The Thick of It


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Conrad Black just can't help himself (enough)

Conrad Black really does have some guts. Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague's buddy has had his legal fees paid by the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, despite him being in prison for defrauding that company. Someone please explain that.

Black and his three co-convicts have collectively received $70m in legal fees defending themselves from charges of defrauding $6m from the company. I will be watching this carefully as Black's appeal is due to be heard next week (June 5) with a ruling on the Sun-Times' fees to follow later, presumably after they've paid out more for the appeal.

What a wonderful concept. I rob Peter to pay Paul and then get Peter to pay for my trial.

Crime really does come free.

TfL take over Metronet

As the new Mayor takes over the failed Metronet PPP contract for the tube upgrade I do wonder what happened to the private sector taking on the "risk." If only all that extra money wasted on lawyers had been spent directly on upgrades...

Indeed, the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee reported in 2002 that "it is however apparent that the position on risk has moved dramatically in favour of the private sector companies" - this is obviously what happened.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bendy buses and London

Transport for London introduced bendy buses to London's streets primarily to transport large numbers of people on busy routes quickly. These buses can legally carry 150 people, though I'm sure more usually pack on in rush hours. If Boris' transport team can come up with something better I'd like to see it. Perhaps they could try Mercedes Benz even bigger articulated bus, carrying 193 people?

I don't have a problem with bendy buses. This whole debate is a smokescreen for what London's transport really needs. More capacity, more high speed transit, tubes and trams.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Boris bus bunkem part 2

The Boris/Evening Standard campaign for Mayor focused on the pledge to get rid of bendy buses and replace them with a new Routemaster, which I repeatedly pointed out doesn't exist. In today's first Assembly questions the Mayor faced criticism from Labour members of the vagueness of his plans.

I also picked up from the Standard itself (great to see some balanced reporting) that BJ's transport advisor Kulveer Ranger admitted that a hop on - hop off bus might not be possible. Now the idea seems to be to bring an iconic design to London, a slight departure from the original Routemaster pledge.

I'm delighted that my assembly member Jennette Arnold took the Chair today. I heard her on LBC's breakfast show this morning and I know she is very proud to be the first female to chair the assembly. It has also given her national press exposure. Early reports seem to show that the wit and quips mostly absent from the election campaign are back from Boris. I hope he doesn't use these to divert attention from the seriousness of the job.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lib Dems = Tories

When reading the papers for LBC yesterday I was not suprised to read that Nick Clegg has decided he will support the Tories in the event of a hung parliament. Thanks to Tom Miller for reminding me.

I've often said that a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for the Tories, not just because we have a two party system. In 1979 the Liberals voted with the Tories to let in Thatcher in the vote of confidence. In local government there are plenty of examples of Tories supporting the Lib Dems and vice versa. Southwark, Lambeth , Birmingham...

When people claim the Lib Dems are a left wing party they should think about this first and realise their vote goes straight into the Tory pocket.

Ken and me on LBC

Perhaps not at the same time. I made my LBC debut yesterday morning reviewing the newspapers for the LBC News 1152 breakfast show.

I highlighted the backlash over Labour sending supporters around the Crewe and Nantwich by-election dressed as toffs. Not a wise move when one of them was privately educated. I know the "other one" and he was not. Perhaps a few checks there might have been wise. The Daily Mirror was the only newspaper to cover David Cameron's professional huntsman being the first person to be taken to court over fox hunting since the 2004 Hunting Act. Cameron a toff? Lord no!

I also mentioned the potential black hole in the Crossrail finances. It will be interesting to see whether Johnson chooses to raise fares for any cost over-run or if he will persuade the Treasury to help out. I just can't see a Labour run government helping him out. Forcing Johnson into raising fares would potentially make him unpopular so I think that might be forced upon him. The private sector has already invested heavily in the project so I can see any further requests for funds falling on deaf ears. The East London Advertiser reports that Gordon Brown might choose to shelve the project. This would be disastrous for London.

I enjoyed the radio slot and hope to be featuring again soon.

Ken Livingstone has today agreed to host a phone in show on LBC 97.3 FM. It'll be great to have Ken back in the public sphere. Whatever people think of him, I think most Londoners respect his career commitment to the city and his wit. In the election he seemed tired so I look forward to hearing his wise cracks again.

Indeed, BBC quoted LBC programme director Jonathan Richards: "Ken Livingstone brings unique insight to LBC.

"After eight years as Mayor of London, no-one knows this city and its people better."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Facebook censors Boris Watch

I'm disappointed though not surprised that Facebook has banned the Boris Watch group. This was set up after the election to promote debate about London's new mayor and sparked a great deal of interest from the 3000 plus members, both positive and negative.

