09 May 2011 4:56 PM

Moustache, no more


Ken Livingstone has launched his new campaign website which will be essential reading for Londoners who want to know what Labour's candidate is proposing on key policy areas such as transport and crime in the 2012 race.

However my favourite entry so far is Ken's response to the question "Will we ever see the 'tache return?". Sadly it appears as though the former mayor's sartorial style has moved on. "Absolutely not. The Conservatives may be in power but that's one 80s revival that's not going to happen," he says.

Tory activists everywhere will be disappointed. No pre-election snaps of Ken looking like a central American socialist dictator for them to plaster across their campaign literature.

04 May 2011 1:31 PM

Ken: Obama is a mobster

Ken2 Former mayor Ken Livingstone has sparked controversy once again by claiming that the killing of Osama bin Laden made President Obama look like a "mobster".

The Labour candidate for City Hall told me the US decision to "blow out" the al Qaeda chief was wrong and he should have been made to stand trial instead.

Livingstone warned that the scenes of jubilation across the US - which have made many this side of the Atlantic feel rather uncomfortable - would "heighten" the threat of another terror attack on London, similar to the one that killed 52 people on July 7, 2005.

"I just looked at it and realised that it would increase the likelihood of a terror attack on London," he said. "That's very much the American style but I don't think I've ever felt pleased at the death of anybody. The real problem for London is that after America we're a big target so it's a very dangerous time at the moment."

Livingstone added: "We should have captured him and put him on trial. It's a simple point - are we gangsters or a Western democracy based on the rule of law? This undermines any commitment to democracy and trial by jury and makes Obama look like some sort of mobster."

He claimed a trial would have "completely" debunked the mythology around al Qaeda but it would also have revealed US support for fundamentalist groups in Afghanistan in the Eighties. But Livingstone's remarks about President Obama were condemned at Westminster.

Chelsea MP Greg Hands, who has US and British citizenship, said: "Calling President Obama a mobster is yet another example of Ken Livingstone's extreme views which threaten to damage London. What American business will want to invest in our city if it is run by a man who repeatedly attacks their leader?"

Livingstone's boss, Labour leader Ed Miliband, has praised the US special forces for their achievement and after the killing said: "Justice has been done".


28 April 2011 5:01 PM

A bicycle made for two

Have a look at this animation of cycle-mad Boris Johnson's gift to the happy couple - a specially customised tandem Boris bike. The Mayor narrowly escaped a row over the wedding gift after he initially demanded Transport for London (which is funded by passenger fares and taxpayers) pay for the £500 bike. TfL managers objected on the grounds that it would be wrong to use taxpayers’ money but happily for Boris, Serco, the firm that runs the bike hire scheme, subsequently agreed to pick up the bill.


12 April 2011 2:35 PM

Remembering Sir Simon Milton


One of my favourite tributes to Sir Simon Milton, who died yesterday, comes from my former colleague Paul Waugh, who as Evening Standard local government correspondent then deputy political editor, covered the Tory politician for years. "It's fair to say that the Mayor campaigned in poetry while Simon governed in prose," says Paul, summing up the essence of the man, and his relationship with Boris Johnson. 

Simon was tough, practical, persuasive and knew how to get things done. But he was also unfailingly diplomatic, polite and charming. He had many political friends, and almost no enemies, highly unusual in the partisan world of London politics.

Perhaps it was his unassuming nature that enabled him to work so well with politicians of all hues? His friend Mark Field, the Tory MP, described him thus: "He epitomises better than anyone the very familiar maxim of Ronald Reagan that there’s no limit to what you can achieve politically if you don’t care who gets the credit."

Politically as well as personally, Simon's death will create a big hole at City Hall. While it is true that Boris did not rely on him so absolutely as he did during his turbulent early days in office, he kept the GLA - and, crucially, the Mayor's plans - ticking over.

Guto Harri, the Mayor's director of external communications, will take on the role of acting chief-of-staff. But as he will presumably still be Boris's political aide-de-camp and as the role of GLA chief executive was recently abolished, he will have a very big job on his hands. Nobody "gets" Boris politically, strategically and personally like Guto, but where Simon excelled was in using that information and turning the Mayor's ambitions into reality.

07 April 2011 2:06 PM

U-charge if you want to


Ken Livingstone has backed away from one of his flagship policies by saying he would not bring back the western extension of the C-charge.

The Labour candidate for mayor suggested that if he is elected in May next year he would drop his plans to reinstall the zone. In an apparent shift in policy, the former mayor said the multi-million-pound cost of extending the C-charge zone again would be better spent on front-line policing and keeping down fares.

