinion polls despite doing lots of unpopular things, mayoral candidate Johnson is following suit. The latest mayoral opinion poll puts him ahead of Labour rival Ken Livingstone on both first and. crucially, second preferences.

An example of Johnson's "relaxed" attitude to his suburban vote was demonstrated by his ignoring of a 3,000 name petition against plans for a high rise development on top of Twickenham station. He approved the development, despite Richmond Council, run by the Tories stating that they believe in "low density" developments. Johnson himself has opposed/said what he thought people wanted to hear Richmond Council's planned development of the nearby riverside side as being "inappropriate" for the area. He can't have it both ways.

Or can he? Just like the Tories nationally, saying and doing unpopular things seems to only increase their poll position. YouGov's poll today put Johnson ahead, 54% to Livingstone's 46% in the race for mayor. Today's Guardian ICM poll also put the Tories ahead by three points over Labour, with 39%. Perhaps this suggests that while unpopular, the Tories are trusted more than Livingstone and Labour more generally at the moment.

Polls and election results often come down to gut feel and who looks more like a leader than what a candidate is actually proposing to do. Both Johnson and Livingstone have as many fans as enemies which means there will be more changes in support right up to election day, with both bucking national (Tories more popular than Labour) and local (Labour more popular than Tories in London) trends.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Better off with Ken bus to tour London

Ken Livingstone today announced that he will tour every London borough in his "fare deal" bus to promote his "better of with Ken" election message.
Fare Deal Express
 I have only got one question about this: how much does this bus cost and how does that compare to Boris Johnson's new Routemasters, the most expensive buses in the world?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

UK government debt in context

A couple of charts on an A-level tutorial site, Economics Help shows in context the level of UK government debt over time:



This shows that despite the recent increase in government debt after the bailout of the banks, we're at historically low levels.

Monday, March 05, 2012

NHS reform infographic

Support for NHS the reforms proposed by the Tory and Lib Dem coalition is scant as the fantastic infographic below shows: 


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Will 2015 follow 2010 and be a loser's election?

As we head towards the mid point of the current parliament no party looks like being the next victor. On current form a 2015 general election will bring results much like 2010l, where there was no clear winner.

In 2010 Gordon Brown had failed to convince the country he deserved to win. David Cameron assumed his Tories would waltz to power by default, yet they didn't. The Lib Dems lost numerous seats as they failed to take advantage of Nick Clegg's popularity bounce following the TV debates.



In 2012 we've got a Labour leader in Ed Miliband who is growing into his role but hasn't convinced yet. Depending on who you ask, his leadership is either a work in progress or ineffective. The Tories are struggling to get their programme through parliament, such as NHS reforms, in the face of huge public and professional opposition. While  many voters buy their line that the economy is "Labour's mess" they are not convinced that the Tories are the best for the country. The Lib Dems are paying the price for fronting up several of the Tories unpopular policies, such as the trebling of tuition fees.

How does that project the three parties forward to 2015?

Labour need to continue to build on successes, such as forging the political agenda, as they did over phone hacking and bankers' bonuses, but through to actual cut through with voters. This has so far failed to materialise. The Telegraph's Benedict Brogan is right when he says "Labour would be foolish to think an absence of enthusiasm for the Tories can get it out of its strategic hole". It can't win by default, just as it failed to do in the 1980s. 

The Tories need voters to start thanking them for taking tough but correct action to improve the economy. They also need to look more like a government in control of events and the political agenda than they currently do. They need to look like they are most fit to govern of the three parties.

The Lib Dems need people to forget about their sins, such as trebling tuition fees and hope to recover local support where their pockets of seats exist. I have no idea whether this will happen.

Nobody looks like doing what they need to forge ahead in the polls. That means it is all up for grabs and the political landscape is likely to continue to shift according to external events and how each of the main players react to this.

Monday, February 20, 2012

NHS reform re-toxifies the Tory brand

I can't understand why the Tories are so hell-bent on reforming the NHS. This unpopular change is dragging their brand through the mud when the party has traditionally struggled to get people to believe they will not destroy the NHS. Why do it when you don't have to? Just leave it alone. At least wait for people to trust you first before meddling.

