Thursday, 18 November 2010

My day at the London Assembly

Yesterday I shadowed Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones at City Hall.

The day started with Mayor’s Question Time, where the first question came from Darren Johnson, our other Green Party London Assembly member. Darren asked whether key parts of the work done by the London Assembly on Climate Change, such as the crucial Renew and Refit programme, would now fail to happen because of Government cuts.

Boris Johnson responded that he is sure that David Cameron knows the importance of Climate Change. Darren counteracted that whilst Cameron may indeed grasp the importance of the issue, that is not the same as ensuring the money is there for work to be carried out. Continuing, Darren asked the Mayor whether he would promise to lobby the boroughs to commit to the Renew and Refit programme. “I am acutely aware of the pressure the boroughs are under,” responded Boris Johnson. In other words, no.

Len Duvall, a Labour member of the Assembly, asked whether the mayor would use the same rhetoric the Tories are using in Government about ‘benefit cheats’ about tax evaders. Brian Coleman, Tory member of the Assembly shouted “Socialism is alive and well!” not realising that that is not actually an insult…

Indeed, watching the Mayor trying to keep the more unruly and right-wing Tory members in line was extremely amusing. Some of the gems they came out with included abolishing the Assembly, introducing prison ships (“because prison works”. Really? Have you seen the stats?!), and how ‘kettling’ should be used again as a way to police demos. Oh, and following a question by Jenny Jones on how the boroughs were going to be able to pay for improvements to cycling (“You’re making a lot of promises,” said Jenny “but I just don’t see the money there to deliver those promises”), Brian Coleman commented that it was “nonsense about cycling and walking”). Vote Blue, get Green, remember? Er…

Of course, it’s well-documented how much Boris Johnson will avoid answering any question that is put to him. Rather than answering, he will make “jokes” and play to the gallery, many of whom were indeed laughing (though I certainly wasn’t). However, there were also whispered comments, along the lines of “Answer the question!” I’d like to see the public, rather than laughing, simply chant “Answer the question! Answer the question!” over and over again. Boris has only one way of operating, and that is to employ “humour” to distract from the fact that he has no idea what he is talking about. He is both an oaf and clueless, but he is able to get away with it by turning those very failings into attributes, his “brand”, if you will.

I also noted that sexism is alive and well in the chamber at City Hall. James Cleverly (Con), said the mayor was “gallant” in the way he dealt with a question from Joanne McCartney (Lab). Boris Johnson, in response to a question by Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem – and she was excellent, I thought – I know, me praising a Lib Dem, what’s occurring?!), referred to her, patronisingly, as “dear Caroline”, shortly before being reprimanded by the chair.

If one of the roles of the London Assembly is to hold the Mayor to account, it seems that the Assembly members who do the best job of that are the ones that ask direct, simple questions and have the temerity to keep hammering home the points they wish to make. Detailed questions allow Johnson to take a side-road, and he is always delighted when an assembly member makes this faux pas.

I am delighted to report that our Green London Assembly Members gave some of the strongest performances of the session, despite being given the shortest time. It’s a real shame though that our politicians are having to play word games and concentrate all their efforts into outwitting and out-manoeuvring Boris Johnson, who for some reason the people of the capital decided to make Mayor of London.

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