It is noteworthy that there have been as many strikes on the London Underground in three years of the Boris Johnson Mayorality as there were in the full eight years when Ken Livingstone was Mayor. Cynics suggest that (1) Mayor Boris Johnson doesn’t care because he never uses the Underground and (2) he believes that the more disruption there is on public transport due to poor industrial relations the more he can try to blame the Labour Party (despite the fact that the RMT is not affiliated to the Labour Party).
Now, of course, I am not a cynic …
However, my eye was caught by a sentence tucked away towards the end of Allegra Stratton’s article in this morning’s Guardian which said:
“ Osborne is pressuring Boris Johnson to stop London Underground members of staff getting free travel. Tories believe that until underground managers and executives pay for their travel they won’t keep fares down because they don’t need to.”
So perhaps there is a Tory masterplan after all which envisages provoking major industrial relations problems in London in the run up to next year’s Mayoral elections.
An interesting piece by Darryl Chamberlain in the Scoop at Snipe argues that the time may be coming when there should be greater indepence for London from the rest of the country. With the devolution settlement being reviewed in Wales and Scotland, why not London as well? The piece points out:
“A question: why can’t London have a bit of what they’re having? Isn’t it time for us to break away too?
London is a wildly different place to the rest of England, never mind the rest of the UK. We’re more socially liberal than the rest of the country, we live in communities that are far more mixed. We’re less likely to drive, and more likely to spend huge amounts of time stuck on public transport. We’ve more in common with New York or Paris than Newcastle or Portsmouth. …
In London, we’re different. …
Look at the two men we’ve elected to run the place. A newt-loving man with a raspy voice who loves winding up American diplomats on one hand, a floppy-haired fop on a bike with a bizarre line in Latin anecdotes on the other.
Both, in their own ways, engaging ambassadors for the capital. And seen as dangerous threats by their own party leaders. Because that is how many in the rest of England see London—as a threat. Read below the line on any comment piece on the possibility of an English parliament, and within the ?rst few comments someone will sound off about how London leeches off the rest of England, takes all the jobs and investment and produces nothing in return.
Yet if London kept the tax revenue earned within its borders—or at least had more control over raising its own budget – we’d be able to make a much better job of running our transport network, for example.
The Tube’s current woes can be traced back to the last government trying to sell off its maintenance — bitterly resisted by Ken Livingstone before he rejoined the Labour Party. He was right, Gordon Brown was wrong – but London had to pick up the bill.
In the old days, Ken used to taunt the Tories with unemployment figures on the roof of the old County Hall. But Labour wouldn?t even give him the power to empty London?s bins, so we still have 33 different recycling policies. And the Conservatives won?t even give Boris Johnson the Royal Parks, so keen is the UK government to hang onto the prestige of chasing dogs out of flower gardens.
So if they don’t trust us, why don’t we just go it alone?”
I have long pointed out the extent to which London subsidises the rest of the UK. Irrespective of the present incumbent of the Mayor’s office, there is a strong case for London having more autonomy and being able to invest its revenues in its own infrastructure and its people. And because London is the engine of the UK economy, this would be good for the rest of the country too.
“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.”
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.
I have tabled a Parliamentary Question to ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration have Ministers given to mitigating the security issues surrounding the location in St Pancras of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation and its laboratories that will be working with highly dangerous viruses?
This follows reports that:
“One of Britain’s leading bio-scientists .. [has] .. voiced fears over the safety of a £600 million virus “superlab” planned for St Pancras.
Professor Guy Dodson, who has worked at Oxford University, warned that the 14-storey, maximum security site containing viruses including malaria, tuberculosis, bird and swine flu, cancer cells and HIV would need to be “bulletproof”.”
UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation is to be built in London on the redeveloped St Pancras site. In principle, this is excellent news. However, the laboratory could be a magnet for terrorists.
As Guy Dodson comments:
”The issues are if you have an earthquake, some idiot lets a bomb off or there’s a fire at St Pancras International.
“These are extreme examples but you don’t want that building to suffer a serious knockabout when you’ve got this material in there.
“The unspoken concern is terrorism because it’s a natural target. We need to know the capacity they have for dealing with the unexpected.”
The plans have been approved by Mayor Boris Johnson – so that’s all right then ……
United States citizens have been warned not to use public transport in Britain, following a new warning from the State Department. This is presumably a response to the raising of the threat level to “SEVERE” by the UK Government last month.
It will be interesting to see whether American tourists take any notice and whether it eases the problems of overcrowding on London Underground and on London’s buses.
Every January, the Lord Mayor of London hosts a dinner at the Mansion House in the heart of the Square Mile in honour of the ‘Governing Bodies of London’. For the last ten years this has been addressed by the (elected) Mayor of London – in effect providing a platform for an Annual State of London Address
Mayor Boris Johnson has usually offered an entertaining, if sometimes rather incoherent, fifteen minutes or so of fairly random observations vaguely related to London issues. (Not quite the dignified and substantive gravitas-loaded approach originally envisaged by the Court of Aldermen and the Court of Common Council that make up the Corporation of London.)
Tonight was no exception. The only point of any substance was the Boris Johnson solution to poor industrial relations on the London Underground: an offer to those present to drive the trains. After several glasses of wine, quite a number in the audience seemed up for it.
Our safety in their hands (courtesy of Mayor Boris Johnson).
Colin Talbot at Whitehall Watch has some interesting predictions here.
I got in a cab earlier today (as one does) and said to the cabbie (as one does): ‘I thought they said it was going to get warmer today.’
And he replied (as anyone now would): ‘Ii don’t know who said that – it must have been Nick Clegg.’
I spent a large part of today sitting in on a table-top exercise designed to see how London’s police and other services and agencies would respond to a developing emergency on the streets of London. It would be inappropriate to go into more details. However, it did bring home to me the importance and value of such exercises.
I will readily admit to once having been something of a cynic about such “war-gaming”. The idea of bringing together quite a large group of people to act out how they would do their jobs in an imaginary set of circumstances at first sight could appear rather absurd. Yet the evidence from de-briefs after real emergencies convinced me long ago that these sorts of exercises and practices have a real benefit. Organisations or parts of organisations that only work together occasionally or only do so under normally fairly clearly-defined situations need to understand each other’s capabilities and practices in the very different circumstances that would apply in a major emergency. Exercises mean that key individuals get to know each other, procedures are tested and worked through and – most importantly – potential problems are identified and can be resolved.
Although some of the reports from the inquest into the deaths of those killed in the July 2005 bombings have inevitably focused on those things that did not work as well as they might have done, much of what the witnesses have described has demonstrated how well London’s emergency services performed under the terrible circumstances of that day. I know from those I have spoken to who were intimately involved how important previous exercises had been in planning for what unfolded five years ago and improving the collective response of the emergency services.
I am sure today’s exercise will have been similarly valuable, even though one hopes that the procedures tested never have to be carried out for real. Several issues emerged where it was clear existing plans were inadequate or required further consideration. And it has to be better to discover such problems in an exercise than in the middle of a full-scale emergency.