23 January 2012 12:02 PM

Ken 51, Boris 49


They thought it was all over ... but now it looks like a photo-finish.

The second poll in a week has Ken Livingstone ahead in the mayoral battle, albeit by a teeny two points.

Although Boris HQ says it's a useful wake-up call for complacent supporters (see below) the numbers must have given the Mayor a sickly knot in his stomach. For the first time in four years, there is a serious possibility of having to hand back his crown to its previous owner.

For Livingstone it is a pleasing moment - proof that there is life in the old pro’s left hook. But Ken is far too experienced to get over-excited about a two-point lead, a gap well within the margin of error.

Cool heads note that January has been Labour’s most intensive month of campaigning so far, with 1,000 activists shoving out leaflets against the New Year fares increases. If the fares issue fades, so might their lead.

The cold fact is that there is now a real battle on, and every vote counts. Turnout on May 3 will be absolutely critical with the polls this close - ultimately, the winner will be the man who gets his supporters off the sofa and into the voting booths.

“Thank goodness it was not another eight point lead,” joked one of Mr Johnson’s staff, meaning that some Boris backers have been lulled into a false sense of security. The danger is not imaginary - our poll finds that Londoners by more than two to one think that the Mayor will get a second term.

In terms of issues, Johnson is ahead on running the economy, representing London overseas and - by a big two-to-one margin - on squeezing the best deal out of his friends in central Government.

Fares are Livingstone’s key issue, but the 38 per cent who are more likely to vote for him because of the New Year rises may just reflect Labour’s core vote. He is ahead (35 - 24) as the candidate who knows most about the concerns of “ordinary Londoners”, which reinforces research by YouGov that found Ken was seen as more “in touch”.

More surprising, only 30 per cent dislike Johnson because of the Government’s spending cuts. Ken’s campaign to “Tory-ise” the Boris brand has yet to succeed.

Alas for Brian Paddick, he is not breaking through. The ex-policemen is even behind on fighting crime, and only two per cent trust him most on the economy.

But the fight is wide open between the frontrunners. May 3 looks set to be a cliffhanger.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter     @JoeMurphyLondon



09 December 2011 2:19 PM

Now that's a Boris bike

I don't know what the chances of these hitting the streets en-masse are, but it's an impressive piece of Boris Johnson fanaticism.


It's the brainchild of London Conservative Future deputy chairman Einy Shah, brought to life by Cole Coachworks in Barnet.

I'm not sure what the Ken Livingstone/Brian Paddick equivalents are, but I'd like to see them...

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

15 September 2011 3:27 PM

Danny admits we are better off outside the euro

Breaking news ... Danny Alexander, the former campaign chief for Britain in Europe, has admitted that it's a good thing he didn't win the Battle of Sterling.

He 'fessed up in an interview with the Evening Standard, when asked if it was lucky that the pro-euro campaign did not prevail.

"I think there is no doubt at all that the flexibilities we have, not being part of the euro, have been very helpful to the UK in dealing with the economic crisis we've had," he said.

Asked if that was politico-speak for admitting he was wrong, DA responded: "Who knows how it would have un-folded if things had worked out differently. I'm still a very firm believer that our national interest lies as a wholehearted member of the EU engaging positively to get the best for Britain. That's what always motivated me and that has not changed one iota."  He did not, however, say he still wants to join the euro.

There are lots of other good angles in the interview with this unassuming Lib Deb star.  He tells the unions that the Government is making contingency plans to defeat the strikes; urges his party to stand firm with the austerity policies and the Coalition; attacks Boris Johnson over the 50p rate and rebuffs the Tory Right on repatriation of powers.

But I like his description of why being brought up on a remote island (Colonsay, pop. 110) made him the man he is today.


Joe Murphy

follow me  on Twitter  .... @JoeMurphyLondon




18 August 2011 12:06 PM

The £50k bill for ministerial office refits

Today the Standard reveals that Transport Secretary Philip Hammond's ministerial sofas have been reupholstered at a cost of almost £5,000.

