Saturday, May 03, 2008

Enough already

We have no doubt on this blog that the political groups and groupuscules (and I am using that word in its correct meaning) will go on chattering about the local election results for some time to come. Undoubtedly, this was a catastrophe for the Labour party of some magnitude and one from which they will find it difficult to recover.

However, for the rest of us, life goes on and, let us face it, these were just local elections, which will change little and which were decided on a low turn-out as usual. In other words, for the majority of the population, even in the affected areas, they were of little concern. This will not change until there is a root-and-branch reform in local government (and that goes for the regional government in Westminster, Cardiff and Edinburgh as well).

Before I return to my usual themes I shall do one final round-up of events in London in the last couple of days.

We have a new mayor, though many of us prefer not to have one at all. Nor are we all that desperate to have a London Assembly or the rest of those quangos that together make up the GLA or, more widely, “London’s government”. London does not need a government as it has managed spectacularly well without one for centuries. This supposed government is little more than a money-hungry incubus on the whole city.

On the other hand, if we do have a mayor, even temporarily, it is better not to have a power-hungry, self-centred, not-much-reformed socialist who brought in huge white elephants, thought of new ways to fleece the public and saw himself and his entourage as another foreign office. The truth of how much those trips abroad to places like Venezuela or to conferences about global warming has not yet come out.

The truth of how much the many media officers have cost us will be known but shall we ever find out the money spent on endless groups and organizations that were supposed to “help” various “disadvantaged” groups in London, such as young people? Did you know that there is a whole “yoof” section in the GLA where youngsters, who should be looking for proper jobs and having a life are employed to create a great deal of useless and expensive (to the taxpayer) employment for themselves and others like them in endless groups, committees, discussions, forums etc etc?

On the whole they are a messy lot who seem to think nothing of dropping litter on the floor and never switch off their machinery when they leave the building. Last heard of they were a little worried that their cushy and mindless jobs might disappear under the new Mayor. Let us hope so.

On to the new Mayor. Boris Johnson has won very handsomely. Despite the ridiculous system of three ballot papers, two preferences for the mayor and two separate votes for the assembly, which has consistently created more spoilt ballots in London than anywhere else, the victory is clear and uncontestable.

The turn-out seems to have been around 45 per cent, about ten per cent higher than last time and about 13 per cent higher than the time before. This is still not spectacularly high but by standards of local elections, not bad.

The irony here is that we were told twice by pundits of the stature of Simon Jenkins that the magical personality and popularity of Ken Livingstone would bring the voters out in far greater droves than ever before. It didn’t and neither did the media blitz on the subject. It was actually the presence of a credible rival that did the trick.

The Tories could have achieved this victory last time if they had not been so stupid in their choice of candidate. Stitching up the highly presentable Nikki Page and putting forward the highly unpresentable Steve Norris, who had lost once already, was an act of madness. And there was serious talk of doing the same this time.

Unfortunately, this story wrong-foots the “local-is-best” brigade. It was the London Conservative Party that messed up last time and it was the national leadership that insisted on Johnson as candidate this time. We don’t know how the man himself was talked into doing this but if whatever he was promised means only one term as Mayor, that is all to the good.

David Cameron must have some ambivalent feelings. It does not take too many brain cells to work out that Boris Johnson will now have a power base that is completely independent of the leader and, unlike Livingstone, he has never made the mistake of antagonizing other members of his party.

Meanwhile, those figures for people who have not seen them yet. Johnson got 1,043,761 votes on first preference, that is 42.48 per cent and Livingstone 893,877, that is 36.38 per cent. Our Ken got more second preference vote but as the Evening Standard said around 8 o’clock yesterday, not enough to catch up. (They, of course, had the turn-out figures in various constituencies, information we were denied inside City Hall.)

Final count was 1,168,738 for Mayor Johnson and 1,028,966 for ex-Mayor Livingstone. One can but hope he will now disappear from public life and go back to spending more time with his newts.

Contrary to what the media tells us, Livingstone has not been a success in his political life. Nothing but a career local politician, he actually helped Thatcher to destroy the GLC, which he had seen as his power base. Then he became an MP, only to find that as a back-bencher and a greatly disliked one at that, he had no role to play.

Now he has lost his power-base again after a couple of rather disastrous stints. His “achievements” are not precisely great. Getting the 2012 Olympics for London is a poisoned chalice for the rest of us and we are resentful.

The extension of the congestion charge zone westwards was a highly unpopular, badly argued piece of spite against people who refuse to vote for him. Getting more people on the buses is a ridiculous claim as the buses are no more frequent or efficient than they ever were. In other words, this has simply added to the discomfort of travelling in London.

Some of those more people are children and teenagers under 16, who can travel anywhere for free and hop on and of at different stops, making life difficult for other passengers and adding to the obesity problem among children.

And so on, and so on.

It was time for him to go. Otherwise, the Conservatives have not done as well as they had hoped in London. They lost one first-past-the-post seat in the Assembly and failed to gain another one they had high hopes for. They have gone down to eight constituency members with Labour having six. However, their vote across London has gone up by 6.20 per cent, so they will make the seats up from the top-up list system. Labour’s vote went up by 3.36 per cent. A combination of higher turn-out and smaller parties being squeezed. It was rare to see any group quite as glum as the Greens were in the Great Glass Egg yesterday.

What about those top-up members? The big news is that, as expected, the BNP has passed the 5 per cent threshold and now has one member in the Assembly. Incidentally, if it is true that the main party candidates walked out of the room when the BNP mayoral candidate spoke but happily listened to the tyrant- and terrorist-supporting Lindsay Germain of the Left List, one can only marvel at their stupidity as well as bad manners. Then they wonder why people vote BNP. Richard Barnbrook, the man in question, will now be in the Assembly, so, as the song has it “ho, ho, ho, who’s laughing now”.

Having found the full list, I can say that the Conservatives have got three top-up seats, so two mayoral hopefuls, Andrew Boff and Victoria Borwick will be in the Assembly. Again, one can but wonder at their notion of what constitutes important political placing.

Labour have two top-up seats, with Nicky Gavron and Murad Qureshi back in place. That means there will be 11 Tory members and 8 Labour ones. The Lib-Dims have lost two seats and are down to three and the Greens have retained the two they had. BNP has one. What a jolly set-up that is going to be.

And so, my own adventure in City Hall is probably coming to an end. Technically, I remain a GLA employee until I get my redundancy and, theoretically, they are going to try to redeploy me. I think the chances of that are slim and I shall go on to pastures new.

The One London blog has effectively ceased functioning and will be closed down definitively. I can’t say it was fun but it had its moments of interest. My dislike and distrust of local government has been confirmed; my assumption that it is unbearably corrupt has been confirmed in spades; and my conviction that the GLA should be abolished has been strengthened even more.

Back to real life now. Well, after I have cleared my desk in the Great Glass Egg.

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