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.

The council has undoubtedly been going through a little local difficulty recently. That’s politics, it happens. What has surprised me is the feigned shock and surprise that the council, or more precisely the Conservative group, looks the various options that have been highlighted.

It is well-known the money just isn’t there like it used to be for the public sector. It’s perhaps less widely that councils are bearing the brunt of spending cuts. This may or may not be fair, depending on how you look at it; councils are responsible for a huge share of public spending, but in large part because they are at the frontline and the spending is on the most vulnerable in society. Whatever the rights and wrongs, councils have no choice but to make savings. It’s not just a Wandsworth thing.

Labour may be on a high horse in Wandsworth, but I have no doubt that similar lists exist in local authorities of every colour and hue. If they don’t, I’d question whether that council is doing their job.

I grew up as a heavy user of my local library, so know the benefits they offer. But equally as I have grown I have seen the way access to information has changed. Internet access is not quite universal, but is getting there. The net book agreement is no more, increasing retail competition and increasing book sales. People carry devices that can be used as ereaders with them as a matter of routine.

And I have changed too. My need for access to expensive reference books largely ended when I finished formal education. Commuting and bedtime reading replaced daytime breaks. Increasingly I would purchase—rather than borrow—books and then either keep them or donate them to charity or occasionally to (never) be tracked on sites like bookcrossing. I only used libraries occasionally, the last time was over ten years ago.

I won’t pretend I am representative, but when we’ve looked at libraries before the data show relatively few people use them, but those that do tend to use them heavily. Likewise, the books stocked see a small proportion borrowed frequently, while most languish, unloved, on the shelves for years.

If we were starting a library service from scratch, would we constitute it as we do now? I doubt it. I suspect we might put a much higher emphasis on children’s lending, perhaps look at the need for study areas at some libraries, consider whether internet access is as important as it was ten years ago. I also think we might not see quite the same need for big rooms full of shelves of books for adult lending.

But maybe I’m wrong. I would have absolutely no way of knowing without looking at the data, considering options and weighing those options against the council’s vision, policy objectives and other options.

Exactly the same argument applies to any other council service. Just because a need existed five years ago doesn’t mean it exists today. Likewise the council might have to address new needs today that just weren’t relevant five years ago. Nothing exists in a vacuum, including council budgets. While there might be an argument about policy making transparency, no-one should be getting on a high horse to discover the council considers options, they should be worried if it weren’t.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m in a small minority of those who are excited when it comes to Cameron’s Big Society policy. In part that’s because I think it’s vague description and undefined edges could lead to some real innovations.

And looking at those areas that were identified as ‘vanguard communities’ (Eden District council in Cumbria, Sutton, Windsor and Maidenhead and Liverpool) it seems even those supposedly at the forefront of the policy aren’t getting that excited.

A search on the relevant council websites reveals very little.

The only council of the four that returns anything worth reading is Windsor and Maidenhead.

It might well be that they are still thinking through the policy implications internally, but doesn’t it rather go against the spirit of the policy not to have some of that thinking done out loud so ‘society’ can participate?

[And before anyone points it out, I know Wandsworth is no better!]

I indulged my inner geek last weekend, going along to the second half of the UK GovWeb barcamp (essentially an informal conference about technology in the government sector). I always feel a little bit like the token sceptic at these things, perhaps because I am one of the few politicians who goes and find my geekish enthusiasm somewhat self-censored by political realities.

However, one of the sessions I attended was about the state of blogging in government to discuss policy development. The conclusion was that there isn’t that much. I think that’s a consequence of politics: civil servants and council officers keep their counsel private (that’s their job) and politicians like to present fully formed and defendable policies to the public (that’s, arguably, their job). The result is neither want to cast light on their policy development role.

And it set me thinking about the way I work in Wandsworth. My time in my current council role is littered with cast-off ideas that didn’t make the cut. Why? Because they were impractical, or because they didn’t really help us with any of our priorities, or because they were too expensive, or because my colleagues just hated them, or any number of other reasons.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s far better to have ideas and kick them about to see if anything can come of them than just assuming nothing will happen and never seeing the one in ten (or one in a hundred, or a thousand, or a million) that will make it all the way to the end and become a useful policy.

But why can’t we do it in public? There are few times when the collective wisdom of everyone in a room isn’t greater than any individuals, so why not expand that room through something like the internet? Why can’t we start having a few policies put out for public consideration at an early stage, with everyone knowing that most will eventually fall by the wayside, but that some will emerge at the other end much stronger for the collective scrutiny and input they receive?

For example, my idea to develop the technology sector in Wandsworth by staging a manned lunar mission might not be viable – but as we go through the process of discovering that we might come up with great ideas that do work (velcro, anyone?).

Being a politician, however, I immediately see the downside: unless the idea is successful it is merely knocking copy for the other side. And that is where my geekish enthusiasm is self-censored.

So what will I do with my next exciting idea? I’m afraid I’ll probably discuss it with officers and take it though the usual process.