Friday, January 14, 2011

Boris at the Mansion House

Last night saw the annual dinner for London Government, hosted by the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House. Boris was the main speaker and he treated the star studded audience to an entertaining and informative progress report. Gone are the days when Ken used to turn up and drone his way through an economics lecture prepared by his staff - Boris appears far more relaxed in this environment.

In amongst the anecdotes and plugs for the City, his comments on London Underground caught my attention:

When the Jubilee works are complete there will be three lines in London, the Jubilee, Victoria and Central which will operate on an automated system and it is a fact - though not a widely known fact - that as we speak most of the Jubilee Line currently operates under automatic train operation, from Stratford to Neasden.

In other words the driving of the train is done by computer rather than manually. Of course there will still need to be someone aboard the train, just as every DLR train is staffed but thanks to the advanced signalling being installed it is also a fact that anyone in this room could in a matter of weeks acquire the qualifications necessary to supervise an underground train and the huge potential implications of that change will be obvious to everyone.

So I say to our colleagues in the trade union leadership that I respect and understand the vital role of unions in a free society to secure the best terms and conditions for their members but I hope they will recognise that the patience of Londoners is not endless and that they should abandon the recent pattern of pointless strikes and work with us to use this settlement to improve the Tube, to modernise the service and the best way to achieve a happy and contented workforce on the Tube is not just to have excellent pay and conditions but above all the satisfaction of providing an ever better service and that is what we are going to achieve with 33 per cent increase in capacity.

Last year my colleague Dick Tracey presented a report which concluded that London could introduce driverless trains in much the same way that other cities around the world have. The Mayor's team were not exactly supportive of the idea, but we plugged away, seeking to persuade them. Far more effective than our efforts has been the behaviour of the Tube unions. TfL know what to expect from the RMT under Bob Crow and prepared to grit their teeth and run the best service possible in difficult circumstances, but I think it was ASLEF's Boxing Day strike and their threat to disrupt the Royal Wedding that finally convinced Boris to look again at the proposals. Londoners are sick of the disruption and they will welcome the Mayor's words.


Redbridge resident said...

Unfortunately Bolshevik Bob and his Comrades look pretty safe for some time to come on the Central Line if the present high levels of signal failure persist.

Mrs Angry said...

I am glad to see that you all had a nice time last night, stuffing your faces, surrounded by a'star studded' audience. Yes,it's good to know that Boris is so much more at home in such an environment: so much more our sort of person, eh Rog? I dare say Ken used to eat peas with his knife and drink from the soup bowl: but he doesn't know any better. It's so nice to have old Etonians back in politics, showing us all the right sort of table manners.

At whose expense were you dining, by the way? Good to see you all tightening your belts and setting an example to the plebs, anyway!

Here in Broken Barnet last night, some of us were at a council meeting where three Tory councillors voted in a raft of phenomenally large charge increases, to the accompaniment of expressions of outrage from residents, many of them, incidentally, lifelong Conservative voters. These charges are in every conceivable area and range from a 400% increase in parking vouchers, to a particularly distasteful hike in the cost of burying still born babies, and children under the age of three. In other words, from birth to death, everyone in our borough is going to be affected.

The Cabinet member responsible for these increases, btw, was mysteriously absent: wasn't at your dinner, was he?

As to the threat to resort to the use of driverless trains, which is apparently linked here directly to the desire to punish the train drivers' union: surely to proceed with such an action on the basis of political revenge is indefensible, even by you lot? You are gambling our lives and safety on a course of action which is purely ideologically driven, and is one which fills all Londoners with dread. Can you honestly say you will feel safe on a train with no driver? Perhaps, like some of your colleagues on the GLA, the people who will make this decision do not travel on public transport but expect the public to pay their taxi fares?

Time the Tory group on the GLA spent a little less time sitting in star studded banquests, and a little more time listening to the opinions of ordinary Londoners

Roger Evans said...

Wow! Thank you for that quality response Mrs A. I'll deal with the key points:

Class War, Eton, Bullingdon, Mansion House, Peas off a knife etc: There were plenty of Labour councillors there too, you know. I'm tempted to share a bit about my own background, but I'll restrain myself - wouldn't want to spoil the fantasy. Seriously, for an opposition key message it lacks something.

Barnet Council Charges - are they really enjoying making residents pay higher costs? If they are anything like Havering and Redbridge then they will have been the victims of 13 years of Labour government prejudice - bias in favour of their Northern heartlands and bias against the suburbs. The new government has started to right that historic injustice but with a legacy of toxic debt it is impossible to duck some very difficult decisions.

London Underground: I'm relaxed about the prospect of automated trains, after all I use the DLR every week and it has an excellent safety record. Fellow passengers do not appear to be 'filled with dread' either. Seeking ways to modernise the service and make it more reliable is hardly 'political revenge' as you put it.

Mrs Angry said...