As recently as December Livingstone pledged to bring back the WEZ, arguing that Boris Johnson's decision to abolish it was a "political choice" that would worsen congestion and pollution.

In his transport policy document he claimed that removing the WEZ would mean a reduction in revenue of up to £70 million a year and an increase in traffic of 33,000 extra vehicles each day. The Mayor scrapped the western zone on Christmas Eve last year after holding a consultation with residents and businesses.

A spokesman for Johnson's election campaign said today: "It is the same Ken Livingstone, playing politics and deliberately not being clear to Londoners. In one interview he hints at one thing while on his campaign website he promises another. We'll only ever know his actual plans after the election - he's already admitted that."

Livingstone made his comments on sticking with the smaller central zone to blogger Adam Bienkov during a campaign visit to Plumstead yesterday.

He said that in "an ideal world where money is no object" he would still prefer to bring the WEZ back, before adding: "But given it would cost £100 to £150 million to do it, I think I'd much rather spend that money on front-line policing and keeping the fares down. That's the single most important thing at the moment to not do anything that takes money out of Londoners' pockets."

His spokesman said: "Over the coming months every decision Ken will take - including on the western extension - will be weighed up on that basis to ensure that Londoners' quality of life is protected."

Livingstone also revealed that if he is elected he still plans to implement the "gas guzzler charge" of £25 for larger, polluting vehicles that are driven into central London. He said: "We'll be straight back for that because we now know that at least 4,000 people die a year prematurely because of our poor air quality. We're running the risk of an EU fine and the Government has a clause in the Localism Bill that if the EU levies the fine it will be transferred to London council-tax payers."


06 April 2011 12:46 PM

It's all balls to me

The row between Boris Johnson and Fifa president Sepp Blatter over the origins of football rumbles on. Not only did Fifa deny England the World Cup, but Blatter has also been trying to strip us of our claim that we invented the Beautiful Game, suggesting it originated in China instead.

But at a sports dinner last night the Mayor revealed he had been doing some historical research of his own. He has discovered that the Chinese did indeed play a sport which involved using a part of their body to propel an object across a pitch, way back in 300 BC. However, this was called Cuju and did not necessarily involve feet and balls.

Football as we know it today, according to the Mayor, was codified in a pub on Great Queen Street in the 19th century. And therefore we can claim it as our own. He suggested to the assembled luminaries of the sporting world: "Why isn't Sepp Blatter made head of the International Cuju Association, based in Zurich, and then we can set up an alternative organisation for football here in London?" I can see Fifa going for that one.

05 April 2011 2:23 PM

A helping hand for young Boris

Where does Boris Johnson stand on internships? One might expect that after all his hard work promoting apprenticeships and opportunities for young people as Mayor of London he might think they should be awarded on a basis of what you know, rather than who you know.  

Perhaps not. After spending New Year 1987 at a champagne fuelled country house party with his ex-wife Allegra (pictured above) and former Times sketch writer Frank Johnson (no relation), Boris landed on his feet with his first job in journalism. No crawling his way up the career ladder through local papers or news agencies for him.

(Frank) Johnson recalls*: "I thought he was too original and had too little command of detail to become a politician. I said to him: "If you want to try journalism, give me a ring after your finals." He did, and I got him in to see Charlie Douglas-Home [then Editor of The Times]. That was why he got the job."

The Times then sent Boris off to Wolverhampton for three months of training. Paid, of course. And the rest, as they say, is history. It helps to move in the right circles.  

* from Andrew Gimson's The Rise of Boris Johnson




23 March 2011 2:02 PM

Enterprising East End

OsborneBudgetOne obvious London story in this lunchtime's Budget - the new Canary-Wharf style enterprise zone for the the capital. I can reveal that Boris has already picked the site - the Royal Docks and surrounding areas. The S-shaped regeneration area will take in most of the Royal Docks and snake its way north through the East End, boosting growth.

George Osborne announced today that London would get one of 21 newly created enterprise zones, reviving one of Margaret Thatcher’s most popular policies. The zone could offer firms a five-year exemption from business rates up to £275,000, easier planning rules and a super-fast broadband infrastructure.

The Mayor described the Chancellor’s announcement as the “icing on the cake” for the regeneration of some of London’s poorest areas. He said: “Investors are already beating a path to the door of golden opportunities arising in this emerging district. Now with the financial and regulatory breaks granted to this area there will be even greater incentives for new businesses to set up shop and create a thriving new centre of enterprise in this brand new quarter of the capital.”

The zones were pioneered by (Lord) Michael Hesletine in the 1980s in run-down areas such as London’s Docklands, where firms were attracted by tax breaks to create jobs and prosperity in what is now Canary Wharf.

