Reading the various accounts of Boris Johnson’s shockingly poor approach to his day-jobs reminded me of the few times that I’ve met him. Most of those times have been fairly incidental, when he came to formally open the London Overground at Clapham Junction, for example, or ground-breaking some bland, identikit development at Nine Elms. The one time I had anything approaching a policy discussion was during his first London Mayoral campaign.

The Johnson campaign were having discussions with people from the London boroughs and, being Wandsworth’s turn, a group of us made the short trip to County Hall where the campaign had its offices. One of the first topics of discussion was the idea of having 24-hour Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams (or SNTs).

At the time, SNTs and neighbourhood policing were very much in vogue but a common complaint, mainly from people like councillors rather than actual residents, was that the SNTs weren’t always immediately available. It seems to have been particularly upsetting when they were off duty for a few days (perish the thought they have the equivalent of a weekend). This was largely down to a misunderstanding of what SNTs were meant to do. Neighbourhood Policing should be longer-term, building relationships and problem solving and not responding immediately to issues which is the function of, funnily enough, response policing.

Johnson was enthused by the idea of 24-hour Safer Neighbourhood Teams. They had been trialled by Hammersmith and Fulham Council (at that stage in its brief period of Conservative control) who were funding round-the-clock teams in two areas. I’d actually visited them and found the scheme under-whelming. It was expensive and without any robust evaluation of effectiveness but had strong political support which was evidenced, perhaps, by the lack of any exit strategy. An exit strategy wouldn’t be needed, I was told, because they would be successful. I was unconvinced.

Johnson, however, had no doubt they would be a fantastic success. I presented the alternative view that it would be an expensive white elephant. For around the clock coverage you’d increase the SNT wage bill by three or four times to satisfy a need that simply wasn’t there. London, outside the centre, is not really a 24-hour city and people, including criminals, tended to sleep at night. Realistically no-one needing the police at 5am would dream of looking up their SNT number rather than dialling 999. And if there were a few places that a middle-of-the-night problem was suited to SNT intervention SNTs would change shift patterns to match.

I did not persuade him. Johnson suggested that SNTs could be grouped to cover off-peak policing more cost-effectively. That this was in essence just replicating the sectors in which response policing was already organised was an irrelevant operational detail. His new area-based SNT-response team would, in some nuanced way, be different to the existing area-based non-SNT-response teams. Johnson voiced his opinion that 24-hour SNT policing would be hugely popular and the discussion moved into some other policy area.

Ultimately the idea did not make Johnson’s election manifesto. I don’t think that discussion had anything to do with that. While possible it prompted him to give the idea the few moment’s thought it would take to realise it was unworkable I think it more likely some advisor managed to quietly sideline the idea. Throughout his time at City Hall there was the fiction that it was a mark of his leadership qualities that he appointed high-quality staff to do the work. It seems more and more people are interpreting that less as a leadership quality as more as a reflection of his laziness and lack of ability.

The fact he’s anywhere near becoming Prime Minister should be terrifying. Especially when his likely Cabinet would surely be one of the lowest calibre the country has ever seen. That he’s somehow the favourite among the small, unrepresentative, Conservative party membership is just more evidence that our political system is broken and utterly unsuitable for the 21st century.

Last week I touched on the Labour gimmick of freezing council tax in the eight London boroughs they control and suggested that, actually, if you wanted value and quality services you were better sticking with Conservative authorities that already had a track record.

I failed to mention yesterday the Boris Johnson has again frozen the GLA’s budget. The second year he’s done it and, no coincidence, the second year he’s controlled the budget!

Compare this with Labour’s Ken Livingstone, who managed to double what he took from you over his eight years in office.

Anne Robinson.

Fairly simple. I very much doubt I would have been able to vote for Anne Robinson if she’d been the Conservative candidate for London Mayor last year, as she claims she was asked. Now, of course, I’ve no idea what conversation took place, but there’s being asked and being asked. There can be few men who haven’t – at the wrong end of an evening in the pub – been suggested as a potential Prime Minister after outlining their schemes to solve all the country’s ills. Then again, most men don’t then do an interview with The Independent and throw in such comments to get a bit of publicity for their new chat show.

