Tag Archives: mayors

Extraordinary rant from Fiyaz Mughal

Fiyaz Mughal posted this extraordinary rant at 2.15am on Wednesday morning:

Come on! Don’t get taken in by ‘Big’ Names, Look at the Experience in Front of You

2.15.00am BST (GMT +0100) Wed 19th Sep 2007

Tomorrow is the first hustings of the mayoral candidacy for the Party and the past few days have shown me that British politics is being corroded by a desire to see ‘big names,’ rather than individuals who have experience and Party know how as basic skills. Ken and Boris need to be ‘matched’ in name value, yet I hear very little about having the skills and political capital to do so being part of the equation here at conference!

The strategy of the Party is to mark and carve out a niche that is different and anti-establishment. Enter into that strategy someone the Party believes fits into that role. The basic wisdom is that someone who knows the Party structures, the culture of it and the policies should through their experience, be the natural candidate. It is not only the storm clouds brewing in Brighton, I am afraid that the dark arts of supporting a candidate in subtle ways is taking place for the sake of the ‘anti-establishment’ figurehead.

Let’s hope that figurehead manages to traverse the many icebergs out there and there are many! The largest of this will be Ken, an ardent politico who has managed to develop 110 lives within his political career. “Icebergs ahead captain,” for I am steering a course that is true to the people of London and valid to the vast majority who want safety and security, better life chances and the ease to travel within the Capital.

I’ll leave to one side this stuff about icebergs (why is it that Lib Dems keep alluding to the Titanic at the moment? Is it because they’re looking forward to the Doctor Who Christmas Special? Yes, that’s the reason!). The Lib Dems should indeed choose a candidate with experience over and above a ‘name’ – that’s why, all things being equal, a former Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner would appear to have an advantage. And what’s this about the natural choice being someone “who knows the Party structures, the culture of it and the policies should through their experience”? That makes me the IDEAL candidate. It is normally a safe bet that if I’m the answer, you are asking the wrong question (unless the question is “who is blogger of the year?” of course. Hem hem).

What about someone with decades of experience working in London, across London, and in the service of London? Doesn’t that count for anything? Brian Paddick isn’t some career politician or dilettante who achieve celebrity status through appearing on Have I Got News For You? and thought he might give it a go. He’s someone with a serious level of credibility. Attacking him because his seniority in the police force granted him a certain level of fame is simply ridiculous.

This sort of petulant rant does nothing to help Mughal’s cause. In the past I’ve criticised the office of London Mayor on the basis that the lack of a London-wide demos leads parties to approach celebrity figures to be their candidate. Brian Paddick is one of just a handful of people in the city who manages to straddle both fame and authority. The fact that the party has attracted someone like Brian should be a cause of celebration. I’m sorry if that thwarts Mughal’s ambitions, but that’s life. If he was that serious he would surely have published a manifesto on his website at least before laying into the competition.

Why can’t the BBC get anything right?

Is it too much to ask for the BBC to get anything right? Take this quote for example:

[Chamali] Fernando is a barrister from Finchley, who says he plans to put forward issues, ask tough questions and campaign across London.

He wants to present Liberal Democracy “as the tonic for Londoners from all walks of life”.

What is wrong with this picture? Well, as a quick google or even, radical I know, glance at the Lib Dem website will tell you, Chamali is a woman.

But it gets worse because, while the Guardian has a reader’s editor, the BBC doesn’t even have a decent complaints system. I can’t just click on a link by the article to submit a correction; nor is there a dedicated email address. The best I can do is to make a “general” comment which, on past form, will – if it achieves anything – result in a news editor making a patronising remark about how I am in fact wrong.

Or, as has already been pointed out, they will quietly correct it and not acknowledge that they ever made the mistake in the first place. Keep your eye out for this story cropping up on Revisionista.

More BBC nonsense

Dawn Butler and Diane Abbott are having a pop at Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson:

Ms Butler highlighted a 2002 article in which Mr Johnson referred to the Queen being greeted in Commonwealth countries by “flag-waving piccaninnies”.

