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Archive for February, 2011

Monday
Feb 28,2011

An excellent post from Adam Bienkov in The Scoop at SNIPE asks:

“Will Boris Johnson leave anything behind for the next Mayor?”

This picks up on Tim Donovan’s interview with Mayor Boris Johnson on The Politics Show:

“Donovan also pointed out that Boris’s police budget is totally unsustainable, relying on £70m of reserves built up in police and fire budgets over the previous ten years.

Once that money runs out (after the election) police numbers will fall …

In fact Boris will create exactly the kind of “black hole” that he accused Ken Livingstone of creating in TfL’s budget before the 2008 election.

As Donovan said to Boris: “this is money that you can’t use again.””

And Adam Bienkov goes on:

“And it’s not just money that will run out after Boris’s first term but ideas as well. I mean what major new transport projects conceived by Boris are set to go ahead over the next five years?

We’ll have a few extra bikes and a few new buses with a hole in the back, but where are the big ideas for London going into the next few years and decades?

Of course there’s still time for Boris to spell out those big ideas, but even if he does they would be too far down the pipeline to be seen under a second Boris term.

Because the sad truth about Boris as Mayor, is that rather than be the triumph or disaster many predicted, he has actually been something of a non-event.

By doing as little as humanly possible, Boris has been able to take credit for past investments whilst adding little or nothing to future plans.”

Thursday
Feb 24,2011

The Metropolitan Police Authority is still in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM DCiC* and Putative Deputy MOPC** (pronounced “Mopsy”) remains in the Chair.

Yesterday, the London Assembly failed to muster the necessary two-thirds majority to amend the Mayor’s Budget for 2011/12, so the Budget has de facto been approved.

The non-Conservative Assembly members, of course, sought to distance themselves from the implications of the budget and a (non-binding) motion was carried as follows:

“This Assembly notes the success of Neighbourhood Policing and regrets the Mayor’s proposal to remove 100 Sergeants from the Safer Neighbourhood Teams over the coming year. We do not believe a case for these reductions has been made given that the review of the SNTs is still underway, We ask the Mayor to reverse this decision.”

This contrasted with the upbeat tone of the Mayor’s press release:

“Increasing police on the streets and freezing the precept for a record third year running are the key elements to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s third budget, which has been approved unamended by the London Assembly.  …

Almost three quarters of the £935 million raised by the precept will go to the Metropolitan Police Service to help build on the success of the lowest murder rate since 1978, taking more than 11,000 knives off the streets,  and cutting robbery on public transport by 46.5 per cent in the last three years. An additional £42 million to lift the recruitment freeze and to put an extra 413 police officers on the transport network, is also included in the budget.”

In practice, the Mayor’s budget has set the funding envelope for the MPA and the Metropolitan Police, but how the money is to be deployed has yet to be finally agreed by the MPA.

The funding allocation is now therefore a zero-sum game: if one area of efficiencies/cuts is removed from the budget alternative savings/cuts will have to be found to compensate.

This did not, however, stop a number of members reprising the points made at yesterday’s Assembly meeting.

*Dog Catcher in Chief

**Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime

Thursday
Feb 24,2011

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM DCiC* and Putative Deputy MOPC** (pronounced “Mopsy”) is in the Chair and he’s not in a good mood.

Baroness Dee Doocey AM raised a point on the minutes seeking an assurance that all members would be involved in decisions about the wind up of the MPA and the creation of the MOPC.  The Putative Deputy MOPC invited members to let him have views and then added – with an incipient snarl redolent with heavy irony – “I look forward to being inundated with floods of emails from you all”.

Regular reports on this are going to the MPA’s Business Management Group (regarded by some as a sinister structure but consisting of the Chairs of MPA Committees with the Chair of the Authority) with updates to the Strategic and Operational Policing Committee.

“Could all members attend the BMG?”

“Minutes are circulated.”

“No they aren’t.”

“Yes, they were.”

“No, not true.”

“They are available on the MPA intranet.”

“London Assembly members can’t/don’t access the intranet.”

“Yes, you can.”

“Can we be emailed the minutes?”

“We will print them out and send them to you.”

“That’s a waste of money – email is fine.”

“I’ve been there before – you claim not to have seen the emails.”

Very much Mr Grumpy.

http://www.mrmenshowblog.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/08/03/mr_grumpy.jpg

Then Jenny Jones AM started to ask about the Chair of the MPA’s meetings: “Can we be told what press barons you’ve met?”

“Nice try.”

“Can we see a list of your meetings?”

“Happy to append a list of my policing and crime-related meetings to the minutes.”

John Biggs MP wanted to know whether this would include his City Hall meetings as well.

“If you list all your meetings as well.”

And then:

“This is kiddy stuff.”

