Professional Boris haters have had a fun few days complaining about his refusal to appear before the House of Commons environmental audit committee as part of its investigation into air quality.
But much as it pains some of them to hear this, Boris is absolutely right not to submit to questioning from MPs.
Parliament has already made provision for scrutiny of the Mayor – every four years Londoners elect 25 full-time London Assembly members whose primary purpose is to question the Mayor and hold him to account for his policies and their consequences.
Unlike MPs, the Assembly have regular access to the Mayor and his team, they can hold them for hours and even transform the monthly Mayor’s Question Time session into a single topic examination of the Mayor’s work should they so please.
The level of scrutiny this provides is far in excess of the shallow questioning MPs would fit into the 25 minutes or so that the Mayor would agree to grant them.
The popular complaint from those unhappy at his snubbing of the committee is that Boris is under-scrutinised – but with a dedicated 25-strong scrutiny body watching his every move this has always been slightly wide of the mark.
What London’s Mayoralty lacks isn’t scrutiny, but sanction.
I wrote in 2011 that City Hall should be made responsible for paying any EU fines arising from the capital’s breaching of air quality targets.
In February it was still unclear whether the Government would devolve these fines to local and regional Government, but as I said three years ago:
Passing on responsibility for fines will significantly increase the accountability of future Mayors. If their policies breach regulations and incur fines they’ll be required to find the money either from existing budgets – which will impact on services – or by increasing their precept on the council tax.”
But this sort of substantive change seems less appealing to many of those who oppose the Mayor on party-political grounds who instead seem content with the eventual publication of an ignorable, and most likely instantly forgettable, report which they can wave around as a totem of his failure.
AMs from all City Hall parties regularly bemoan their lack of media coverage and absence of invites to appear on Question Time or the Sunday Politics.
One of the reasons this happens is because they allow their own MPs to overshadow them – all four Assembly parties are represented on the environmental audit committee and all four should be telling their colleagues to sod off and respect London’s devolution settlement.
As for the committee, if it really wants to make a positive contribution to the debate it should organise some briefings for the army of MPs who fail to understand the significance of poor air quality on public health.
It’s a bit less headline grabbing and whole lot less self-serving than getting yourself seen on TV quizzing someone else’s Mayor but unlike wasting public time and money on a vanity session, it might actually do some good.