Not everybody will be happy with the decision. however. Tottenham MP David Lammy tweeted shortly after Osborne's announcement (and before we revealed the location): "Time for Boris to pick Tottenham and Spurs for an enterprise zone. Will be a travesty if he gives more to the East End over us." I understand that the Treasury initially agreed, but were persuaded by City Hall to stick with the East End.


Bad news all round


ONE in five Londoners say the coalition’s cuts will make them less likely to vote for Boris Johnson at the next mayoral election. A survey shows for the first time the damage the Government’s deficit reduction programme could do to the Mayor’s re-election chances.

While it is unlikely that a fifth of the electorate would automatically switch to Labour rival Ken Livingstone many supporters could just stay away from the ballot box. Johnson won the 2008 race for City Hall by just 140,000 votes so turn-out will be key.

The ComRes poll for ITV London Tonight, LBC and the Evening Standard found 19 per cent were less likely to vote for Johnson as a result of the cuts, 9 per cent were more likely and a huge 64 per cent said it would make no difference.

London government expert Tony Travers said: “There’s no doubt that the coalition’s unpopularity has a major impact on Boris’s own chances of winning the next election.”

A spokesman for Johnson added: “These are difficult times, people are understandably anxious but we do not believe when the times comes that Londoners will want to go back to the bitter division and wasteful policies of the past.”

The Mayor will take some comfort from the result in Bromley, Bexley, Hillingdon and Havering - the four Tory-leaning outer London boroughs credited with securing his path to City Hall. They were among just seven of the capital’s 33 local authorities in which more people said they were more likely to vote for the Mayor as a result of the cuts than less likely.

The survey suggests Livingstone is edging ahead of Johnson once second preference votes are taken into account, on 51 per cent to 49 per cent. However, it is inevitable that the race between the two men will be heavily influenced by support for their respective parties.

The ComRes survey gives Labour a 17 per cent lead in London - far higher than the 5 to 8 per cent national picture. Labour’s huge lead suggests Livingstone, who is neck and neck with his rival, is not doing as well as could be expected.

Mr Travers said: “This poll is not a brilliant result for either Ken or Boris. It shows that Boris is under pressure because of the coalition’s unpopularity and Ken isn’t managing to capitalise on it as much as you might expect.”

A spokesman for Livingstone said he would not offer a running commentary on polling in the run-up to the election. He said: “Polling day 2012 will be voters’ first opportunity to send a message to the Conservative party over rising inflation, unemployment, student fees, policing cuts and transport fares in London by voting out an incumbent Tory who started the cuts earlier than Cameron and protects the rich rather than the majority.”

21 March 2011 12:26 PM

Time to cut or time for growth?


Nope, not his hair. Boris Johnson has called on George Osborne to give the London economy a “shot in the arm” in this week’s Budget.

The Mayor increased pressure on the Chancellor to focus on growth to give businesses hope and to stop talking about “cuts and pain”.

He stressed that London was the motor of the UK economy and that any help for the capital would boost the Treasury’s coffers nationally.
Osborne is set to unveil plans to boost growth, encourage jobs - in particular for the young unemployed - and to cut red tape for businesses on Wednesday. 

He has said he will not raise the tax burden or make further cuts in public spending but has made it clear he will not be diverted from plans already in place to cut the deficit.

With the mayoral election just over a year away Boris is keen to paint as upbeat a picture as possible about the economy, even as the cuts begin to bite.

He said: “I very much hope that this is a Budget which finally stops talking about cuts and economies and finally starts talking about growth and delivering a bit of hope and a shot in the arm in London.

“I do think the Government needs to focus on London. Just remember, investment in London drives the whole UK economy. They’ve got to keep the pressure up, they’ve got to keep their foot down on the throttle on the London economy.”

He told BBC London radio: “We’ve got to get into a position where we stop talking about cuts, we stop talking about pain, we start talking about the opportunities that are coming down the track for this city.”

The Mayor said it was “completely wrong” that London and the South East did not benefit from the National Insurance holiday for new businesses - adding: “That’s all being shoved up North” - and called on the Chancellor to bring back Thatcher-style enterprise zones. 
He stressed his opposition to the 50p tax rate warning it would put international firms off investing in the capital.

Labour rival Ken Livingstone said: "Boris Johnson is increasingly out of touch with the daily lives of Londoners. Thanks to the cuts he championed millions of people are being squeezed with higher fares, rising unemployment and huge cuts to local services.

"He might not feel the pain caused by the cuts he so enthusiastically supports, the reality for millions of Londoners is very different."