When future historians sit down to compile a list of the London Assembly’s finest moments today’s Mayor’s Questions Time won’t be a contender for inclusion.
There was a distinct lack of Christmas cheer in a session taken up with almost as many questions about Westminster politics as areas of Mayoral responsibility.
Opposition AMs were somewhat oddly determined to get Boris’s innermost thoughts on Chris Grayling’s plans for elected police Commissioners. This is an important potential development but to expect Boris to hold a final considered opinion on a change which requires major legislation and which is likely to be shaped by a wider debate seems a little premature and far from urgent.
If AMs really want to publicly question someone on this, the most obvious candidate would be Grayling himself.
Tory AMs later told me they were happy for opposition parties to waste their time on questions couldn’t answer on a policy he has nothing to do with. Seeing it from their point of view this makes sense but Londoners are shortchanged when the Assembly veers away from its role as scrutineers of the Mayor.
Boris had a bad moment when he appeared not to know his own draft budget anticipates a fall in police numbers by 2013. There’s only so often being charming will get him out of such fixes. He’s vastly better briefed than used to be the case but someone on the team’s still letting him down on the important stuff.
There was a brief moment of cross-chamber agreement with condemnation of plans for Parliament to waste money by setting up a London select committee, duplicating the work of the Assembly. We’ve been here before. After the Transport select committee’s heavily partisan report into this year’s snow fiasco, “get stuffed” should be Boris’s response to any future invitations to explain himself to MPs.
Meanwhile Tory AMs were interested in hearing Boris’s views on last week’s Pre-Budget Report. Admittedly Boris’s constitutional position as defender of London (including its banker community) meant this was slightly more relevant than the questions on Grayling’s policies, but I’m sure there were more pressing issues affecting a wider section of Londoners.
The issue of Veronica Wadley’s non-appointment (so far) as Chair of the London Arts Council also reared its head. Other than remarking that the issue probably isn’t worth the political cost Boris is incurring, I’m happy to leave the issue to Dave Hill’s forensic gaze.
Labour’s John Biggs took us dangerously close to panto-land when he called Boris “you idiot”, prompting boos from most AMs and a fair chunk of the audience. He eventually withdrew the comment after Jenny Jones rebuked him and Tory AMs protested.
Boris did his best not to comment on the Tube PPP Arbiter’s determination on costs for maintenance work which is due to be published tomorrow but many will have left the meeting suspectingTfL are looking at options for ending Tune Lines’ contract.
When it came to voting to extend the meeting to allow more questions to Boris the absence of several opposition AMs led to the vote being lost, bringing an end to the rattiest and least enjoyable MQT’s I’ve witnessed. For the Assembly’s corporate dignity it was the best outcome.