The Thick of It


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spin it all

This is too good not to share, politicos and PR people among us, is this really what we do? Of course not.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Are bendy buses really London's biggest problem?

If you only read Andrew Gilligan's column in the London Evening Standard you might think so. He quotes an October 2007 Daily Mirror article describing the horrible death of 21 year old Lee Beckwith in East London, after the young man was dragged for "more than a mile" by a number 25 bendy bus, without the driver realising.

Clearly the safety of bendy buses needs to be looked at properly, because nobody wants to see unnecessary harm caused, together with fare evasion on those routes. The fact remains though that Boris Johnson's much fabled new Routemaster doesn't exist. Bendy buses were introduced to high demand routes where double deckers are inaccessible and impractical because boarding takes too long.

I noted with interest a report to Swansea City Council by First Group about introducing bendy buses to the city (they are also used in Nottingham, Leeds and Manchester already, among others). Though conditions there were not thought to be comparible to London, it was noted that accidents involving the buses are "well below expectations when compared to the standard UK First Bus fleet." Worth noting. Perhaps we can learn from this in London? Or listen to it?

The most important transport issues facing London are capacity and affordability. Our network is over crowded, so we need more of it. Simple. Ken Livingstone has already got these projects agreed and underway for London, Crossrail, East London Line extension and has proposed further schemes like the Oxford Street Tram. Johnson has no new ideas of his own, which worries me. If he became Mayor , I doubt he would offer anything new or exciting, only projects he didn't devise or think of.

When offered a choice between two candidates, with the same policies, I'll be voting for the one who actually thought of them in the first place. Not the one who only has one, unworkable idea.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ken versus Boris and Andrew

Taking transport and the so called "issue" of bendy buses in London, Andrew Gilligan has sought to attack Ken Livingstone's campaign in favour of his former paymaster Boris Johnson, yet again.

Despite the claims of Gilligan tonight that TfL's Peter Hendy acted politically in defending the use of these buses against Johnson's slurs, this wasn't the case. The "evidence" he presents shows Hendy defending the policy he enacted. That he names Johnson's campaign doesn't make a civil servant political, he was simply stating the case against someone who was criticising TfL policy. Civil servants are also meant to be anonymous traditionally, so Gilligan's article flouts that practice.

This is a red herring. Ken's transport policy for London is progressive, making travel affordable for those on low incomes and free for the young and old. Expanding the network by delivering Crossrail and better rail services will make London easier to get around for everyone. Contrast this with the Tory proposals. Replace bendy buses with an accessible Routemaster that doesn't exist. Scrap the £25 congestion charge for gas guzzlers. What effect will that have? The bendy buses will remain on the streets (where they are needed on crowded routes like the 38, 73 and 29), while the air will be more polluted. That is it. Progress versus regression.

The two visions laid out by the leading candidates for the Mayoralty are starkly different. One is ambitious, one is piecemeal at best. However, Ken's campaign needs to work hard to ensure this message gets through to voters. Johnson is being treated as a serious candidate because, with the help of his friends in the media and at Associated Newspapers, he is being seen as one, according to opinion polls.

This is going to be a hard fought campaign. For the first time since I was a pre-teen, the Tories are being treated seriously. However, the last time that happened, Labour had no record of delivery to speak of. Ken does and that gives him a position of strength.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ken's campaign launch

I attended Ken Livingstone's campaign launch today at Royal Festival Hall. He set out his vision for London, one with better transport, lower crime, more youth provision, more affordable housing and less pollution. I was impressed, though not suprised.

Following my earlier post that Boris Johnson had no actual plan to replace bendy buses with these mystical new Routemasters, he admitted today that he really doesn't know how he plans to implement one of his best known "policies."

The choice for London is stark, ambition and progress versus stagnation and confusion.

Friday, March 14, 2008

How exactly is Boris Johnson proposing to bring back the Routemaster?

Boris Johnson keeps saying that he wants to bring to London a modern version of the Routemaster bus. Great. Only one small snag, how exactly? Where does this new bus exist and how much will it cost?