She claimed he also said that he expected, during a mooted visit by Tony Blair to the Congo, that “the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief”.

Hang on a minute; this isn’t a “claim” – it is a matter of public record. Why do the BBC persist in this policy of interpreting balance to mean that even established facts have to be treated as hearsay when they come out of the mouths of politicians?

Knick-knack Paddick-whack

Regular readers may recall that I don’t have too much faith in the capacity of parties to find suitable candidates for London Mayor. The problem is, there are simply too few roles available for people to perform credible “apprenticeships” for the top job, the GLA being an anonymous talking shop. Thus far the only elected London Mayor was also the last leader of the GLC – a body which no longer exists.

So while I wasn’t exactly surprised, I was delighted to learn that Brian Paddick has expressed an interest in standing for the post. It remains to be seen who else might come out of the woodwork, but Paddick performs the rare feat of being telegenic, having gravitas and having direct experience of running a London-wide public authority. He’ll be a touch act to follow. So far, the only other potential candidate, Lembit Opik, would seem to have only one of those three crucial characteristics.

With the Tories flailing to find a credible candidate and being forced to choose between a top-hatted Etonian toff (currently being taken to task by Doreen Lawrence), an ewok, and an assortment of anonymous figures, were Paddick to get the Lib Dem ticket the contest could very rapidly begin to resemble a run-off between him and Livingstone.

Why are the Tories in such a mess over Europe?

Am I the only person to notice that the Tories were facing in both directions when it came to democracy yesterday? At the same time as condemning Tony Blair for ruling out a referendum on the next European treaty, they were launching a new policy paper which, among other things, called for directly elected mayors to be imposed – without referendum – on every UK city. As under the present system, these elected mayors would have near-unassailable powers and could only be overturned by the council by a two-thirds majority vote. To use Heseltine’s own words, this would be a form of “loose scrutiny”. Despite calling for a bonfire of the quangos, he would meanwhile give the Audit Commission much greater powers, backed by criminal law.

Now, I should keep some perspective here. These proposals are not official party policy, and in any case there is much in them that I have rather more sympathy with. At the same time, I’m grateful that the Conservatives played such a crucial role in forcing the Sustainable Communities Bill through its third reading yesterday, a law which has a real chance of substantially clawing back powers from the centre to local authorities and communities. But it does suggest that the Tories are still struggling to get to grips with this newfangled concept of democracy and people power, and that there is trouble brewing ahead.

On the EU “constitutional” treaty, I happen to broadly agree that a referendum would be desirable. But there are two problems here. Firstly, if the public was asked to vote for motherhood and apple pie, it would probably vote no if it the EU said it was a good idea. There is an EU-shaped boil on the UK’s bum that is in dire of lancing. The Tories know this which is partially why they spend all their time talking about what they are against at a European level and never engage positively in the debate. Secondly, we can’t have a referendum every time the Commission President wants to buy a new pencil. We need proper Parliamentary scrutiny of EU decision making, something the Tories always opposed when in power and continue to play down in favour of claiming weird conspiracy theories about Brussels. In fairness, both Ken Clarke’s Democracy Taskforce and Direct Democracy have now called for a more central Parliamentary role, but the latter certainly is still prone to swivel-eyed lunacy whenever the issue crops up.

Ironically, much of what was in the last proposed EU Constitutional Treaty strengthened the role of both national parliaments and individual citizens in EU decision making. It proposed a ‘yellow card’ system whereby the EU would be forced to reconsider legislation if enough national parliaments demanded it to. It proposed a Europe-wide system of Citizens’ Initiative whereby the Commission would have to formally consider any proposal backed by a million petition signatures. Yes, we could have gone further, and had a ‘red card’ system for instance where X number of national parliaments could block legislation outright, but when have you ever heard a Tory actually suggest such a thing?