Even more Mr Grumpy.

http://www.themistermen.co.uk/images/mrmen_uk/grumpy.gifhttp://www.themistermen.co.uk/images/mrmen_uk/grumpy.gifhttp://www.themistermen.co.uk/images/mrmen_uk/grumpy.gifhttp://www.themistermen.co.uk/images/mrmen_uk/grumpy.gif

*Dog Catcher in Chief

**Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime

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mrmenshowblog.com

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Thursday
Feb 24,2011

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM DCiC* and Putative Deputy MOPC** (pronounced “Mopsy”) is in the Chair.  He has mellowed slightly since the beginning of the meeting.

Joanne McCartney AM was first on the buzzer to raise the vexed question of the Commissioner’s dinner companions, but Baroness Dee Doocey AM was quick to get in on the act.  They were following up yesterday’s Guardian story which dramatically headlined:

Phone hacking: Senior Met officers dined with News of the World editors

- actually for Baroness Doocey following up may be the wrong word as she was quoted in the story and it related to information provided to MPA members a few hours/minutes before the Guardian published it.

Deputy Commissioner Tim Godwin rushed to defend his boss, Sir Paul Stephenson (who is still away recuperating from surgery).  One of the unavoidable tasks of being Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis is to meet stake-holders, opinion-formers and the like.  And apparently – also unavoidably – some of these encounters have to take place over dinner.

No, he wouldn’t meet for dinner someone under personal criminal investigation, but if it was someone in a hierarchy that wouldn’t preclude meeting someone further up that hierarchy.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/07/Krays.jpg

So, if Ronnie Kray was under investigation, the Commissioner wouldn’t meet him, but, if Reggie Kray was the more senior twin and not under current investigation, dinner in The Blind Beggar would be fine.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/The_blind_beggar_1.jpg

Actually, the reality is that for Sir Paul Stephenson, journalists feature even lower down the list of desired dinner companions than MPA members.  This was duty not choice.

*Dog Catcher in Chief

**Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime

Wednesday
Feb 23,2011

BBC Radio 4′s “World Tonight”:

“Q:  So what do you know about the situation in Tripoli?

A: Well most of what I can tell you is from watching television all day.”

Sunday
Feb 20,2011

The lead story on the front page of today’s Sunday Times (behind the paywall) proclaims “China gives £50 million aid for Olympics” and reports that:

“A Chinese company is offering Britain £50 million of ‘aid’ to put in a free mobile phone network in time for the Olympics.

Huawei, one of the worlds biggest telecoms equipment firms, is presenting the offer for the London Underground as a gift from one Olympic host nation to another.”

This proposal has the support of Mayor Boris Johnson.

However, as the Sunday Times warns:

“The offer has been made only two years after intelligence chiefs warned that China could have the capabilityto shut down Britain by bringing down its telecoms and utilities systems.

They raised fears that equipment already installed by Huawei in BT’s network could be used to cripple vital services.

A deal would see Huawei, which has close military links, install mobile transmitters along the ceilings of tunnels so that commuters can make and receive calls for the first time while travelling underground.”

I have been concerned about Huawei for some time.  We are breath-takingly complacent about the vulnerability of our critical national infrastructure and – particularly in the current economic climate – there seems to be no appetite from the Government to prevent huge chunks of it falling into foreign hands.

This is potentially another example – aided and abetted by Mayor Boris Johnson.

Not all Tories are so relaxed (and Mayor Johnson has a reputation for being very relaxed!): Patrick Mercer MP has pointed out:

“… it absolutely answers a terrorists’ prayers to be able to detonate devices on the Underground.  …  It has been proven that a proportion of the cyber attacks on this country come from China.  I wonder when the eyes of the world are upon us whether there is sense in using a Chinese firm to install a sensitive mobile network.”

These are serious matters and a serious London Mayor should not complacently give his support, presumably he hopes that if his eyes are firmly closed and his fingers are crossed that it will all be OK.

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Thursday
Feb 17,2011

Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse is very keen that no-one should forget how important he is.
This afternoon there was a joint meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority’s Strategic and Operational Policing Committee and Finance and Resources Committee. Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse sat in on the meeting. This is not his usual practice but BBC London (with camera) were in attendance and he no doubt wanted to keep an eye on the LibDem AMs* who were grandstanding for a wider audience.
However, he clearly felt it important that in putting his name on the Members’ signing-on sheet he should emphaasise his special status: so against his name he described himself (in block capitals) as ‘CHAIR OF THE ENTIRE AUTHORITY’. A new title, but it leaves us in no doubt …

*Caroline Pidgeon is particularly keen to secure the top position on the LibDems London-wide Assembly list.

