22 January 2008

Ken on Dispatches

The Dispatches programme last night on Channel Four was a rare example of the media giving serious attention to the office of London mayor. For most Londoners, if you do not read the Evening Standard, you would not hear anything about what goes on in City Hall. Although I was delighted to watch Ken take a pasting. I thought that Martin Bright dwelt too heavily on trivia and conjecture and thereby diluted all his decent points.

Amongst the trivia, the "revelations" about Ken's drinking and the news that out of tens of millions, the LDA has made a few grants to companies that have soon after failed. On the latter, it would be extrordinary if any public body making grants to businesses did not have the occasional failure - thriving businesses with strong cash flows rarely apply for grants. If Bright had evidence of corruption or negligent procedures, he should have put this on TV, but his hackneyed tactic of turning up at abandoned offices was not worthy of the complex issues being discussed. As to the drinking, I couldn't give a monkeys.

The issue of Ken's foreign policy is more of an issue. Whether London has its own missions in foreign cities is neither here nor there if they actually provide some benefit to London and its economy. However, it would have been more interesting to know what is the cost benefit analysis of a London "embassy" in Beijing or Mumbai - rather than a sneering commentary.

The programme dwelt heavily on Ken's relations with Venuzuela. The deal can be summed up simply as it is a bad deal for the poor of Venuzuela and that it would no way cover the costs of the half price travel for 250,000 people as Ken claimed it would.

However, the fact that the Mayor of London is able to conduct his own foreign policy independent of the UK government is frankly absurd. Whose fault is that? Surely those who framed the legislation have got this to answer for and is an obvious area for reform by the next Conservative government.

The allegations around spending public money to discredit Trevor Phillips and to pay for people working on Ken's re-election campaign were the most significant and direct allegations of corruption.

But where was the material about Lee Jasper (as revealed by the Evening Standard) or Ken's approach to local democracy when he extended the Congestion Zone into west London? Or why he thought it a good idea to put bendy buses on London's streets or why traffic has apparently been deliberately fouled up by badly phased lights and pedestrianisation schemes, such as around Trafalgar Square? Why was there no investigation or explanation of the cost of Ken to the London tax payer and where was the analysis of the delays caused to the Tube modernisation from the battles he had with Brown over PPP?

Still, for all its faults, if the Dispatches programme encourages more people to back Boris, it is not a bad thing.

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