Last night’s London Debate on ITV means that the Mayoral candidates – or at least some of them – have now appeared in four televised hustings across various channels.
You do wonder whether even the capital’s chattering classes bothered to tune in to the latest episode of the Boris v Ken ding-dong, since over on Newsnight, the breaking story of the day, that James Naughtie’s conviction that “Jeremy Hunt” is in fact rhyming slang, was being given the full treatment.
One thing the Murdochs should be thanked for: Sky+. It allows you to have the best of all worlds, at least as far as television is concerned.
Turning to the well-rehearsed, and oft-repeated, arguments of the London Mayor’s race on ITV, two things came across very clearly.
First, that with the finish line now in sight, all the candidates are beginning to look weary and care-worn. However much any of them may like the sound of their own voices, there is a certain kind of madness when you hear yourself saying the same thing, over and over, for weeks on end.
Second, quite what a difference in balance it can make to the “debate” having a good, strong journalist chairing the event can make. When Anna Botting was in charge of Sky News’s effort, she was crushed by Boris in full-steam-ahead rumbustious mode, allowing him to speak over the other candidates, interrupting at will. It descended into a bullying Bullingdon Boy’s show.
When Andrew Neil took charge of the BBC’s version a week before, it was a case of The Ego Has Landed: bound by a tightly scripted session, with pressure to include brief filmed clips from those candidates not invited into the studio, you sensed that Neil was listening more to his studio director, or to himself, than anything being said by the candidates.
ITV’s Alastair Stewart stood for no nonsense last night, more than once telling the incumbent London Mayor to cease his interruptions. It meant that Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones managed to get more than a word in edgewise, and it also allowed the audience to engage far more.
And so a Croydon teenager, Eliza Reberio, the founder of Lives Not Knives, managed to steal the show. She had the temerity to stand up to Mayor Johnson and challenge his claims over the levels of knife crime in the capital. Reberio surprised no one when she spoke of the number of meetings she had attended on knife crime, but said that Johnson had failed to attend any of them.
Few manage to leave Boris speechless, but when he tried to justify his four-year record at City Hall by referring to some crime figures, the Mayor was left gawping like a goldfish as Reberio told him: “Teenagers’ lives are not statistics. I’ve lost friends.”
It was not the only time that Johnson’s record as Mayor since 2008 came in for questioning last night. More than once, Jones and Paddick contradicted Johnson, the LibDem candidate even accusing him of lying over his claims on police figures, as he has been bolstering the stats by recruiting part-time PCSOs to replace full-time, fully trained police officers.
The effects are already being seen in Croydon, with the number of officers allocated in the centre of town halved, and six sergeants’ posts axed from the Safer Neighbourhood teams across the borough.
Jones raised the issue of London’s deteriorating air quality, and Johnson’s attempts to pervert the monitoring equipment by “glueing” particulate pollution on the roads close to the measuring stations, while around 4,000 Londoners a year die prematurely due to respiratory illnesses cause by poor air quality. Johnson’s priority remains, it seems, “smoothing traffic flow”, at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists, and people’s long-term health.
Yesterday, the Johnson campaign published a “Progress Report” in which it was claimed that Boris had delivered on 91 per cent of his 2008 manifesto promises. But as Adam Bienkov, on the excellent Scoop London site suggests, Johnson is being less than frank even when it comes to his analysis of his delivery – or the lack of it.
We are grateful to Dave Hill, the Guardian newspaper’s London blogger, for a handy set of questions that he thinks all Londoners ought to consider between now and polling day on May 3.
One. Why does your nine-point plan for Greater London include pledges to do things you’ve previously claimed to have already done (1,000 more police than when you were elected, “save” Londoners £445 in council tax)?
Two. Can you explain the maths behind that pledge to “save” Londoners £445 in council tax (Clue here)?
Three. London is in the grip of a deepening crisis of housing affordability. You claim to have “delivered” record numbers of affordable homes. Could you have achieved this without the large sums of money at your disposal thanks to your predecessor as mayor and the last Labour government, and how do react to the observation at Inside Housing that you are alone among mainstream candidates in offering no new ideas in this area of policy?
Four. You came to power amid high hopes that you could lessen serious youth violence in London, yet Met figures show annual rises, your mentoring programme is running late and the group of experts you recruited to provide you with advice have described your strategy as “a shambles.” BBC London has discovered that criticisms of the performance of the young offenders’ rehabilitation scheme at Feltham you support were removed from a report on its progress. Why shouldn’t Londoners feel let down?
Five. One of your first acts on becoming mayor was to support a large increase in the use of random stop and search and you’ve continued to support this. Metropolitan Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe recently said that the tactic should be far better targeted and more professionally executed. Have you spent four years getting it wrong on stop and search?
Six. Your transport manifesto (pdf) claims that further automation of the London Underground – by which you actually mean new rolling stock on the Northern Line – “will reduce the bargaining power of the union bosses”. But the “train captains” who would staff these new trains would be union members. Most of those already employed on the Docklands Light Railway are members of Bob Crow’s RMT and have demonstrated that they are quite prepared to go on strike. So how will the advent of “train captains” on the underground reduce the Tube unions’ power?
Seven. Your 2008 accountability manifesto promised to “end the culture of cronyism at City Hall”. In August 2008 you appointed one of your mayoral campaign donors to the board of the London Development Agency. In June 2010 your fellow Conservative Jeremy Hunt appointed your nominee to chair the Arts Council in London despite her having been turned down by Hunt’s Labour predecessor on the grounds that the process you devised that led to her nomination had breached Nolan Rules governing standard in public life. That person was Veronica Wadley who, as its editor during the 2008 campaign, led the London Evening Standard‘s relentless campaign against your rival Ken Livingstone. Have you honoured your pledge on cronyism?
Eight. A report you commissioned suggested that more than 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each years as a result of air pollution. Your latest move to avoid a large EU fine has been to glue pollution to the ground in hot spot areas. Is that good enough?
Nine. You claim that you will introduce 600 of your new London buses in the course of your second term and that these will cost no more than existing “hybrid” buses do. However, in December 2008 you promised that more than 350 hybrids would be operating on London’s streets “by 2011” and that every new addition to the fleet would be a hybrid “by 2012”. Three years later it emerged that only 52 out 800 buses on order were hybrids. The reason Transport for London gave for this was that the cost of hybrids had failed to fall to levels hoped for. Why should we believe your promise about your new bus?
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
- Croydon questions: Steve O’Connell, Conservatives (insidecroydon.com)
- Not everyone recognises a good thing on the election trail (insidecroydon.com)
- Ken narrows Boris’s lead to two points (newstatesman.com)