Even beyond the usual displays of bad manners, yesterday’s Mayor’s Question Time was especially cringeworthy.
Having long wished for the event to draw capacity crowds I found myself wishing yesterday hadn’t been the day it did so.
Not for the first time Boris Johnson arrived in the chamber after the meeting had started leaving AMs with little business to conduct while they waited. Who knows what perfectly good excuse he had for not arriving on time but it’s starting to look discourteous.
Thankfully Boris’s perceived patronising tone to the female Assembly Members, long the stuff of City Hall whispering, was absent but I’m not sure yawning during his answers is a huge improvement.
When I teased him about about it after the meeting Boris denied all knowledge of the yawns but, though some questions are tedious and poorly worded, maybe a few early nights might be in order?
But Boris’s timekeeping and yawning was pretty minor stuff compared to the behaviour of Assembly Members. John Biggs’s question – ruled out of order by Chair Dee Doocey – of whether Boris was more to his constituents than someone who dressed scruffily genuinely shocked some of those sitting around me.
But the real shocker was fellow Labour AM Jennette Arnold’s suggestion that Boris was guilty of discrimination against travellers and that she’d report him.
A bad tempered dispute over the Mayor’s dropping of mandatory targets for permanent traveller sites included remarks which Tory AM James Cleverly took as a suggestion that he was an apologist for racism.
In all it was a pretty poor display from people who should know better and thankfully some effective scrutiny did manage to squeeze itself in amongst the rudeness.
LibDem Caroline Pidgeon scored a big hit with a question about an Improvement Notice served on London Underground in July which Boris seemed to have little knowledge of despite chairing Transport for London.
The Tory group also sunk their teeth in to the Mayor. Brian Coleman’s revelation that a list of road crossing TfL are insisting on being closed includes two he personally campaigned to have installed brought much hilarity and a concession from Boris for a more consultative approach.
Meanwhile the Mayor’s ongoing failure to take seriously the issue of bus congestion in and around Oxford Street earned the obvious contempt of Victoria Borwick who oversaw the Assembly’s investigation into the issue last year.
And while joining John Bigs in tackling Boris on the decision not to have the Olympic Marathon run through his constituency, Andrew Boff proved once again that he and not Boris is City Hall’s real king of comedy.
A gag that a Bayeux Tapestry designed by Olympic organisers would have “four Norman landings but miss Harold getting an arrow in the eye” went down well – though Boris looked as if he wanted to give us another history lesson in reply – but the biggest laugh came when Boff suggested that were Labour AMs stuck down a mine, Biggs would be the last one they pulled out.
Gags aside, yesterday wasn’t the most edifying example of City Hall at work. MQTs and the various London Assembly meetings don’t often draw capacity crowds and when they do it’s normally because invited groups have been bused in.
That the elected Government of 7m people can’t fill a few hundred seats ten times a year is shameful enough, but it’s entirely self-defeating to then drive those groups away midway through proceedings with endless shouting, barbs and insults.