David Cameron and Andrew Lansley are hell-bent on NHS reform precisely because it is such a political body. The NHS symbolises the Labour Party and therefore the Tories have always been suspicious of it. I can understand but not excuse that. What many Tories are now refusing to forgive is Cameron's picking of an unnecessary and un-winnable fight when the  economic climate makes governing hard enough.

Cameron is trying to plough the changes through whatever the opposition in the hope that people will have forgotten about it by 2015 at the next general election. I doubt voters will forget.

Cameron and  Lansley contradict themselves when they claim the reason for the NSH changes, like GP fundholding in the early 1990s, is to take power away from bureaucrats and give it to highly trusted doctors. That might be fine. Except that falls down when the Tories ignore these trusted experts, doctors and nurses, to ignore their advice about the bill.

If we trust doctors, as Cameron says we do. Trust their judgement and drop the bill or watch the Tory brand disappear again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Boris Johnson has some nerve

Reading mayor Boris Johnson's quotes in tonight's Evening Standard that "for too long our transport network suffered from waste and neglect" make sm y blood boil. How he has the nerve to make such claims I don't know. When we talk mayors the previous Labour mayor delivered an unprecedented expansion of our transport infrastructure. 

This mayor, Boris himself, stagnated it by cutting future projects such as the Cross River Tram. Crossrail and the London Overground were nothing to do with him. He has a tough fight on his hands if he thinks he can fight Ken Livingstone on transport. He is better off sticking to other topics where his Labour challenger is weaker, such as personality.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Boris burns your cash and ignores the future

The London Mayor has a good amount of power to change the city through a range of management, financial and infrastructure levers. The big three issues for Londoners often focus on crime, transport and housing. Wit the latter two the mayor has to plan for the future because what happens in their four year terms often doesn't bear to fruition until much later.



Just look at current mayor Boris Johnson's introduction of a new "Routemaster" style bus. His four years are almost up and we haven't yet seen any on the road, though craftily we will just in time for the forthcoming election. Taking a deeper look at Boris' mayoralty and his claimed transport achievements and we see a celebration of many projects that he had very little to do with.

The expansion of London Overground was set in motion by Ken Livingstone as was the major East London regeneration resulting from the Olympics. That happened because Livingstone planned ahead. Unlike the current mayor. Boris has left us with very little to help sate the demands of a growing city in the future. A loss making cycle scheme and loss making cable car, together with the world's most expensive bus.

That brings us to Crossrail. Boris and his Tory pals confirmed it when in office, but the project was planned and budgeted for by both a Labour mayor and government. When Ken says he will plan for Crossrail 2 and a Crossrail 3, I believe him because he has delivered in the past. All we are likely to get from Boris is a "yeah me too" or "how about we introduce a sponsored air balloon system that won't cost taxpayers any money."

Whoever wins in May has to think beyond the next election and be adult enough to think beyond politics. Otherwise their role as mayor is to tinker around the edges and leave London ill-prepared for the future.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ken Livingstone versus Boris Johnson in social media

An analysis of social media conversations mentioning London mayoral candidates Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone shows the Labour man catching up on his Tory rival, much as he has done in the opinion polls recently, overtaking Boris by 2%, after trailing by 8% last summer.


The chart above shows the number of times each was mentioned across blogs, Twitter, forums, Facebook, YouTube and in news blogs and comments since September 2011.

You can see that Boris generally leads his Labour rival, with a remarkable peak in early October when he addressed Tory party conference and failed to say anything of significance about his plans for London.

Livingstone picked up in the last few days after a widely hyped interview with the New Statesman, after which Tory MPs demanded an apology after the mayoral hopeful stated that their party was "riddled with gays."

Looking beyond conversation volumes towards the sentiment of what is being said about the two men, is it a positive, neutral or negative comment, also shows the race, in social media, to be neck and neck.

Boris Johnson gains slightly more positive (green) than negative (red) comments, by a margin of +7%:


Ken Livingstone has more fans in social media than Boris in the last few months, according to our analysis:



Of course, the only statistic that matters is the election in May. What this shows is that this will be the close fight we all expect it to be and that despite Boris' celebrity status, Ken's attraction has far from wilted.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Racist Tory MP in more Nazi shame

This morning I picked up from Twitter rumours that Tory Cannock Chase MP Aidan Burley was seen texting and dozing while at a talk given by a Holocaust survivor. If true, that is disgusting and disrespectful in the extreme. When will these people learn?