There is also this strange confusion between democracy and national sovereignty. You would think, would you not, that a party which spouts rhetoric about the evils of the state and the need for small government would be suspicious of the capacity of the government to represent our best interests at a European or global level. When we look at possibly the EU’s two worst policies – the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy – both have failed because decisions are made at an intergovernmental level, not via the Council and Parliament. The CAP will never be reformed properly until France loses its veto, yet which party believes it should keep these powers? The Tories. The CFP will never lead to sustainable fishing policies until countries such as the UK stop revising its quota system upwards. Taking a short term hit would lead to long term benefits. Everyone knows this. Yet which party defends the existing annual pantomime? The Tories.

Another common complaint from Conservatives about the EU that I find mystifying is about the fact that it has gone beyond the free trade zone that it was sold to the UK as in the 70s. This appears to be rooted in a charmingly quaint view of economics that supposes you can neatly separate out free trade from public services and social issues as if they fitted neatly into their own little silos. Of course, back in the real world, we know that employment laws (for instance) directly affect our ability to compete in the global marketplace. We might disagree what those employment laws should be; we might question whether the EU is making itself uncompetitive worldwide, but if you believe that the EU should not guarantee employment rights, you are not saying that the EU should not have a policy on employment rights: you are saying that the policy should be that any country which has them will be at a distinct disadvantage (this goes to the heart of the French’s complaint about making the EU too “anglo-saxon”).

The bottom line is that these policies are a reflection of the will of the 500 million European people. We may well want to make that reflection more accurate, as I do, but if we want to change those policies, it is surely more democratic to change people’s minds than to deny them what they want?

Meanwhile of course, most of the Conservatives I speak to are all for bringing the marketplace into public services. When I was on 18 Doughty Street last week, all three Conservatives I was on with were enthusiastic about school vouchers. As I’ve said before, I’m open to the idea. But if you want the EU to be a free trade area, and you want to turn everything into a commodity that can be bought and sold in the market place, it follows that your vision of trans-national politics is just as all encompassing as the most pro-state socialist going. Either that, or you’re a protectionist (the default Tory position of course) and lose any veneer of economic respectability. Which is it?

Personally, I’m comparatively Euro-sceptic for a Lib Dem. I’m unconvinced by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which reads too much like a wish list and lacks the elegance of the ECHR. I think that any future treaty ought to be focussed on bringing the EU closer to the people, which is desperately needed unfinished business, but am wary of rushing into any new grands projets any time soon, decades even. I’m in favour of abolishing the vetoes of member states, but would want to see decisions require a supermajority of some kind to ensure that there is meaningful consensus on such decisions and to keep the number of new directives down. I consider legislative deadlock to be a good thing, broadly speaking. I want an EU that is outward looking and less insular.

I know I won’t get much of that, but does that lead me to wanting to leave? Not at all, because that would mean we’d still have to implement EU decisions into our laws if we want to trade with them; we just wouldn’t have any say into what those decisions were. The EU is still comparatively young and needs time to bed down.

As for the Conservative position, it remains utterly confused. In some ways, a row over the EU now might actually be the worst thing that could happen to them. I’m quite sure that Cameron is praying that the General Election will be before the European Parliament elections in 2009 because he knows how batty his party gets on the issue and that while the population as a whole is sympathetic, it is utterly bored by the whole debate and associates it with Tory splits. Cameron, having been cautious even before getting his fingers burned over Grammar schools, won’t dare try facing down the lunatic wing of his party on Europe.

There is an authentic conservative view on Europe that doesn’t involve wild-eyed conspiracy theories and is about more than banging on about sovereignty, but don’t expect to hear it any time soon.

RoboCop comes out against elected mayors

An interview in the Guardian:

Looking colourful in a salmon pink shirt and maroon pair of braces that contrast with his grey, brushed-back hair, Mallon claims that the mayoral model is open to abuse by the power-crazy. He realised that after meeting another mayor early in his tenure – whom he refuses to name.

“I would like to suggest I am a pretty sane, balanced human being who no doubt has his quirks,” says Mallon, one of just 13 mayors in the country.

“But I am not going to abuse my power. I am not going to abuse my authority or do anything I should not. If you get a mayor who was power-mad, he could bring a town down or a city, so you can see I am not completely sold on the elected mayor idea. It works here because I like to think I am sane – though people who usually say that aren’t. It works fine here but it is unique.”

