A veneer of oversight

commentToday the London Assembly will hold a confirmation hearing into the appointment of Kit Malthouse as Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

It’s true, as political opponents are keen to point out, that the very hearing is evidence of a broken election promise on the part of a Mayor who vowed to lead the fight against crime himself.

Yet at the same time we should be gracious enough to welcome Boris Johnson’s tacit admission that the role of Mayor is so large there are limits to the fancy job titles he can lay claim to, ditto that the role of MPA Chair is too important for an occasional post-holder.

Plus, as one of the more capable members of the Johnson administration, Malthouse is likely to be better in the role than any honest assessment could conclude Boris was. His interventions at Mayor’s Question Time have frequently demonstrated a better grasp of the details than Boris could ever boast.

As someone who described themselves as ‘pro-London’ long before our former Mayor needed a name for his grand coalition, it makes sense to me to have the greater talent occupy the top post. Yet before Malthouse can officially take on the role he and the Assembly have to go through the charade of a confirmation hearing which can make only a non-binding recommendation.

It’s a pointless fudge between preserving the Mayor’s executive powers and paying lip-service to increasing scrutiny of him or her.

The issue of holding the Mayor (current and future post-holders) to account was the topic I spoke on at the recent Progressive London conference, as I said there and have many times here, there’s a clear need for increasing the scrutiny of the Mayor, including giving the Assembly power to block instances of Mayoral excess.

That said, neither democracy nor dignity are served by a sham hearing which can do nothing to alter the eventual outcome.


  1. Damian Hockney says

    The Government established the GLA in such a way that it itself was the only meaningful oversight of the London Mayor. Hence recent comments by Lord Adonis and others about tearing up the rules of supposedly devolved government if the London Mayor doesn’t do what is demanded of him. When the review of GLA powers occurred a few years ago, what struck me and my colleagues on the One London team was that the only real change was to take away any possibility that the London Assembly or statutory bodies like the MPA and LFEPA could actually act in any way as a genuine scrutiny body: the powers that be clearly identified the flashpoints of potential independence after just over half a decade of the GLA, and acted to squash them (while talking about ‘greater powers’). We pointed out in our submissions that these ‘confirmation hearings’ were a meaningless charade, like most of the other recommendations. Politicians of the old parties are keen to draw a veil over this, but it is a good thing that others are beginning to understand.