The spending has angered transport unions and passenger groups, coming so soon after commuters were told to brace themselves for record fares hikes. The department insists the re-covering the "high quality" sofas was better value for money than replacing them.

But the spending is part of a wider £50k bill for redecorating or refurbishing ministerial offices run up by the Coalition - prompting accusations of "hypocrisy" at a time of supposed austerity.

Among some of the gems uncovered by our FOI requests is the Department for International Development's £3,057.56 bill for new furnishings - "many of which were purchased from charity shops". Andrew Mitchell, Alan Duncan and Stephen O'Brien perched on second-hand sofas makes a great image.

The Foreign Office spent a massive £34,426.64 creating offices for two Lords ministers - Lord Howell and Lord Green. That included £1,995 for "antique furniture maintenance" in Lord Green's office. The FOI response said costs were high because the department's HQ is a listed building which sometimes needs "specialist heritage paints, fabrics and the use of specialist fabrics".

Intrigued, I asked more about the antiques. This is what came back: "The accommodation used for Lord Green was converted from general office space and additional furniture was required to set up the office. To do this, we used antiques that are held for this purpose, rather than buy new furniture. The items, a desk, a drum table, eight leather chairs, two leather armchairs, required restoration, minor damage repair and polishing. These items mirror the style of the FCO building and are suitable for a Ministerial office where meetings with foreign dignitaries and other important contacts are held. There were no “heritage” fabrics used on this furniture, but a specialist antique craftsman was required to restore the items."

Creating an office suite for Baroness Warsi in the Cabinet Office cost £2,172, while redecorating Home Secretary Theresa May's cost £2,000.

Ministers in nine departments decided to make do with the offices as they are: Treasury, Defence, Work and Pensions, Justice, Communities and Local Government, Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Culture Media and Sport and Business, Innovation and Skills.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

25 July 2011 2:40 PM

Brother backs Boris airport

It's clearly a day for brotherly love.

First up we had David Cameron declaring how he viewed older sibling Alex as a "role model" (though he admitted growing up in big  shadow) in the Big Issue.

Now Boris Johnson's younger brother Jo, also known as the MP for Orpington, has spoken out in support of the Mayor's controversial £70 billion Thames island airport.

Setting out the need for an aviation strategy in London and the South East, Jo wrote on ConservativeHome: "It makes no sense to expand airports located in residential areas within the M25 when far better solutions exist elsewhere, such as in the Thames estuary."

Maybe they could sell the naming rights to a popular cosmetics giant. After all, Johnson and Johnson airport has a certain ring to it.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

19 July 2011 6:22 PM

Boris fines Obama for not paying congestion charge

Barack Obama's presidential motorcade has been fined for not paying the congestion charge in London.

And you can't say that the US president was not warned.

London Mayor Boris Johnson button-holed him at a State banquet in May to raise the issue of US diplomats in London not paying the congestion-busting levy. They have run up a bill of more than £5 million since 2003.

At the time, the Mayor of London also publicly made clear that he wanted the £10 congestion charge paid for Mr Obama's security vehicle "The Beast" and other cars in the president's motorcade.

But the US authorities defied the request and have now been hit with a £120 fine.

"The Beast" escaped a congestion charge ticket as it was travelling so slowly and closely to other vehicles in the presidential motorcade that its details could not be recorded by the street cameras.

Only one vehicle is understood to have been issued with a congestion charge notice.

A Transport for London spokesman said: “TfL pursues penalties from foreign registered vehicles that have not paid the charge.

“No Congestion Charge payments were made for the vehicles in the Presidential motorcade. TfL has issued Penalty Charge Notices to the registered keepers where it was able to do so.”

But the American Embassy defended the refusal by US diplomats to pay the C-charge insisting it was "wholly in accordance" with the 1960 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which a spokesman said "prohibits the imposition of this sort of tax on diplomatic missions".

Nicholas Cecil 


28 June 2011 3:57 PM

Lawyers fight to keep "rotten suing culture"

Lawyers have been banging on to justice minister Jonathan Djanogly how the current no-win no-fee system promotes their bank accounts access to justice.

