Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Brooms at City Hall

SJM asks how things have changed at City Hall. The atmosphere is different:

In the old days silence would fall when Conservative members entered the lift. Conversations ceased, papers were clutched to chests (to avoid a Caroline Flint style leak), backs pressed to walls. As you left the lift on the sixth floor, talking would resume...

Now the staff are more keen to speak to us. Several times people have asked me if I am one of the 'new intake' or the 'old guard', because there are plenty of new faces around. Amongst the existing staff there is relief that Boris has not pursued a scorched earth policy, and quite a number have found interesting new jobs working for him. Meanwhile, we have been bombarded with unsolicited CVs from people who want to work for Boris.

On the Mayor's floor, the new team is taking shape. The Mayor is gathering around him a London version of the Government of All Talents, with imaginative appointments including Ray Lewis and Kate Hoey, along with experienced Tories like Steven Norris. I have been up there more times in the last eight days than I did in the eight years that Livingstone was in charge. Old names above the office doors hark back to the past era, but many of them have gone elsewhere. Some changes are needed - under the old regime the floor was a maze of partitions and barriers (now being removed), and some of the offices were pretty grim, one being more like a lurid pink telephone kiosk than a place of work.

On the seventh floor the remnants of Labour, the Liberals and the Greens have had the mother of all battles over office space (despite having fewer members), however they did get their act together sufficiently to grab all the top Assembly jobs, shutting out the 11 Conservatives and the BNP member. Obviously they feel they can run the Assembly with just 13 members, but the prospects are not good as they tried and failed with 15 members eight years ago. Expect them to come crawling back for help within six months...

The Conservative group occupy the sixth floor once more. With seven new members, there is a lot of enthusiasm and climbing of the learning curve. Richard Barnes is group leader again, I am deputy leader again, and new member Richard Tracey is group whip. There has never been such a large political group at City Hall, so keeping everyone in the loop will be a challenge.

And BNP man Barnbrook has taken up residence in the office formerly used by UKIP (who became 'One London'). He raised a number of challenges at the assembly AGM and clearly sees himself as some sort of enfant terrible. However much we detest his views, he was democratically elected and has a right to play a full part in assembly committees, so we wait to see how he will interpret his role. He supported green member Darren Johnson in his bid to be deputy chair of the assembly...

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