Last night saw the second official Peoples' Question Time, when the Mayor and Assembly appear before a self selected audience to take questions, abuse and adulation. We are placed in two rows on stage - rather like University Challenge without the ringers - and, as a group leader, I get to sit in the front row along with the Mayor, the Chair and other leaders.
This time the venue was York Hall, a larger room with a capacity of over 1,000, which filled up at the start but cleared during the evening as people drifted away.
The session was chaired by local member, John Biggs, pictured above, who started well by throwing out a noisy protestor. This happened last time too, in that case the self publicist had a guitar and offered to sing the mayor a song, this time the man left waving a diving flipper - we can only speculate why? Having shown his teeth, John went on to chair a sometimes excitable meeting firmly, and without too much political bias.
This LDA owned building housed the controversial Brixton Base project during Ken's reign, and it is now being quietly emptied by the new regime. A number of vocal protestors had turned up from south of the river and they made their concerns known from the front row. Boris promised to meet a delegation from the group to discuss new premises.
We were promised a flash mob objecting to plans to increase flights in and out of City Airport, but in the event there were about a dozen campaigners in red shirts who oppose all airport expansion. Boris pointed out that Newham Council had given their approval so clearly there was local support for a project that would create jobs during the recession.
A campaign against the airport has struggled to get off the ground in Havering, with Labour proposing motions and arguing against their own government and Newham councillors. So far they haven't mustered much support. Darren Johnson got some audience support for his plan to close the airport and build housing on the site.
One brave soul even stood up to defend the Heathrow plans, but he was obviously in the minority.
Low Emission Zone
A small group from Wanstead turned up to object to the inclusion of motorised horse boxes in the charging category for the LEZ. This really is a barmy feature of the scheme - the pollution problems are in the city centre, not around the green boundaries where the air is wonderfully fresh, and of course that is where the horse boxes are driven. These days there isn't much call to take your horses into town. I hope Boris will exempt these vehicles from the charge.
This was the eighteenth PQT and I have been at all but one of them, so patterns begin to emerge. In outer London we face irate commuters complaining about the train service and residents objecting to building on the Green Belt. Inner London is characterised - unfortunately - by a parade of groups asking for grants and freebies. It all feels a bit like an audience with Caesar, the Emperor giving the thumbs up, or down, to queues of petitioners. Boris doesn't like to say no which makes these situations a bit tricky.
Last night we had a youth centre, a knife crime project, an arts project, and a slavery memorial, all competing for public funding, and those are just the ones I remember. One girl even demanded free travel on the main line trains because young people get everything else free!
Lucky I'm not the mayor, because I'd be telling them to get down to Liverpool Street Station with a collecting tin...
As always, PQT provided the opportunity to seek the views of the audience on topical matters. The results from The Bethnal Green jury are as follows:
Are you in favour of operation Blunt 2 (stop and search for knives) - yes 62% no 33%. Might have been less support south of the river.
Do you support scrapping bendy buses - yes 56% no 39%. This is a good measure of the number of political opponents in the room, after all nobody really wants to keep them.
Do you want a third runway at Heathrow - yes 33% no 64%. Although the third in favour kept very quiet during the debate...
Will London benefit from the Olympics - yes 70% no 28%. Well, if you can't get a positive vote round here you might as well pack up now.
Is Boris taking London in the right direction - yes 53% no 39%. Which is a stunning result in the heart of Labour's safest assembly seat.
The next official PQT will take place in the autumn but meanwhile plans are being laid for a Womens' Question Time in Croydon. I suspect my company won't be required for that one.