This is the same Tory MP that was sacked from his junior minister role at the Department for Transport only two months ago after taking part in a Nazi themed stag do where he was responsible for hiring replica Nazi uniforms and toasting the Third Reich.



Attending a talk by a Holocaust survivor might have been an opportunity to redeem himself. I'm shocked and saddened by Burley's contempt.

UPDATE: we know that Burley didn't ask his allotted question at PMQs yesterday and wasn't in Parliament. Was he in Poland?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Boris Johnson finally works out what being a mayor is all about

The first phase of Boris Johnson's mayoralty was characterised by him doing very little. He wanted the mayor to spend less and do less. He cancelled many of previous mayor Ken Livingstone's planned transport projects and drastically cut the London Development Agency. This was all part of his plan to give Londoners "more bang for their buck."

The second half of Boris' reign has been characterised by a series of expensive, loss making projects, such as the cycle hire and cable car. Now it looks like he is starting to panic by claiming he will take over the running of train services in London.

I actually think that would be a good idea as the benefits of Transport for London management of the London Overground lines in north and east London have seen huge service improvements and growth in usage. I wonder whether Boris would be any good at it though when not long ago he claimed the whole concept unworkable.

I also struggle to believe Boris would do it if he won again. Not only did he scrap some of Livingstone's projects when he got in, such as the Cross River Tram, but he also failed to implement many of his own, such as a tram for Oxford Street. The latter was perhaps a daft idea anyway given the disruption that Crossrail construction has brought the area.

This also shows that Boris is running a reactive campaign. He is responding to the Livingstone proposals to cut fares by trying to offer his version of the same pledge. He is trying to fight Livingstone on his home turf. Boris has woken up to the responsibility of the mayoralty but rather too late.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

David versus Ed Miliband in social media

I wanted to see if David Miliband's New Statesman article and widespread news coverage of it had led to much social media commentary.

It clearly has, shown in the chart below detailing the number of mentions for each of the Miliband brothers over the last month:

This shows how mainstream news agenda is still driving social media and political commentary. Obviously. I'll keep an eye on how long the David bubble continues to fly.

David, Ed and the media

David Miliband's New Statesman article has garnered a great deal of media attention today. Everyone is either looking for, finding or creating signs of disagreement and tension between the elder Miliband and his brother, Ed, who beat him to the Labour leadership.

David's article is thoughtful and written with an academic style. The sentiment of this morning's media splashes has been wildly different. They have predictably focused on the fireworks rather than the proactive suggestions he makes because it makes for a much better story.



Is David really calling for a total re-think of his brother's stewardship of Labour? Does it matter? What does this tell us about Labour at the moment and the media's response to it?

David actually says what a host of Labour people said in the Purple Book recently, that the party needs to be state reformers and look beyond a big state as the answer to problems. He also stresses the need to balance internationalism, growth, investment and equal opportunities to help create an improving and thriving economy. It is hard to argue with any of this.

The perception gap with his brother isn't there in his words.

The perception gap between David and Ed's vision is in the words of the journalists who have reported on this. I don't see a great deal of difference between what the two brothers are either saying or putting into Labour policy. His key statement isn't all that different from what the Eds have been trying to get across to a sceptical media and voters:

"Our attacks on the Tories will not work if we are not clear about what we did. We should say loud and clear where we made mistakes, but we should also insist that the list of gains far outstripped the mistakes. After all, even David Cameron said on coming to office that Britain was better in 2010 than 1997."

He goes on:

"Principle without power is the stuff of a debating society, not a political party. "

The problem is that many commentators long ago decided that Ed's solutions are of the former, not the latter and haven't bothered to look at the detail because it gets in the way of a good story. David's ideas should be a hand up not a slap in the face for his brother. I think most within the Labour Party will see it that way, but that won't make a good story. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ed Miliband gets it right again

Ed Miliband's lobbying for a parliamentary vote about the size of state owned RBS boss Stephen Hester's bonus led to the banker backing down and waiving his bonus. Even the BBC's Robert Peston admitted it was  Miliband's campaigning that forced the issue.



