The Thick of It


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is the mayoral system accountable enough?

So far we have only had two London mayors, Ken Livingstone and now Boris Johnson. Early signs are that Johnson will take a very different approach to Livingstone. This matters because the political structures are still quite new and established practice, which forms the basis for much of British democracy, hasn't yet settled down.

The mayor is meant to be scrutinised by the assembly. This is supplemented by media scrutiny. The assembly's role is set by law and is quite limited., largely to investigation of issues. Scrutiny of the mayor is tempered because politically the assembly needs a two thirds majority to veto the mayor's budget. With 11 of 25 current members Tory (44%), this is unlikely.

The media's role isn't set by law but is more important in brining City Hall closer to the electorate. The Evening Standard's high profile campaign against Livingstone at the recent election brought the whole event a much higher profile. Johnson campained on the basis that he would be a more transparent, accountable mayor. So far the evidence is that he is being less open and less accountable. This goes against what he campaigned for and makes a little understood institution more distant from Londoners.

Johnson has limited journalists to a single question, while Livingstone, widely known as a master of detail, stayed available until all questions had been answered. Even the Standard are pointing this out. One London's Damian Hockney isn't impressed and neither am I:
"one question per journo, Boris? Come on, you're not Madonna or David Beckham - that's how anyone who doesn't want to answer a question deals with accountability."

During the election Johnson was certainly kept from talking to the press and it looks like this is set to continue.

Johnson pledged to bring in people's question times, a great idea, however only two are planned per year. My feeling is that the overall level of scrutiny will be far less under this mayor. This isn't a good start, though hardly a surprising one.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

City Hall a waste of money?

The GLC was abolished in 1985 because, it was claimed by Thatcher's government, city government was a waste of money and simply duplicated the work already done by the boroughs. Fast forward to 2008 and much of the local coverage of the GLA mayoral elections focused on possible wasted money. The inference of this campaigning was that Ken Livingstone wasted public money and that Boris Johnson would be more careful.

Therefore I was shocked to find that BJ's "handover" team is going to cost at least £465,000. This team is simply there to aid the transition to a new administration, not to actually run it. When much fuss was made over the salaries to officials like TfL's Peter Hendy, this revelation is at least a surprise and at most a disgrace.

ToryTroll reports that this is 70% of the cost to pay BJ's full time team for a whole year, while these "consultants" and Tory activists will only be working for between one and six months.

I sat at several mayoral election debates where BJ constantly berated Ken for the type of people he had employed and how much he paid them. He clearly doesn't feel the need to apply the same standards he expects of others to himself.