But the quietly spoken justice minister, who has attacked Britain's "rotten suing culture", is giving this argument short shrift.

"My answer has been that what it promotes is access to justice for claimants. But justice is for defendants as well," he says.

He is now delighted that a storm has erupted over our civil litigation system including referral payments to insurance firms to pass on details of crash victims to claim management companies accused of plaguing people with text messages and phone calls as they seek business.

As David Cameron says, "sunlight is the best disinfectant," so shining the spotlight on what appears to be a legal money-go-round - primed by rising premiums paid by millions of law-abiding motorists - may well lead to the brakes being slammed on some of what may be regarded as the more unscrupulous practices.

Mr Djanogly will also be pushing legal changes to stop the compensation culture which has bred in Britain on the back of no-win no-fee.

Nicholas Cecil

Tigers come to Whitehall

A new breed of civil servants has been unleashed on Whitehall in a bid to scrap unnecessary regulations - "red tape tigers".

Born at the Department for Transport, the officials get their claws into each other’s policy areas and suggest what rules and laws could be, erm, thrown to the lions.

“The red tape tigers have been appointed to tear up regulations across the department - hence the name,” an insider said.

Tigers (who I understand even wear a badge) submit their findings to a “star chamber” where officials are brought in to defend their regulations. Decisions are then taken on whether to keep, scrap or amend them.

It is part of the red tape challenge launched by David Cameron earlier this year to reduce the burden on businesses in the pursuit of economic growth.

Other departments are believed to have copied the tiger team system following directions from Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell that scrapping regulations should be a priority.

“We are all learning from each other,” said a Whitehall source.

“There are some pretty robust processes in place that have got real teeth.”

All we need now is to find one called Tony.

Apparently tiger teams were once mentioned in West Wing (confession time - it's not a show I ever got into).  The term originates from aerospace design as 'a team of undomesticated and uninhibited technical specialists, selected for their experience, energy, and imagination, and assigned to track down relentlessly every possible source of failure in a spacecraft subsystem'. (via Wikipedia, H/T The Sun's Graeme Wilson).

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

27 June 2011 12:27 PM

Clarke probes "dirty secret"

If your car insurance is on the rise, one reason could be the "outrageous racket" of insurance firms, police, local garages and even hospitals selling details of crash victims to ambulance-chasing lawyers.

Former Justice Secretary Jack Straw exposed this "dirty secret" of the insurance industry today.

Insurance firms are said to get referral payments of £200 to £1,000 a case to pass on details to claims-management companies who encourage people to make claims.

The cost of personal injury claims, including many for whiplash which is difficult to prove or disprove, has soared from £7 billion to £14 billion in a decade. This comes as the number of accidents has fallen and cars have got safer - make your own judgement whether these claims will all have been genuine or some scams.

Insurance chiefs admit that they do take referral payments and justify this by saying if they don't, other people will, and that they are not making a profit from the practice while having to meet some of the costs of the claims.

This argument does not wash with Mr Straw who says he would have banned the referral payments when he was Justice Secretary if he had known about them.

Now his successor Ken Clarke is considering doing just that.

"We are considering the matter of referral fees alongside our proposals for radical reform of the whole "no win no fee" system announced earlier this year," said a Ministry of Justice spokesman.
"Those proposals are aimed at tackling the high costs of success fees and insurance premiums in no win no fee cases. We want to strike a better balance between the interests of claimants and defendants to maintain access to civil justice while ensuring costs are proportionate, sustainable and affordable."

Nicholas Cecil 




Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is considering banning referral payments

23 June 2011 9:09 AM

Poll: Olympics great for London but not so good for Londoners

Concerns of Londoners over travel disruption during the 2012 Olympics, and possibly disappointement at not getting tickets, have emerged in a new poll.

The YouGov study shows that 57 per cent of Londoners believe the 2012 Games will be good for London. Just 29 per cent disagree.

But 50 per cent do not back the statement: "Taking everything into account, the Olympic Games will be good for people like me." Just 28 per cent agree.