What worries me is that a supposedly reputable paper takes such an interview, then creates an article and an editorial out of it without really questioning it. Have we really become so obsessed with celebrity? That such comments are seen as perfectly reasonable, that celebrity is the prime qualification for political office?

Gordon Brown, after all, promised an end to the Blairite obsession with celebrity – then invited just as many D-listers as would accept to Downing Street. And this is perhaps the problem with Mayoral systems, that we end up considering not the candidates with the best executive experience, or the best policy ideas, but the candidate with the best name recognition.

[As an aside, if you do a Google image search for ‘Anne Robinson’ virtually every result is from the Daily Mail – which says something, though I’m not sure what.]

One of the applicant's drawings of the proposed hotel on Falcon Road
One of the applicant's drawings of the proposed hotel on Falcon Road

As I reported in June the developers had requested the Mayor take responsibility for deciding their application to build a hotel on Falcon Road.

The Mayor has decided that he is content with Wandsworth Council taking the decision, meaning the council’s refusal of the application stands.

Legally, the Mayor has powers to determine applications if they are strategically important enough.  When the council’s planning department recommended refusal of the application to councillors the developers turned to the Mayor, claiming their hotel was of such importance he should be the decision maker.

There is a three step test the Mayor must apply: first, that the application has a significant impact on the implementation of the London plan; second, that there are significant effects on more than one borough; and third, that there are sound planning reasons for intervening.

His decision was that the hotel failed on all three tests!

The developer can still appeal to the Planning Inspectorate – which is the last option remaining to them.  If they do, all objections made to the council will be carried forward.

Wandsworth and Merton GLA member Dick Tracey and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse with members of the team
Wandsworth and Merton GLA member Dick Tracey and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse with members of the team

The Clapham Junction Transport Hub Team was formally launched this morning (although they have been operational for a month).  Kit Malthouse, the Deputy Mayor with responsibility for policing came down to Lavender Hill police station and Clapham Junction.

The team is one of 32 being introduced across London by Boris Johnson as part of his manifesto commitments to reduce crime on the transport system.

The trials elsewhere in London were incredibly successful, seeing robberies drop by 38% and overall crime by 16%.

Local Safer Neighbourhood Teams will also benefit, Northcote, for example, had been focusing on vagrancy and taxi touting outside the station – they now have an extra resource to help, meaning they can dedicate more time to residents’ other concerns.

It’s great to see the team in place and with support from high-up in the Boris administration.   This is exactly the sort of team Wandsworth had been lobbying Ken to provide, but despite warm words from his people nothing was done.

[As an aside, in the non-public area of any police station there are various pictures of ne’er-do-wells, so I was somewhat disturbed to see my picture – and not a flattering one – displayed in a prominent position right outside the police mess.  I don’t think I’m wanted for anything, honest.]

After Tuesday night’s BATCA Open Forum I was pointed in the direction of Sadiq Khan’s website, and, specifically, his coverage of the news that Tooting town centre is to get its own police team.

Sadiq Khan welcomes Tooting police teamObviously I’m glad that he also welcomes the team. But I was drawn to the comment that “Labour Councillors and Sadiq have lobbied Wandsworth Council to introduce” the new team.

I have to take issue with this for two reasons:

  1. I’m not aware of Sadiq ever asking Wandsworth Council to introduce a police team in Tooting.  As the Cabinet Member responsible for community safety I would expect council officers to have told me if he had. However, even if he had I wouldn’t be that disappointed if officers hadn’t let me know because of my second point…
  2. Wandsworth Council (like every other council in the country) does not control, manage or in any other way direct the police.  We may work in partnership with them, but we do not have any operational control.

Now Sadiq is a minister in the Department for Local Government.  He was also a Wandworth Councillor for many years before becoming an MP.  I suppose it’s entirely possible you could do both those roles without  knowing what’s going on (Gordon Brown was Chancellor for ten years, after all), but it is stretching credibility a bit far.