Ok then, Mr Evans: let me just pre-empt the 'born in a paper bag' story: a little bird tells me you were born in the North East. Hmm, well, perhaps I should tell you I am the grandaughter of a Durham miner (sixth generation down t'pit at least)! (Remember coal mines? Those grubby things your Margaret took such a violent dislike to and destroyed, putting whole communities out of work, and creating a welfare dependent culture in so many disadvantaged areas?) My mother's generation all turned their backs on Labour politics too, because social mobility, in those days was dependent on changing the way you voted as much as anything else. Of course the next generation, my generation, sees things from a different persepctive again.

This idea of the Labour government having some special love affair with folks Up North is daft: Blair may have had a Durham constituency (including my relatives, actually) but his natural affinities were metropolitan, public school, Oxbridge, and we all know he had far more in common with Posh Boy Cameron than an unemployed ex miner, no matter how many times he posed in shirt sleeves with a half of bitter in Trimdon Working Men's Club. The allocation of grants was based on need: I think you'll find most areas of the worst social deprivation are to be found north of Watford, Rog ...

As for the trains: hmm, did any of you Tory boys going home from the Mansion House dinner take the tube? Or will we see the usual culprits sending us another enormous taxi bill? The DLR, as I recall, is an overground service. If you had to travel regularly on the underground, you would understand the horror with which the idea of driverless trains fills your average commuter. What if there is an accident? What about the weekly tragic occurrence of someone throwing themselves under a train? What if, God forbid, there was another major emergency on the tube? You cannot take the drivers out of trains and claim they will be as safe, and to do so as an act of political revenge would be truly cynical, and shamefully irresponsible.

Redbridge resident said...

Mrs Angry - in 1977 I travelled on fully automatic trains on the San Francisco BART (Basy Area Rapid Transit), including substantial distances underground and even in a tube on the ocean bed. They had a human attendant at the front (just as the DLR trains have on-board attendants - including their underground sections). They were there for two reasons - first, to give confidence to the public; and second to take over in case of any sustem failure.

You have to ask yourself, Mrs A - are you a luddite, or simply a trade union dinosaur?

Singapore Sling said...

Mrs A,

There would still be an operator representative on the driverless train in the event of a problem occurring. I can see why Bob Crow is not happy about the idea of his strike-happy members having to face their travellers but that's no excuse to delay driverless trains.

Rog T said...


There is something that rather disturbs me about this debate re driverless trains. It is either safe, there is an economic case for it and it will benefit Londoners or it isn't.

The implication from Boris is that he'll introduce it to bash the Unions, but surely this has nothing at all to do with the argument and have no bearing on its introduction.

If it is being introduced and is either unsafe or there is no economic case, purely to bash ASLEF/RMT then this is surely a very unwise move.

Mrs Angry said...

No, Redbridge Res, I'm neither a Luddite nor a dinosaur, just because I object to putting people's lives at risk, and putting many others out of work simply on the basis of political revenge. I refer you to the previously mentioned wilful destruction of the mining industry, if you need reminding.

Oh, and S. Sling: 'operator representative'? Hello, let's call it a 'driver' shall we?

Or: maybe we take your principle and apply it to other areas. What else can we get rid of? I'm thinking about other more obviously over paid, irrelevant and unnecessary functions ... the other day I happened to be at the London Film Museum, in the old County Hall: a vast, wasted cavern of a building. Of course it became disused when the Tories decided it didn't need a London wide authority, again, because it didn't like the political make up of the GLC, rather than on any practical grounds. Oh, hold on, what next: a sudden enthusiasm for a new London assembly ... with most Tories (don't take this personally) taking full advantage of everything it has to offer ...

If we want to have trains without drivers, well ok: let's try running London without Assembly members: the world won't come to an end, (in fact I think I can guarantee that no one will notice), and we residents will be quids in. Fortunately you don't have a trade union and I'm sure you won't object to losing your livelihoods in the cause of progress, and in favour of a few 'operator representatives' or Big Society volunteers?

Redbridge resident said...

Well, Mrs A. Strange as it may seem I think we have an agreement! By all means abolish the London Assembly. It's useless and, per member, far more expensive than the pointless GLC was. What (apart from taking their over-inflated money) do the Assembly Members do? They can't even agree (by the necessary threshold number) not to approve the Mayor's budget.

Mrs Angry said...

Ha, Redbridge Resident, or 'Redbridge', if I may be so bold? I think we may be on to something. I know that I am not the only long suffering tax payer who has frequently wondered what my GLA representative does to earn his money, other than sit in a few meetings and attend the odd banquet on my behalf. Do they, I wonder, have any form of performance appraisal, so that we know, for example, how many hours they actually work, or how often they attend City Hall? The truth is that most of us could do what they do standing on our heads, and without demanding bucketloads of tax payers' dosh for it. But it is we who are being expected by the new government to undertake work for the community freely, with no pay, Big Society style, not our politician friends ...

Have you noticed a resounding silence from Mr Evans on this subject?