People are also becoming more sceptical over whether the Games will leave lasting good sporting facilities for years beyond 2012, improve the public transport system and encourage more British people to take up sport so as to improve the health of the nation.

No doubt, once the Olympics finally arrive, spirits, enjoyment and optimism over their legacy will be lifted by the sheer excitement of the Games.

Nicholas Cecil



17 June 2011 1:46 PM

Bob Crow's hidden subsidy

Here's an amazing letter that Esher Tory MP Dominic Raab has winkled out of Transport for London usuing FOI.

It reveals the astonishing size of the hidden subsidy to the RMT and other trade unions, money coming from our taxes and soaring ticket prices.

Here's the highlights: TfL employs 371 people, whose salaries total £13.9 million, who carry out trade union duties in company time at our expense. Some 31 work full time for the union - that is to say, we pay their salaries but they devote their time to union matters - at a cost of £879,000.

In other words, we are paying higher fares to fatten the very union that is threatening to disrupt Wimbledon and bugger up our journeys to work.

A bit of extra detail that is not in the letter.  Around 270 of the employees (ie, the  majority) belong to Bob Crow's RMT rather than the other three big unions at TfL.

Let's be fair. Much of what trade unions do is excellent and is useful to employers as well as the union.

But not all. I am remembering the drunken, foul-mouthed and intimidating RMT bully-boys I met on a train home from some "conference" or junket. I wonder if they were on full pay at the time.

Here's what Dominic Raab says:

“With damaging strikes looming, the majority of Londoners will be shocked to learn that commuters and taxpayers are paying millions each year to fund union activity on the underground.”

A TfL spokesperson says:

“From our total workforce of around 24,000 staff, 371 staff are part-time and 31 are full-time trade union representatives.  Part-time representatives balance their trade union duties with their role at TfL.   The number of trade union representatives at TfL is in accordance with ACAS guidelines, our agreements with the trades unions and legislation.  Trade union representatives can play an important role in our employee relations particularly at times of organisational change.”

And, finally, here is the letter from TfL to Raab.

Dear Mr Raab
TfL Ref: FOI-0185-1112
Thank you for your letter received by Transport for London (TfL) on 18 May 2011 asking for information relating to the union activities of TfL staff members.
Your request has been considered under the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and TfL’s information access policy. I can confirm that TfL holds the information you require. You asked:
1.    How many staff employed by Transport for London are allowed to devote a proportion of their time at work to trade union activities?
TfL permits release for trade union representatives in accordance with legislation, ACAS guidelines and our agreements with the trade unions. Release for trade union activities is unpaid and therefore employees may take annual leave or unpaid leave to undertake such activities.  It is therefore assumed that you are referring to trade union duties which, subject to certain conditions, allow for paid release.  In accordance with legislation, ACAS guidelines and our agreements, any release must be reasonable and meet the appropriate criteria before release is granted.  Approximately 24,000 staff are employed by TfL and its subsidiaries and 371 of these may spend a proportion of their time on trade union duties.
2.    What is the total salary cost of those staff?
The total salary cost of those staff is £13.9m per annum.
3.    How many staff employed by Transport for London are full-time trade union representatives?
There are 31 members of staff that are full-time trade union representatives.
4.    What is the total salary cost of those staff?
The total salary cost of those staff is £879,398 per annum.
5.    How many of the staff identified by questions (1) and (3) earn more than £25,900/year?
As of 16 June 2011 there are 357 members of staff identified in questions 1 and 3 that earn more than £25,900 per annum.
If this is not the information you are looking for, or if you are unable to access it for some reason, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Please see the attached information sheet for details of your right to appeal as well as information on copyright and what to do if you would like to re-use any of the information we have disclosed.
Yours sincerely
FOI Case Officer
FOI Case Management Team
Corporate Governance Directorate
General Counsel
Transport for London


14 June 2011 4:36 PM

£10,000 commuter fare coming down the track

Maria Eagle may not be the most high profile member of the shadow Cabinet.