Wednesday
Feb 16,2011

About eighteen months ago, I attended a meeting on the possible effects of electro-magnetic pulses on electrical and technical systems.  As I commented at the time:

“And as if the threat from a rogue state or terrorists was not enough, electromagnetic pulses can occur naturally as part of solar activity. Avi Schnurr quoted the US National Academy of Sciences as warning that solar activity can produce effects of equivalent magnitude and does so approximately every hundred years or so.  The last such massive solar surge was in 1859 and shorted out telegraph wires and caused widespread fires.  The next occasion when there might be such a surge is 2012 (although it might not be the big one, but that is when the next peak of solar activity is anticipated).”

The BBC reports today that:

“The Sun has unleashed its strongest flare in four years, observers say.

The eruption is a so-called X-flare, the strongest type; such flares can affect communications on Earth.

Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft recorded an intense flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation emanating from a sunspot.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) has issued a geomagnetic storm warning, and says observers might be able to see aurorae from the northern UK.

The monster flare was recorded at 0156 GMT on 15 February and directed at the Earth.

Preliminary data from the Stereo-B and Soho spacecraft suggest that the explosion produced a fast but not particularly bright coronal mass ejection (CME) – a burst of charged particles released into space.”

The report goes on:

“Displays of the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) have already been seen further south than usual in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK. And further solar activity is expected over the next few days.

Researchers say the Sun has been awakening after a period of several years of low activity.”

Is it time to get worried?

A few months I asked a Parliamentary Question about all this:

Lord Harris of Haringey

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government what were the outcomes of the workshop on severe space weather and the threat of a major electromagnetic pulse announced by Baroness Neville-Jones at the Electric Infrastructure Security summit in September. [HL3149]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): The Cabinet Office workshop held on 21 September 2010 was attended by representatives from the communications, transport and energy sectors, government, regulators, and space weather experts from both the UK and the US. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the likelihood and severity of future space weather events and the impact on infrastructure.

The meeting discussed how a reasonable worst case scenario could be formulated, based on historical data. A newly formed space environmental impact experts group (SEIEG) is now working with Cabinet Office to formulate quantitative assessments of the reasonable worst case scenario of the different solar phenomena that comprise a severe space weather event.”

So the good news (heavy irony) is that the Government may have got round to working out what “the reasonable worst case scenario” might be.

Wednesday
Feb 16,2011

The Government has secured a narrow victory on the second of the issues where the House of Commons has rejected amendments passed by the Lords to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. 

Last week, the House of Lords voted to allow the Boundary Commission in exceptional circumstances to permit a constituency to be as much as 7.5% above or below the population quota if that is necessary to create a viable, ie workable, constituency. 

On that occasion, the vote was 275 in favour of the amendment and 257 against.  Today, the vote was much closer: 241 in favour to 242 against.

This means that only one issue goes back to the House of Commons – the 40% threshhold.  If they reaffirm the Government’s position, then the matter will return to the Lords at around 9pm tonight.

It will be interesting to see what the Government does with 28 of their backbenchers (27 Tories and one Liberal Democrat) rebelling.  The Conservative rebels were:

 
Cavendish of Furness, L. Content  
Elton, L. Content  
Flight, L. Content  
Fookes, B. Content  
Forsyth of Drumlean, L. Content  
Gardner of Parkes, B. Content  
Glenarthur, L. Content  
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L. Content  
Hamilton of Epsom, L. Content  
Harris of Peckham, L. Content  
Higgins, L. Content  
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L. Content  
Howard of Rising, L. Content  
Howe of Aberavon, L. Content  
Lamont of Lerwick, L. Content  
Lawson of Blaby, L. Content  
Mawhinney, L. Content  
Moore of Lower Marsh, L. Content  
Northbrook, L. Content  
Norton of Louth, L. Content  
Plumb, L. Content  
Reay, L. Content  
Sharples, B. Content  
Swinfen, L. Content  
Tebbit, L. Content  
Trenchard, V. Content  
Trumpington, B. Content
Wednesday
Feb 16,2011

The House of Lords has just reconsidered the first of the issues where the House of Commons has rejected amendments passed by the Lords to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
And it is becoming clear that even Government back-benchers (or at least Tory ones) are beginning to realise that the Government’s Bill is deeply flawed.
The issue debated was whether there should be a requirement for a minimum turnout of 40% before a ‘Yes’ vote AUTOMATICALLY – without further Parliamentary debate – leads to the introduction of AV. When the Lords considered this point before, a threshhold was put in the Bill by a majority of just one vote. Yesterday, the House of Commons voted after an hour’s debate to take the threshhold out of the Bill again.
The House of Lords has now voted to put the threshhold back in – but this time by 277 votes to 215 – a majority of 62.
And what was significant was that a string of senior Tory back-benchers – including former Cabinet members, like Lords Lawson, Lamont and Forsyth – now spoke in favour of the threshhold.