Apparently the group was a violation of the sites terms because it attacks a group or individual. This seems to be very heavy handed when a quick search of any major company name brings up scores of groups dedicated to criticising them.

An acquaintance of mine was banned from Facebook when a friend of his had jokingly flagged his account as having "objectionable content." He was banned automatically and is now on Facebook under a false name.

I have joined the "Bring Back Boris Watch" group - lets see if BJ's team get that banned too. This saga could really roll on...for about four years...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Trots on the election

Whenever I want to amuse myself I take a look to see what rubbish Leon Trotsky's disciples are spouting. Apparently, Ken Livingstone lost the mayoralty because "by promoting policies that centred on building the capital as a centre for world finance." This is obviously why the Tories won and the Left List candidate only polled 22,000 votes. If anyone seriously thought Ken was too right wing there cannot have been too many of them using that statistic.

You can read the rest of the Socialist Workers Party "analysis" for yourself. Like all their prose it was far too long winded for my short attention span.

Friday, May 09, 2008

What Brown should do next: me on Five Live

I managed to record my appearance on Tuesday's Simon Mayo show on BBC Radio Five Live thanks to TV Eyes and Gareth Owens. Listen away. So far this year I've managed to feature on The World at One on Radio Four, so just the Today Programme to do now...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Bold Labour

I wrote yesterday of how I spoke on BBC Radio Five Live of the need for Labour to be bold, mark its territory set out a clear Labour vision.

I am a big fan of James Purnell and in the latest New Statesman he argues the very same thing. It is another as to whether Labour will successfully do so. Set out a bold vision showing that Labour really wants to remove children from poverty to open up opportunity. Because we believe this to be morally right, not because we think it will make people vote for us, like Cameron's Conservatives.

Be bold, be Labour, then make a concerted effort to show why a Labour government will be better and different from a Tory government that pays lip service to social justice. It pays lip service because New Labour has shifted the centre of political gravity after ten years in power. Don't forget that. Otherwise, why would the Tories even be talking about poverty? When I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, they denied it was even an issue.

Marking out clear divisions between Labour and Tories might also help recapture voters who have become cynical of political parties and have ceased to engage in the political process. This is the challenge for Brown. He needs to meet it, otherwise I fear for the future.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Election post mortem on BBC Radio Five Live

I admit to having spent the weekend out of London, which helped stave off the depression of defeat. My words here have been sparse after weeks of intensive campaigning. Finally, my life seems to be falling back into place. I'll leave Ken, BJ and Gilligan for another day.

Labour needs to avoid an internal massacre, now is not the time for root and branch change. The recent elections were always likely to be tough, being in the third term. However, Labour needs to take a few relatively easy steps towards salvation. I even find myself agreeing with Ann McElvoy on this.

I was asked to speak (as a follower of Progress) on Simon Mayo's BBC Radio Five Live show yesterday lunch time about where Labour should head from here. There was some common agreement between the guests, Graham Stringer MP, Khalid Mahmoud MP, Michael Meacher MP, Lorraine Davidson and Gavin Hayes (Compass) that Gordon Brown doesn't have much more than six to twelve months to show strong leadership. Views differed about how exactly Brown should improve his and Labour's fortunes.

Brown needs to communicate a clear and consistent message. At the moment I find it difficult to crystallise what his leadership is trying to achieve. The same couldn't be said for Blair, whether right or wrong.

Brown needs to make public services more responsive to peoples' needs, making their lives easier, not more complicated. This means simplifying the over bureaucratic (but redistributive) tax credits system and better communicating the changes to (particularly) the NHS. Longer opening hours for GP surgeries is a fantastic change, making the lives of many much better. However, like the Young Fabian mentioned in McElvoy's article, many of those potential Labour voters who I speak to, do not correlate changes like this, the minimum wage, or better buses in London, with Labour.

Labour also needs to talk about aspiration and talk to the whole country, not retreating to the core vote. This is dangerous and will only lead us towards the nadir or 1983, much as the Tories did in 2001.

Labour needs to rediscover under Brown the secrets of the success of the mid 1990s. There is a young team in the cabinet in Balls, Milliband, Milliband and Purnell who should be able to match Cameron's Tory team. The success of the mod 1990s was based on a young team, strong PR and communications focused on providing solutions to what people wanted. The young team needs to harness this approach. I also wonder what the PR experts recently appointed by Brown have planned. They need to act fast.

You can listen to my thoughts when I manage to upload the excerpt, or the whole debate (click on Tuesday, this will work until Tuesday 13 May 2008), I come on about 32 minutes in, after the sports news.