She is shadow transport secretary, for those who do not know.

But while Labour has been accused of being policy-lite, she has come up with a firm commitment to oppose the Government's decision to allow regulated rail fares - which include commuter, season and saver tickets - to soar by RPI inflation plus three per cent.

With inflation staying stubbornly high, the new formula means that commuters into London from places like Swindon could be paying around £10,000-a-year by 2015 to get to work once Tube fares are included.

Ms Eagle has put herself firmly on the side of commuters.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, quite rightly, is quick to point out that she is yet to come up with plans of her own for funding the railways as the Government seeks to sort out the disastrous economic legacy inherited from Labour.

He accuses her of jumping on a bandwagon. But he has yet to convince commuters that the fare rises are a price worth paying given the "cattle truck" style conditions on many peak services.  

Nicholas Cecil 

13 June 2011 3:03 PM

Hunt smashes Crow

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt went in for the smash today as Tube unions threatened a strike during Wimbledon.

No pussy-footing as the Government was accused of doing last month over a planned walk-out on the Underground then.

“RMT’s plans to strike during Wimbledon looks like nothing more than a cynical attempt to ruin one of our great sporting events," Mr Hunt tells The Standard.

"Thousands of fans will be left disappointed if these blackmail plans go ahead.”

But RMT boss Bob Crow is not easily blasted off the court.

"RMT isn’t blackmailing anyone," he hit back.

The union was "simply standing up for basic workers rights" which was "clearly too much for old-school Tory right-wingers like Jeremy Hunt to stomach," he added.

Just the kind of heavy-hitting match which will set Wimbledon alight. 

Nicholas Cecil





08 June 2011 2:36 PM

French pollution

While many Londoners cannot get enough of French food, culture and lifestyles, they will be less keen on pollution drifting across the Channel.

A leading environmental expert, Professor Frank Kelly, is warning that on some high pollution days in the capital, a considerable level of harmful particulates levels will have seeped into the South East from the Continent.

The King's College London academic estimates that between 3,000 to 5,000 people a year are dying early in the capital due to pollution - some having their life shortened by up to ten years.

Traffic pollution, particularly from diesel engines, is by far the biggest pollution killer in London, he says, with poor air from overseas adding to the public health impact when an easterly wind blows.

Failure to take decisive action to deal with such a big killer would normally spark uproar. But it's a silent scandal happening in our midst.

Nicholas Cecil





09 May 2011 2:36 PM

Lunchtime List

Welcome to the Lunchtime List, ESP's round-up of the political stories in today's Evening Standard first edition.

Boris in slanging match over Tube
Boris Johnson was today involved in a furious row with government ministers over his handling of the union that is threatening the longest series of Tube strikes ever.

Culture minister 'lined up for health job'
Jeremy Hunt could be made Health Secretary if Andrew Lansley refuses to make major concessions to his NHS reforms, the Standard has learned.

Now British taxpayers face call to bail out the Greek economy
European Commission officials are holding talks this week that could lead to British taxpayers helping to bail out the Greek economy.

Defiance of 'chattering classes' as London gave a resounding No to AV
Londoners defied predictions of a dismal turnout in the AV referendum to reject overwhelmingly changing the Westminster voting system, analysis showed today.

MPs demand debate on shake-up of their expenses
David Cameron is facing fresh demands to overhaul the new MPs' expenses system.

Today's Evening Standard leaders

John Redwood v Norman Lamb
Ground: Westminster
Kick off: 8am
Coalition tensions were growing today as the Liberal Democrats slug it out with the Tories over coalition policy. Thatcherite Redwood urged David Cameron not to hand goodies to the Lib Dems as a consolation prize for the election drubbing and losing the AV vote. with his forensic brain, he pointed out that the Libs had themselves proposed many of the NHS reforms being championed by Andrew Lansley. Mr Lamb, Nick Clegg’s righthand man, was less confrontational but made clear major concessions on the health reforms would be needed if it is not all to end in a car crash.
Score: Redwood 1 Lamb 1