This is great news for Miliband and Labour as it shows that the he has again forced the political agenda and made the right call on a high profile issue. His response to phone hacking is another key example.

Unfortunately Miliband's right calls on the issues that matter have done nothing to boost his or Labour's opinion poll ratings, with the Tories on a poll high. What will it take for Miliband to cement himself as the man who calls it right in the mind of the voting masses?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why I'm a progressive

Progress or stagnation? That is the sort of question politicians like to pose at election time. The one asking the question is usually the one who thinks they will provide progress, while tainting their opponents as the bastions of stagnation. That language framed the 2010 general election. David Cameron told us he offered change and progress, while the then incumbent, Gordon Brown and Labour, offered stagnation.

Nearly two years later, what have Cameron's Tories delivered?

Almost nothing. But stagnation. The economy was growing when they came to power. Now it is contracting. In total that has left Britain with a paltry 0.3% growth since George Osborne's spending review.



Disturbing. Pathetic. Very worrying.

Any fool knows you need people in work, paying taxes, spending their wages to guarantee growth and pay off government debts. Everyone except Cameron and Osborne that is.

There is an alternative. That is why I'm a progressive.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ken V Boris: too close to call, dirty, exciting

After last week's YouGov poll put Ken Livingstone ahead of incumbent mayor Boris Johnson in the race to lead London, LBC and ComRes have released their own poll. This again gives the former mayor a slender lead of 51% to 49%.

This is remarkable for a candidate who lost the mayoralty in 2008 after looking tired, disinterested and didn't focus on the issues mattering most to voters, as his rival Johnson managed to. As the likes of Adam Bienkov point out, that position is now reversed. Johnson is the one talking about protecting bankers, while Livingstone is talking about the rising cost of living and transport fares.

Interestingly, Livingstone is under performing against Labour's expected polling in London, while Johnson is more popular than the Tories. Despite that, Labour's candidate will be far happier as we enter the last 100 days of the campaign.

The Back Boris campaign is in a bit of a mess. Complacency about victory must have evaporated, along with his poll lead. I quick scan of London news sites and blogs shows a campaign not in control, clutching at straws or making false claims.


  • Mayor Watch today reports that Back Boris is claiming Johnson began and implemented London Overground, when in fact, as the TfL website points out, Livingstone started it in 2007, a year before the buffoon took power
  • Left Foot Forward highlights that Johnson used his Telegraph column to blame young people and their lack of skills for sky high youth unemployment
  • Boris Watch notes that Johnson's primary vanity project, his new bus, is getting ever more expensive, with another prototype being ordered at a staggering £547,000
It is all getting very political. The first new bus for London is due on our streets in May 2012, election month. TfL are running an advertising campaign to highlight improvements over the last three years, which conveniently coincides with BJ's mayoral term. 

Our old pal and former Livingstone nemesis, Andrew Gilligan, now at the Telegraph, is at it again with a regular column of Livingstone-loathing. Fortunately fewer potential Labour voters read the Telegraph than the Evening Standard, his former home, so his distortive effect may be limited this time.  


What does this leave us with? A content that is too close to call, will inevitably turn dirty and one that will be great to watch.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ken versus Boris: too close to call

I'd been intrigued to see what the latest opinion polling thought about the impending London mayoral election, incumbent Boris Johnson, versus former mayor Ken Livingstone, after last summer's polls suggested a commanding lead for BJ. Today's YouGov poll puts Ken 2% ahead, 51-49.

A surprisingly large number of Labour voters had previously said they'd vote Tory last June, though that has now fallen. That suggests that Livingstone's unpopularity among some after a long career has waned. That could be a result of his powerful campaign to cut transport fares. 

Conservative Home's Tim Montgomery recently warned Tories not to let their previous poll lead lure them into a false sense of security, dubbing it "dangerously complacent". That message will have come shattering home today. For the Tories, with BJ more popular than his party, the focus must be personality. Their man picks up votes because he is well known and seen as likeable. People seem to put to one side that they don't think he understands the issues. For example, only 13% see Boris as someone who is in touch with the concerns of ordinary people, compared to 40% for Ken. 

