Saturday, May 09, 2009

London Assembly AGM

The Annual General Meeting of the London Assembly took place on Wednesday. The meeting saw the self styled Progressive Alliance of Labour, Greens and Lib Dems holding together for a second year, although the Libs in particular are beginning to look worried about the pressure this is placing on their small team.

The election for the chair of the assembly saw Darren Johnson defeat my Conservative colleague Andrew Boff. Darren is the first Green politician to hold the post and his success demonstrates the strong grip that the two Greens continue to exercise over their eleven non Conservative colleagues. Disproportionate power exercised by a few individuals is always a consequence of so called proportional representation.

I suspect that Darren will be more disciplined in the chair than his predecessor, indeed we got a taste of his style some months ago when he stood in at a question time and had noisy protesters thrown out of the gallery - a first for a Green politician in the UK.

Jennette Arnold defeated Conservative Victoria Borwick in the contest for deputy chair.

Chairs of assembly committees were then elected and the ruling coalition have generously permitted us to chair two committees:

James Cleverly returns to chair the Health Committee, where he has been leading some good work on alcohol abuse amongst teenagers.

And I have agreed to take on the Audit Panel...

An Undemocratic Stitch Up

During the debate some of my colleagues referred to the latest deal as an undemocratic stitch up. The position was defended by Labour members who claimed that the mayor's own party would not be sufficiently robust in scrutinising his actions and policies, yet it was acknowledged that many Conservative members have actually been very tough on the mayor and his advisers over the last year, in contrast to Labour's approach from 2004 to 2008.

Liberal leader, Mike Tuffrey who always ends up on the right side of any deal, is fond of pointing out that the present situation is no different from the deal he did with us from 2000 to 2008. He is wrong and it is worth examining what actually happened on previous occasions:

2000 to 2004

The deal was actually done between Labour and the Lib Dems and saw Labour's Trevor Phillips chair the assembly, alternating with Lib Dem Sally Hamwee and briefly Samantha Heath. this despite the fact that the mayor was also Labour and the Conservative and Labour groups both had 9 members. Mike wasn't present when this deal was drawn up, so he can be forgiven for trying to distance himself from a situation where one party occupied the mayoralty and the assembly chair - but it did happen.

2004 to 2008

This time the Labour group lost two members, shrinking to 7, whilst the Conservatives retained 9, whilst UKIP enjoyed a brief period of representation. The deal was done between Conservatives and the Lib Dems, leading to Brian Coleman's memorable period as chairman and a return for Sally Hamwee. On this occasion different parties occupied the mayoralty and the chair.

2008 to ????

Most recently, Labour recovered, gaining 8 members and the Conservative group grew to 11 - the largest ever elected to the assembly. A three way deal between Labour, Greens and Lib Dems was necessary for the opposition to retain control and the presence of one BNP member introduced another unpredictable variable. The mayor and the assembly chair will be from different parties.

On the face of it, the doctrine that the two organisations should be in different political hands looks attractive, but it fails to consider other important factors:

Boris Johnson has not excluded other parties in the way that Ken Livingstone did. Mayoral advisers include Labour figures Neale Coleman and Kate Hoey MP. Saturday's State of London Debate included contributions from Assembly Members of all parties - for the first time. Boris has a naturally more collegiate approach than his predecessor.

And the numbers create a challenge for the assembly. Trying to run an elected body of 25 members with only 13 leads to a considerable workload for those individuals, and particularly for the smaller partners. Recent plans to reduce the size of committees were intended to reduce some of this load but were vetoed when the smaller groups realised they would lose representation entirely on some of the committees.

An assembly elected on the same day as the mayor will usually have the mayor's party forming the largest group, so it seems unlikely that the voters, or the government, intended them to automatically be placed in opposition as Tuffrey claims.

Possible Solutions

Scrap Proportional Representation - it leads to disproportionate power.

Stagger the assembly elections to take place every five or every three years. Most of the time they would then be independent of the influence of the mayoral election, and would provide a useful mid term test of the mayor's popularity.


Rog T said...


As there is not a Tory majority in the assembly, there is nothing undemocratic about a largeer grouping picking the person they want.

Having a vibrant opposition can only improve the quality of BoJo's mayordom for the people of London. As a democrat you should be pleased.

Roger Evans said...

Rog T - there has never been a majority for any party because the voting system prevents it. Each of the three deals I described does have one thing in common: the chairing party has in effect been chosen by the Lib Dems, and that will be the case for as long as we have proportional representation.

Perhaps it's old fashioned of me, but I believe that choice should rest with the voters.

weggis said...

I’m old fashioned too, and I think that politicians should accept the decision of the voters and get on with it.
The voting system does not prevent any one party having a majority. If as Mr Arbour is reported to have said “We control all the boroughs” then you would have 14 constituency members and a majority.

Please do tell what is behind the “horseradish sauce” comment.


Roger Evans said...

Actually, 13 of the 14 constituency seats would give any party a majority. Not that it has ever happened (even in 1968), and it is most unlikely that it ever would - I rest my case...

MayorWatch® said...

Hi Roger

Interesting piece (will I still be getting your contribution for MW?) - maybe worth pointing out that your statement:

"s despite the fact that the mayor was also Labour"

under the 2000-04 paragraph isn't quite accurate given Ken had been expelled from Labour after their rather iffy selection process.

I made a point of mentioning the issue in my interview with Darren because I knew there was strong feelings within your group and I felt the wider public deserved to know how things are being done.

Not being a faux anniversary it's not the sort of thing the traditional media tend to be interested in.

Rog T said...


Here's a question. How about marks out of 10 for previous chairmen. presumably you saw them all in action. I'll give you a free pass on BC as he's a colleague and I assume you'd have to be nice (besides which Ken said he was the best chairman ever as he was equally horrible to everyone). A short explanation of why you've allocated the score would be helpful

Roger Evans said...

Martin - thank you for the correction. Should of course read "despite the fact that Ken Livingstone was formerly a Labour politician and was being courted by the Labour party who eventually secured his return."

Rog T - don't tempt me, I could so easily stray into apology territory again...