The Thick of It


Friday, February 29, 2008

Oxford Street tram

I have just picked up that on Tuesday Ken Livingstone renewed his pledge to run a tram from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch along Oxford Street. Oxford Street is always blocked with buses and taxis despite all other traffic being banned. I always feel embarrassed that this is meant to be one of our flagship tourist destinations, rather it resembles a noisy and polluted shambles.

Getting rid of traffic will make the street more pleasant and show that London can really take on the challenges of climate change and of creating livable spaces - like the changes in Trafalgar Square from a few years ago.

Big up Ken. What vision has our Boris offered so far? Mayoralty should be about big projects and making people proud to live in their city. Look at the work of Bertrand Delanoë in Paris in bringing the Paris Plage and Rock en Seine or the transformation of Barcelona under Pasqual Maragall i Mira to see the pride and rebirth a forward thinking mayor prepared to face criticism from conservatives can do.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Conrad Black's appeal should fail - get the man in jail!

Does anyone remember the Canadian who renounced his nationality to become British and become a British peer? Conrad Black was recommended to become a Lord by then Tory Leader and current Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague.

Black was convicted of fraud last summer and has somehow dodged jail. His days of freedom seem numbered now though as his latest appeal against his conviction. The Press Association reports that:

"US prosecutors said an emergency request by lawyers for the 63-year-old former owner of the Daily Telegraph that he should remain free on bail pending the outcome of an appeal should be denied."

Get him behind bars like all other convicts.

Oh, I must thank Hague for giving us this wonderful man.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The campaign against Ken

It has been commented that I was wrong to state that the campaign against Ken Livingstone and Lee Jasper has singly been at the hands of the Evening Standard. It was cited that Channel 4's Dispatches aired an attack of Ken's powers. The programme argued that the Mayor has too much power. The summary states that Martin Bright:

"(investigates) the lack of checks and balances on the mayor which allows him to create and instigate costly and controversial policies, at public expense without wider scrutiny or approval."

Ken himself stated that if extra checks and balances were put in place, he would be happy. He also responded in more detail in Bright's New Statesman, setting out why he thinks he deserves to win in May. You may recall that part of Bright's programme sought to investigate whether a glass Ken had used contained any trace of alcohol. I really cannot take this seriously. Radio 4 reported on Dispatches and what others were "reporting."

Dave Hill reports on last night's Influentials Debate, where Ken gave a strong defence of his record and against Gilligan's attacks. Ken stated "what hasn't been produced is any evidence to sustain...the Evening Standard implying that Lee Jasper has been a beneficiary of this. That's what's outrageous." Without laying specific evidence and proof, Richard Barnes' "tide of corruption" claim does not stand up.

The Evening Standard and those campaigning for Boris want us to be caught up in these arguments rather than positively campaigning on Labour's undoubtedly progressive record in London. I'll finish with a short list:
  • Congestion charge
  • More social housing
  • Free travel for the young and those on income support
  • Plans for a sustainable city by 2020
  • Improvements to buses

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lee Jasper, the media...

Yesterday's post that the police have stated that they cannot charge Lee Jasper with any offences seems to have caused a stir. There are two points here:
  1. My main point from yesterday being that the Evening Standard had been all over the Lee Jasper story, but once something that didn't suit their line came out, almost nothing
  2. Second being that commented on here yesterday by the "GLA Spokesperson" that nobody has actually presented the police with criminal allegations - they'd much rather mouth off to the press than have to offer substantive proof

I have no vested interest in Lee Jasper and I've no idea whether any of these allegations have any vestige of truth about them. My point is that the Tory media are hounding him and are using people like Richard Barnes to do their dirty work. As yet Barnes hasn't come forward and given whatever evidence he may have for making these allegations to the police.

Therefore, I find Libdemvoice's thoughts amusing, when they say my post was "Labour spin" about the police "clearing" Jasper of charges he hasn't been charged with. The challenge is actually to see whether Barnes will put up or shut up - and the Evening Standard will follow suit.

I'm not going to respond in detail to Sharon's charge sheet, these charges are not for me to answer. If the police cannot investigate because nobody has made any allegations to them, the same applies to the District Auditor, someone has to complain for there to be an investigation. My experience from Islington and the Standards Board's investigation into the appointment of Helen Bailey by the Lib Dems as Chief Executive of the council isn't a good one. Aside from the findings, it took three and a half years, lots of expense, while Bailey remained in post.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lee Jasper to face no charges

The police have decided that Ken Livingstone's suspended race advisor Lee Jasper hasn't committed a criminal offence. The politically motivated campaign against Jasper and Livingstone by Associated Newspapers and the London Evening Standard has been brutal. Trawling thisislondon and I see no mention of this. So far this "scandal" has only been written about by BBC, The Guardian and a couple of local papers.