It doesn't. So nobody knows how much it will cost to research, design, build and buy. A mayoral term lasts four years, product development and licencing would take longer than that. So even if Boris managed to get a design approved it is unlikely that he would be able to replace bendy buses with a new Routemaster duting his term of office anyway.

If this is all he has to offer then London deserves more ambition than a vague and unresearched idea. It is nothing more than that.

"A spokeswoman for Johnson said the new Routemaster bus had not been designed yet it was not possible to say how many would be needed or what the total cost would be."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Boris commits to air-conditioning on tube

Boris Johnson has "pledged" to add air-conditioning to the sub-surface (District, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan) lines on the tube. Great. Except that this is already happening as part of the PPP upgrade. Something new would be nice.

Livingstone's London cycle hire scheme

Just thought it worth pointing out that Ken Kivingstone's proposed bike hire scheme was not copied from Boris Johnson's. Mayorwatch quite rightly points out that Ken's scheme was proposed over a month before Boris was even selected as Tory candidate. There is nothing like incumbency. Ken was negotiating this in August.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ken's London transport manifesto

Reading Boris Johnson's transport manifesto last week one could be forgiven for thinking that Crossrail and the East London Line extension weren't happening. He just seems obsessed with bendy bus soundbites. Ken's manifesto, out today, is full of ambition and progressive proposals for London.

There is a lot to get excited about in London over the next four years with the Olympics and new transport developments. On my way to watch Leyton Orient I go past the Olmypic site at it's Northern peak, by the A12 in Hackney Wick. The sheer scale of the development and the positive change it will bring to London hits you. The city will change immeasurably in the next four years.

I feel that none of the ambitious projects, Olympics, Crossrail and the East London Line Extension, would have happened under the Tories or if Johnson had been Mayor. There is obviously a great deal that could go wrong.

One part of Ken's transport manifesto that didn't get much pick up today was the plan to introduce a bicycle hire scheme, a mirror of the hugely successful one in Paris. Other new projects of note include extending Croydon Tramlink to Crystal Palace and the Oxford Street transit. Wresting control of London's railways is also being discussed. This would make a massive difference to South Londoners who don't get the benefit of the tube or Oyster pay as you go.

Progress versus posturing. That choice was made very clear today.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Jasper quits, what next for the Evening Standard?

Hopefully now that Lee Jasper has quit after the reporting of his embarrassing flirty emails yeaterday we can focus on policy in the run up to the election.

In the last couple of days there have been some good articles focusing on the issues vexing London at the moment. The Independent on Sunday's Gilligan interview, today's Guardian Livingstone interview, we have to remember that it is Ken versus Boris, not Ken versus Gilligan/Evening Standard.

Gilligan claims he isn't returning a favour to Boris Johnson for employing him at the Spectator after he lost his position at the BBC after the Hutton Enquiry. Dave Hill's "What if Boris wins?" reminded me that Johnson previously offered his support to the thankfully now jailed convicted fraudster Conrad Black.

More importantly for London, Boris has unveiled his transport manifesto. This includes "consulting" (read abolish) on the western part of the Congestion Charge zone and to get a no-strike deal with the tube unions. I can't see that happening and anyway, strikes have hardly been the scourge of the travelling public in London recently. There was no vision, no schemes to get excited about or to reduce carbon emissions.

Perhaps the only thing exicting about what Boris says is how he says it, not what he says. London needs more.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What else has Lee Jasper supposedly done?

Now the Daily Mail is accusing Lee Jasper of sending "sexually charged" messages to a woman in charge of an organisation in receipt of LDA money. This doesn't look great and takes the campaign onto a new level.

However, I'm more interested in the concept that many of the accusations against Jasper stem from alleged relationships, personal or political, that he may have with those in the ethnic minority community network. I don't think I'm missing the point, but isn't that exactly what you want in that sort of position? Surely the reason Jasper was appointed was precisely because he had such connections?