It’s not fashionable on the world of London blogging to agree with Andrew Gilligan but his latest Evening Standard column has a lot which supporters of democratic accountability should agree with.
The central weakness of the current Greater London Authority set up is a weak London Assembly which lacks any control over the Mayor. It’s an issue MayorWatch has reported on many times before and the 2007 GLA bill was a wasted opportunity with Ministers failing to beef up the scrutiny powers of Assembly.
Gilligan’s description of Assembly scrutiny committees is, I’m afraid, pretty accurate. Public money is spent on often shallow investigations which result in reports almost no-one reads. There has to be a better way to hold to account the UK’s most senior directly elected figure.
On the subject of London-watching blogs, Andrew writes:
“Alas, most read more like Private Eye parodies, daily finding new evidence of sinister neo-con evil in Johnson’s choice of breakfast cereal.”
This is probably a bit of an exaggeration but like all parody has some basis in truth and some of the sites I suspect he’s thinking of could almost be described as anti-Gilligan. They probably expect such comments as the price for their own, if not they should do.
When I read that:
“Even the more measured ones simply copy stories from other media outlets (they all have a particular, and flattering, obsession with the Standard).”
I was less certain which sites were being referred to. I knew it wasn’t this one as we don’t copy stories from the Standard or anywhere else, like all outlets I sometimes mention what’s being reported elsewhere but the overwhelming majority of content on MayorWatch is original.
People are free to agree or disagree with what’s written on this site but none of it is produced by ripping off other people’s work. That certainly sounds a lot easier than trudging out to City Hall to watch Mayor’s Questions, joining the Mayor when he launched his consultation on the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge or sitting through a press conference at London Underground but it also sounds less fulfilling and a lot less worthwhile.
Besides, you probably have to be at City Hall and hear the Mayor claim a 50% affordable housing legacy would create “a ghetto feeling” to consider it worth reporting on and it certainly helps to have a working knowledge of how the GLA operates to spot when the Mayor’s press office tries passing off a legally required People’s Question Time as evidence that he’s somehow “fulfilled a manifesto pledge to make London Government accountable and transparent”.
But where I agree with the Mayor, such as his stance on the Met Commissioner, I’ve said so and because I don’t write from a position of dogma I’m happy to acknowledge when I see Boris improving his performance.
Whilst Andrew’s right that new media outlets have their limitations, the same is often true of the so-called ‘mainstream media’. Few reporters for ‘proper’ newspapers showed any understanding that Ray Lewis was not Deputy Mayor of London and so much of the reportage failed to make the distinction between a GLA employee with a bauble of a title and the constitutional Deputy Mayor.
The truth is that both new and old media probably still have much to learn.