I'm sure there will be a response from
Gilligan and the Standard but as yet, they haven't published one. Not that surprising really when one considers this is hardly the news they will have wanted and likely to be exactly the news Livingstone expected when he asked the police to investigate.

There is a bit more buzz on the blogosphere. Laughably the "Battle for Britain" now claims the police are corrupt for convicting Nick Griffin on "lesser charges" than Jasper. Author Philip Bryant does describbe himself as a "nationalist nutter" though. Some more balanced and journalistic reoprting is found on Mayor Watch, while Lib Dem Voice thinks that Livingstone was possibly wrong to ask th epolice to investigate in the first place if there was nothing to answer for. I think that is a little naive considering the mealstrom that built up.

Next up for Jasper, complaints that despite his job being politically restricted, that he told The voice newspaper that he was backing Ken for Mayor. Does that count as campaigning? It shouldn't really surprise anyone that he would say this when he owes his position to his boss, Ken.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Emily Thornberry and poverty in Islington

Thank you to Emily Thornberry's office (MP for Islington South and Finsbury) for putting some useful statistics my way on how unemployment levels and tax credits have helped people in her constituency. This follows yesterday's post citing a Telegraph article claiming that some of Thornberry's consituents are among the most depenedent on benefits in the country.

In last year's budget debate, Ms Thornberry cited that:

"In Islington, South and Finsbury that means that, whereas unemployment was up at 5,319 when Labour came to power in 1997, it has now more than halved to 2,386.

"Here is an example of where our policies have helped one of my constituents. Ms B is a single parent who works about 20 hours a week as a nursery nurse. Her net wages—the Liberal Democrats should listen to this; I urge them to change their ideas on tax credits—are only £127 a week, which is about the same amount that she would get if she stayed at home on benefits. However, working tax credit, child tax credit and child benefit together contribute another £123 a week, bringing her total to £250 a week. Now that really is making work pay."

So getting people back into work and making it worthwhile financially to do so are so important. However, subsidising low pay is not ideal and therefore we need a higher skill set so that the jobs people get actually pay them properly.

Black Watch

My previous conrad Black post was linked in the comments to a running story at Toronto Life. I like their dedicated Conrad Black section. I wish I'd discovered this before. I wonder if they will visit him in jail, when he finally bothers to turn up?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Islington dependent on benefits?

According to the Daily Telegraph, Islington South is one of the five constituencies most dependent on benefits in Britain. Another former home of mine, Manchester Central is the most dependent, with 49% of households dependent on benefits. Others in the list include Liverpool Riverside, Poplar and Glasgow North East.

The New Deal was a good start but more must be done to break the dependence on benefits and to help people back into work, provide affordable childcare where needed and give people the skills they need. No small matter of course.

It doesn't really surprise me when I think of Manchester Central and large parts of Islington South. What is galling is that both areas mix great poverty and wealth, wealth which clearly isn't filtering through to everyone.

A Labour London Mayor will help, with what might seem like small gestures making a huge difference to those on low incomes, these include concessionary fares on public transport for those on income support.

I'm waiting to see if any local politicians or media pick up on this...

Conrad black still not in jail

I find it unfathomable that convicted fraudster Conrad Black remains a free man, despite being sentenced on 10 December 2007. He is due 'inside' on March 3, almost three months from sentencing and eight months from his July 2007 conviction.

It gets better, now Black is asking for the start of his jail sentence to be delayed while he composes his appeal. What about all the other convicts languishing inside while they appeal their verdicts? I suppose they have never been a lord so it is different for them. Black has put up $21m bail, but still stands guilty so should be inside. I am hopeful after his previous request for a delayed start to his sentence was denied on Janaury 31.

Just as a reminder, this is the man William Hague recommended for a peerage when Tory leader.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Councillor pay

With the cash for honours affair, Derek Conway and the stupidly poor administration of some of Labour's deputy leadership candidates, paying for democracy is high on the agenda. There are many stories of lazy councillors, some of which I've highlighted here, so living in Islington with the highest paid councillors in the country, I was intruiged by a Dorset councillor's plan for "pay as you work" allowances.

Tory cllr Nick King of Bournemouth Borough Council believes councillors should be paid for the work they do. I agree. Like any normal employee, publicly funded representatives should account for what they do. I don't agree that they should be paid according to the meetings they attend, but I do agree that performance should be rewarded where appropriate and the lazy ones "fined."