Mayor’s Question Time today could have been great, but the level of the questions was worse than usual. Some Assembly members just wanted to have a go at Boris. When the questions are purely politically motivated, there are bad vibes, and it makes depressing listening for the audience. It was pretty clear that the aim of many Assembly Members was (a) have a go at the Mayor and (b) make out that Boris has neglected Outer London.
UNION RELATIONS: Val Shawcross opened the session with a question about Vince Cable’s criticisms of Boris’s handling of the unions. The Lib Dems have no mandate, their ideas have been firmly rejected by the electorate and they are looked on as figures of fun. I don’t suppose Boris loses any sleep over anything Vince has to say. Boris said we all want industrial peace and transport and policing operated perfectly at the time of the Royal Wedding. Boris has fulfilled his promise of a no strike agreement during the Olympics and negotiations with the unions are ongoing.
Val said “But you said ASLEF would strike and they didn’t.” (Can’t she get her facts right, for goodness sakes? Even I know how wrong this is, and I am no expert. Steve Hedley of ASLEF threatened to strike during the time of the Royal Wedding in remarks on the ASLEF notice board, later withdrawn.) Boris corrected her. Having tried to stir things up as hard as she could, Val then said “Let’s be positive!” which was a bit rich coming from her. This Alice in Wonderland exchange set the tone for the whole meeting.
Tory Member Brian Coleman pointed out that Boris is expected to take a tough line with union leaders who have a political agenda. The Mayor has certainly done that. Brian said that most ordinary union members are sensible. He remarked “The government should help you.” Boris agreed it was a good idea that there was to be a review to examine ways of avoiding strike action and also that most union members are reasonable and sensible. He said “We don’t want to be endlessly at war with a few hotheads.”
Later on, Richard Tracey (Con) said union legislation needed to be tougher and he asked who Boris was talking to. Boris replied he was talking to government at all levels. (Mr Tracey is a model of everything an Assembly Member should be. Courteous, reasonable, intelligent, kindly – I’d like to carry his books.) Mr. Tracey said Philip Hammond supported Boris’s union strategy and his call for tougher strike law legislation. So does the CBI, leading business leaders and the Times. He pointed out that a You Gov poll has shown that over 50% of the public also believes there should be a threshold below which it is illegal to strike. The last spate of strikes were about to be actioned on the say so of only 11% of train drivers. Roger Evans had words to say about the greedy demands of Bob Crow. Boris didn’t want to ramp up the atmosphere, so said he intended to maintain an “irenic manner”. (I leapt for the dictionary. “Irenic” – conducive to peace.)
AIR POLLUTION: A good thirty minutes was spend by the Labour and Lib Dem Members trying to tell Boris that he had not done enough on air pollution, although we will not have to pay a massive fine, measures are in place and London has an extension.
OUTER LONDON: Labour and Lib Dem Assembly members then spent a good 45 minutes berating Boris for neglecting Outer London. Ken didn’t do well in the election in Outer London last time. Do I have to spell it out? Then musketeers Tracey, Coleman and Evans rode in to describe in glowing detail all that Boris had done for Outer London as far as their councils were concerned, which raised the mood.
CABLE CAR: Strangely, it was Caroline Pigeon who was the most unreasonable person, I thought, in the whole session. She asked Boris when the cable car would be operational, and he replied “When it’s good and ready” to laughter. He then reasonably explained that he felt Caroline had a political motive, because although the cable car was underway as a priority, he could not say with absolute certainty that it would be ready in time for the Olympics. He didn’t want to give a date and then, if things were delayed, be accused of breaking a promise. This is a fair and honest answer. But Caroline, most rudely I thought, kept pushing the Mayor to give a date, when he had spent some time explaining why he didn’t want to do that. “But when? When?”” she kept saying, until Boris, probably a bit ticked off by now, said “In the fullness of time” (Hilarity from audience.) Miss Pigeon then became shirty. It was hard for the Mayor to maintain his irenic manner with this lot, but he did do it. Just about.
A web cam of the entire proceedings will be posted on the Mayor’s City Hall website shortly.
TO END ON A BRIGHT NOTE
Boris has already been very successful in raising sponsorship, so it was great to hear in Boris’s opening statement that apart from the projects discussed here, even more sponsorship has been raised for London, because the Royal Bank of Scotland is funding part of the Business Boot Camps.