The more realistic explanation is that he knows the council is not responsible for the police, but took the gamble many people don’t know.  And to his credit it’s actually a pretty good gamble, I’ve spoken to many residents who assume the police are just a part of the council.  And it makes good political sense for a Labour MP in a marginal seat.  You take credit for good news, and get to imply the Conservative council are the bad guys.

So, lesson one: if it’s good, take credit for it.  If possible, do this while suggesting your opponents were to blame for whatever wasn’t so good before.

I won’t pretend that I or my party are whiter than white.  Only this morning I was accused of doing much the same thing, and re-reading my announcement of the news feel I should add to it.

I will still give some credit to this to the Mayor, neighbourhood resources are allocated centrally and very little flexibility is allowed.  When we’d previously tried to address this, by seeing if resources could be moved to priority areas it was refused out of hand: Boris deserves credit for allowing a more pragmatic approach.

And I will still point out that we have repeatedly asked for town centre teams for Tooting and Clapham Junction.  What’s more, we were asking the right people.

However, I didn’t give credit to the police borough commander, Chief Superintendent Stewart Low, who actually made it possible by re-organising his teams to free up the sergeant, constables and community support officers necessary to create the team.  If there is a single individual who deserves credit it is him, and I’m happy to apologise for not pointing that out when I first had the opportunity.

It’s not a commonly celebrated day, perhaps because it isn’t generally associated with drinking copious amounts of alcohol, but it’s St George’s Day today.

And finally London is doing something to mark it.

If you can make it, Boris Johnson will be at an event to mark the day in Leadenhall Market (Gracechurch Street, EC3V) at 10.45am.  Alternatively Trafalgar Square will see a free concert celebrating English music this Saturday.

It’s bizarre that, after all England has given the world, we seem keener on celebrating the patron saints of Ireland, Scotland and Wales than we do our own – but hopefully this year’s small start will see a change in that.

Edward VIISome more good news for Tooting Town Centre: it will soon have its own dedicated police team, similar to the Safer Neighbourhood Teams in each of the borough’s wards.

The team will consist of 1 sergeant, 2 constables and 8 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). By focusing on the town centre it will be there to concentrate on providing a visible presence and focus on the problems associated with a retail centre.

The council has been pushing for a dedicated police team for the town centre for some time. I first raised the issue with Len Duvall – who was Ken Livingstone’s appointee as Metropolitan Police Authority chairman. While in public he was very warm of the idea, almost promising Tooting could be a pilot for such a scheme, unfortunately when we followed up his response was a little different. In fact it could be summarised in two words.

However, Boris is a lot warmer on the idea than his predecessor, so within a month Tooting Town Centre will have it’s own 11 strong police team.

Wandsworth announced today that there would be no increase in council tax.

This makes the second year in the row that Wandsworth has not increased its share of council tax.  However, it’s the first time that bills have not gone up at all – since Ken Livingstone more than doubled his share in his eight years in power.

To add a bit of politics, it shows the value of having Conservative administrations at both City and Town Hall levels: both are committed to providing quality services, but both are committed to making them as efficient as possible, so we take as little as possible from you to pay for them.

Band D council tax remains at £682, still the lowest in the country.  Since the council continues to a top-rated authority by the Audit Commission we’re still number one for service and value.

Boris explains the new extension

Boris explains the new extension


As I posted via Posterous earlier, Boris Johnson came to Clapham Junction to formally announce the East London Line would be extended to SW11.  It’s absolutely fantastic news for the area, and marks the end of eight year’s campaigning by the council to get the line here.

The new route will take commuters from Clapham Junction all the way, if they want, to Dalston Junction on the London Overground route via Surrey Quays.  It means there will be new routes to the City and Docklands.  Most importantly the route does not mean heading directly into zone one, but is orbital.  Hopefully this will relieve pressure on the station and services passing through the station.  As anyone who uses Clapham Junction at rush hour will know, it’s a bit of a crush and seems to be getting worse.

The new services should start before the Olympics, so there are a few more years to go, but after campaigning for eight years, it’s great to see the end in sight.