As reported earlier, Boris Johnson today launched the extended East London Line and there wasn’t an Assembly Member in sight.
After creating a loud fuss over earlier plans for a launch, opposition AMs were invited to come along today and share the moment.
I’d wrongly expected at least one to turn up if only to ensure the Mayor didn’t have the limelight to himself but in the end the critics opted to stay away from an event they thought either shouldn’t have gone ahead at all, or should only have been attended by TfL officials with Boris staying in his office at City Hall.
It’s fair to say the absences created a certain level of bemusement on the part of some journalists and obvious annoyance on the part of TfL officials who clearly resent the political row which threatens to overshadow their triumph in delivering the line early and on budget.
It’s not all that common for public engineering and construction projects to arrive on time and without a hefty budget overrun so TfL’s annoyance is pretty understandable.
I’m finding it harder to understand why the Assembly Members stayed away, their decision means Boris gets to be the only London politician staring out from the pictures and footage illustrating a major news story. Surely that’s exactly what they didn’t want?
On the other hand, a number of journalists did tackle Boris on whether he was using the launch to covertly campaign so it’s possible the AMs succeeded in making their point without having to do so in person.
AUDIO – BORIS JOHNSON DISCUSSES THE POLITICAL ROW SURROUNDING TODAY’S OPENING
For his part Boris played the whole event pretty straight, refraining from claiming personal credit for the scheme – not something he’s always capable of – lavishing praise on TfL and insisting that the launch had nothing to do with “the grubby business of electioneering”.
As anyone who has ever witnessed a Mayor’s Question Time session may have spotted, City Hall politicians often fall into the trap of talking only to themselves, discussions readily get bogged down with insider-talk, acronyms and rows over fairly abstract matters most of London couldn’t care less about.
I suspect that’s exactly how this row over ‘purdah’ looks to most of those who’ll benefit from this fantastic new transport service.