For Labour, the election has to be focused on the Tories. Boris is a Tory, not an independent. He is someone who makes the cost of living in London higher and isn't going to protect Londoners from the worst of a possible recession. 


Ken and his Labour team look like they will stick to that message. They should as it has worked so far. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ed Miliband and the unions

Ed Miliband today came in for criticism from trade union leaders for backing Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who said Labour cannot promise to reverse all Tory cuts if it got in power again. This seem like such an obvious point from Balls and Miliband that I find it quite absurd that he has come in for today's flak.

It is in no way a betrayal of ordinary people or an acceptance that the Tories are right. It is just sensible real-politik.

The unions will simply alienate people from Labour by attempting to pull Miliband's puppet strings so publicly.

Of course, this is a problem for Miliband for he so openly used the unions to get the Labour leadership in the first place. What happens next will be interesting to see if Miliband has the balls to stand up to them or if the unions call in their favours.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Boris Johnson plans Thames tunnel after scrapping Thames Gateway Bridge

London Mayor Boris Johnson is going to announce plans to build a Thames tunnel linking Silvertown in East London and the Greenwich peninsula, somewhere on the map below:

 As useful as this link would undoubtedly prove this comes just a few years after the same mayor, Boris Johnson, scrapped plans by the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone, for a Thames Gateway Bridge, just a bit further east along the river.

Apparently there was no funding for that. Given that tunnels cost a great deal more than bridges, where is the money for the tunnel? I suspect that the bridge was scrapped simply because it was proposed by a Labour mayor.

In his early days, Boris didn't see much point in being mayor and did little to propose major projects to change the fabric of the city. After a few years in the throne he has changed his tune and is getting to quite like vanity projects:


  • There is his expensive new Routemaster, the world's most expensive bus at an eye-watering £1.6m each
  • A loss making cable car - it cost £60m to build and has attracted only £36m in sponsorship
  • And the popular but loss making cycle hire scheme. Over six years this cost TfL £140 to build but Barclays sponsorship only claws back about a quarter of that, while usage fees are estimated to bring in about £1m a year. Clearly not enough
The latter of course was a plan started by the previous mayor.


In 2008 Boris Johnson promised to give Londoners more bang for their buck. He has succeeded only in giving us more bang for more bucks. Not quite the same thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Will Ed Miliband make a difference?

Ed Miliband's speech today suggesting that Labour can't rely on splashing the cash if in government again picked up from recent articles and posts by the likes of Peter Watt and Gavin Kelly. The latter two were as criticising Miliband, despite his likely agreement with them.

Ed Balls and Miliband have been trying to get across the argument that growth should be used to cut the deficit. Today was the first time I've seen Miliband explain this in simple language, that you need people working and paying taxes to pay off the deficit, not claiming benefits. This is promising though the problem with Miliband's leadership has rarely been about what he has said, which is getting better all the time, more about two things:

  1. Perception
  2. Clear alternative
Miliband's perception problem hasn't gone away. His personal poll ratings are very bad at the moment though he is getting much more media coverage. Having a clear alternative set of policies to the government isn't easy but will become very necessary. There were a smattering of new proposals today though nothing fundamental. His theme of the "squeezed middle" has stuck with both Tories and Lib Dems trying to steal parts of his rhetoric. He proposes to promote changed business practice, like an end to quarterly reporting, to develop a long term investment based capitalism. 



Aside from his personal perception problems, Miliband faces difficulty in persuading voters that he understands the severity of the government deficit and knows how to get rid of it without unnecessarily and adversely affecting their way of life. He hasn't done that yet, people are just not believing Labour at the moment. 

Balls and Miliband have to convince people other than me that they should be taken seriously on the deficit and the economy. It hasn't worked so far, today's speech won't change it overnight either. At the moment it is all too esay to attack them for being involved in the last Labour government and to stop listening. There is some great stuff in the detail but most people don't bother with that. Not least when a hostile media doesn't tell them.  





Ken Livingstone dubs Borish Johnson a "pickpocket"

In the latest swipe of what is developing into a rather juicy personality clash, Ken Livingstone is today running advertising in the Evening Standard dubbing his rival Boris Johnson as a pickpocket:

This highlights the rising cost of using public transport in London since Boris came to power in 2008. This includes a single bus fare increasing by 50%.