Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ambush at the Academy

Over a thousand people attended last nights Question Time, the third such experience for Boris Johnson and assembly Members elected in 2008.

The venue was the O2 Academy in Brixton, more often the scene of concerts and sell out music performances. The room was so large that it was difficult to see people at the back and the acoustics on stage were truly awful. We were reduced to lip reading colleagues on the large screen as we certainly couldn't hear what they were saying.

Local Member Val Shawcross did a good job of chairing a session that became unruly at times, although it wasn't as disorderly as the last session in Bethnal Green. A large contingent of 'Save the South London Line' protestors turned up, some wearing campaign T shirts, and Val can perhaps be forgiven for squeezing every last drop of publicity out of their attendance, calling transport chairman Caroline Pidgeon to lay into the mayor over his 'lack of action'.

The tenants of Offley Works also made a return, demanding public money to keep their dance studio open. James Cleverly made an effort to explain the LDA's position and the limits on the budget, but the hecklers demonstrated that they weren't really interested in the answer. At Bethnal Green some members thought the Offley people were admirably feisty but their behaviour last night probably did their case more harm than good.


In response to a question about his recent crime fighting episode, Boris supported Londoners stepping in to prevent crime - using their judgement and proportionate force of course - and he hoped that the police would support public spirited individuals. Policing supremo, Kit Malthouse was nodding during these comments, which is a good sign.

The claim by female MPs that public transport is too dangerous for them to use at night was also given short shrift. Many other female - and male - workers commute late at night and they don't require a second home in town. Public transport is relatively safe but it is the walk home from the station or bus stop where danger is greatest.

The mayor reassured Londoners that recent comparisons with 'The Wire' were groundless. London's murder rate is less than a tenth of the rate in Baltimore where the popular TV series is based.

In response to the question 'Should police take more action against drug dealers?' the audience voted 82% in favour and 18% against. A surprisingly high number turning down a reasonable proposition. The borough commander was present and hopefully he has taken note.


The South London Line campaigners made their presence felt at this point and there were also complaints about the fare rises. Val obligingly cued up Assembly Members from the three opposition parties to attack the mayor in succession. The myth that the fare gap could be plugged by retaining the congestion charge Western Extension and emissions based vehicle charging had clearly gained traction.

Cyclists also raised questions about safety on the roads. One poor girl had been run over by a dustcart, another had been hit by a bus. Boris encouraged cyclists to stop in front of vehicles at junctions, where they could be seen, rather than tucking themselves away in the left hand gutter. The first girl said she was lucky to be alive and would not be cycling in London again, and I can't blame her.

Val's question concluding this section was 'Do you support the removal of the Western Extension?' to which 66% responded 'no' and 34% said 'yes'. As the WEZ doesn't cover Brixton, all this really demonstrated was that people support taxes as long as someone else is paying them - twelve years of New Labour were based on that premise.


This section of the meeting was hijacked by the Offley Works protestors so the environment didn't get much of an outing at Brixton. Val concluded with the question 'Should the mayor impose housing targets on London boroughs?' to which 76% said 'yes' and 24% said 'no'. I suspect the answer would have been very different in Havering or Redbridge.


Several people suggested that the Olympics was a waste of money and with even Tessa Jowell claiming that the bid looked less attractive once the recession had bitten, this view is gaining ground. Having won the bid it's a bit difficult to renege on it now so we are faced with soldiering on towards the fateful 2012 deadline, whilst trying to rally enthusiasm during tough times. Labour have spotted a potential source of disaffection and Val highlighted it by asking 'Should there be discount tickets for Londoners?' with 79% agreeing and 21% in disagreement.

The meeting tailed off with several general questions but people were already leaving the hall. At the end some of the audience formed a scrum to meet Boris who still retains his media star popularity. The honeymoon is over, particularly amongst public sector opinion formers, but a lot of voters warm to the mayor personally and feel he is doing a good job in trying circumstances.

The Members also got to speak to some of the audience. One smiling man shook me by the hand 'Thank you for all your support, you're doing a great job Mr Biggs.'...


Peter Hulme Cross said...

'you're doing a great job Mr Biggs.'...

Must be the lack of hair, Roger, or maybe you've put on a bit of weight despite all that walking...??

Barkingside 21 said...

When is it scheduled to return this way?

Dave Hill said...

Nice report, Biggsy.

Roger Evans said...

B21, Boris is planning to visit Ilford early in the New Year. Watch this space for details...

Peter, 'Biggsy' has actually lost two and a half stone so you wouldn't recognise him.

Dave, thanks for the plug. Over the last year I have also been mistaken for Brian Coleman and Ian Hislop 'I really love your show...'

morris hickey said...

Mistaken for Brian Coleman? Couldn't have been by a taxi driver - they all know him far too well for that.

Frank said...

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