The last Mayor’s Question time before September was a pretty cross event with Assembly Members in an unforgiving mood.
Opposition AMs were unhappy about the levels of allowances for officers at the Fire Authority and LibDem Mike Tuffrey seemed to think the Mayor needed persuading to consider the fairness of any fare increases he may be planning – Boris of course insisted that fairness was always foremost in his mind – but it was the Conservative side of the chamber which provided the harshest opposition for Boris this morning.
A strong advocate of the need to reduce congestion in Regent and Oxford Streets, Victoria Borwick pushed the Mayor for the introduction of a tram or shuttle service. Boris suggested local retailers were opposed, apparently contradicting his own comments at the State of London debate.
For the record his comments – as recorded in the official City Hall transcript of the night – are as follows:
“On pedestrianising Oxford Street, it is something I have wanted to do for ages. The trouble is, it is not what the Oxford Street merchants, the retailers themselves want. It is very interesting. I painted a picture of a new world, where Oxford Street would be like, if you have ever been to Istanbul, there is Istiklal Avenue, or Barcelona, you wander without any car, perhaps a light tram or something like that to move people up and down. They do not want it, they actually quite like the volume of customers that the buses bring them, and they seem to want to keep the system and the taxis and people’s ability to drop on and off. I have to say, also, there are some quite important transport reasons why it is in our interests to maintain the ability to use Oxford Street. If you look at the bus routes in London, if you took every bus out of Oxford Street you would make it very difficult to run a bus network through central London. That is the reason, the point about the Piccadilly twoway system, we are on to it; someone is on to it and we will look at that.”
To the obvious enjoyment of opposition AMs Borwick suggested the Mayor was saying different things on different days. As she’d already seemingly accused him of “misleading” Londoners by claiming to have Oysterised river services – having apparently learnt that you can’t actually pay to travel on the river with an Oyster – Boris affected to look rather hurt.
As if Borwick’s relentless scrutiny of the Mayor wasn’t enough he also had to contend with Andrew Boff bashing him over the cost of the Olympic stadium and asking why the recession hadn’t managed to make costs fall.
Boff also managed to upset the Mayor with a claim that affordable/rented property in the Olympic Village was being sectioned off creating, as his question put it, “social apartheid” which would cheer estate agents who might otherwise have to tell rich house buying folk that they’d occasionally see some poorer people in the communal areas.
Back to the opposition parties and Labour’s Jennette Arnold pressed Boris to drop former ‘deputy mayor’ Ray Lewis as the (unpaid) head of his mentoring scheme in light of apparently racist and homophobic comments which have recently been reported in the Guardian.
Boris showed no hesitation in condemning bigoted language but clearly has little desire to lose Lewis’s services for a second time.
After the meeting I tested the opinion of AMs from all parties – there seems little support for the Mayor on this issue and even less willingness to entertain the ‘devil’s advocate’ suggestion that to reach some youths it may be necessary to enlist the services of people with less flowery and PC vocabularies.
My sense is opposition AMs will continue to publicly press the Mayor on this and that some on his own side may already be counselling him that it’s not a fight worth having.
The issue of Mayoral appointments also came up after MQT when the London media – even we humble bloggers in an apparent reversal of strategy – were allowed to put questions to would-be Mayoral candidate Oona King.
If ultimately elected Mayor, King wants to set up an independent scrutiny body to pick over the Mayor’s appointments.
In what became a slightly heated exchange between she and I (though I hope we parted on good terms), she knocked back my assertion that this was a role properly carried out by the London Assembly and suggested that a general perception of “cronyism” now enveloped City Hall thanks to Ken and Boris.
Their supporters won’t appreciate that charge and it’s not too hard to find Livingstone backers prepared to accuse King of deploying “dirty tricks” against their man. It’d be a shame if that were the case because, as I wrote over the weekend, the signs coming out of last week’s hustings were of a good natured campaign.
Within days of the next Mayor’s Question Time we should know who the Labour Mayoral candidate taking on Boris will be.
The arrival on the scene of a formal contender is likely to place City Hall on a more election-minded footing, expect to see some tight choreography between the questions Labour AMs ask inside the Chamber and the statements their Mayoral candidate makes outside.