The big question is, who is he referring to?

On Boy Cameron fingering Dyke

No-one appears to have used that headline yet, which I’m frankly amazed by, so I thought I’d better get in quick.

Overall, this latest incident does rather confirm some of the points I was making last week about the nature of the London Mayor and the GLA. These institutions lack any kind of civic culture, we are struggling to invent one 8 years after the event, and it is a mistake to think that ‘celebrity’ candidates are going to solve the problem.

But what a nasty, undemocratic, bullying idea of the Tories. I’m delighted it appears to have backfired on them. I’m sure they are attempting to spin this as the Lib Dems playing party politics while they are trying to work constructively in the interests of Londoners, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a party we would never be able to recover from being the Conservative’s mini-me. We have a genuine dilemma of who to stand, but the most anonymous face-slapping moron would be preferable to a joint candidate. Far from beating him, an Anyone-But-Ken candidate would be likely to bolster him – one only needs to cast one’s mind back to 2000 to recall that Labour tried that and got bitten in the arse.

Ultimately, there may be only one way of defeating Ken Livingstone: wait until he’s too old to keep going and enjoy the fact that Labour will end up struggling to find a candidate as much as everyone else. In the meantime, old fashioned party (and non-party) politics will have to do. Anyone got a monkey suit? It worked in Hartlepool.

Why London gives parties nightmayors

The difficulties that both the Lib Dems and Tories are experiencing in finding suitable candidates for London Mayor is clearly unfortunate, but not entirely unpredictable. Labour of course had its own problem back in 2000, eventually opting for the laughable Frank Dobson (ruining his career in the process) who was trounced by the then-independent Ken Livingstone.

The problem lies in the system of devolution that Labour has imposed on London (to be fair, we had a vote, but the public and other parties were never given a say on what system we might want first – it was a fait accompli). The GLA is tiny – 25 members – toothless and subsequently anonymous.

While the London Mayor has only rather limited powers, what powers the office does have are entirely unaccountable. The GLA can only block him on a 2/3rds majority vote, meaning that Labour can force through virtually any proposal despite not having an overall majority. For some, this is its strength – after all Livingstone’s transport policies (which I would go a long way in supporting) would have had a much rougher time if there were greater checks on his powers. Yet the result is that there is very little interest in what the GLA does. It is democratically elected, but its legitimacy is fatally undermined by its lack of relevancy. As a result, while I am a political hack who could bluff my way through any conversation on Scottish and Welsh politics, I couldn’t begin to tell you what the GLA actually does from one week to the next.

The weakness of the GLA is directly relevant to the difficulty that parties have in finding mayoral candidates. The ideal candidate is a big personality who already has a track record of success and a public profile. Back in the day, it was suggested that Tony Blair had Richard Branson in mind for the job. We’ve had talk radio hosts suggested (Nick Ferrari), think tank directors (Nick Boles), cheesy DJs (Mike Read), senior politicians and ex-ministers (Simon Hughes and Steve Norris), but the only candidate who has ever enjoyed public support is someone whose only claim to fame is that he used to run the GLC.

In many respects, this is a good thing, and a valuable corrective to the perception that career politics is all bad and disliked by the public. But the GLA is not the GLC. Love it or hate it, people took great interest in what the GLC did. Livingstone wasn’t the only personality that emerged from it (Tony Banks, John McDonnell). If we had the GLC now, we would already have half a dozen people being lined up as possible successors to Ken’s crown. Instead, if Livingstone went under a bendy bus tomorrow, Labour would have more difficulty than any other party in finding a credible candidate. Nicky Gavron? Ha ha ha. Actually, I’d be tempted to support Dave Wetzel, but it ain’t gonna happen.

I’m more sympathetic to the idea of directly elected mayors than a lot of Lib Dems, but Labour’s policy of rendering them unaccountable is not merely undemocratic, it is unsustainable. At a stroke, it creates a vacuum at the heart of the polity. The GLA needs to be reformed, urgently.