Fresh back from two bank holiday weekends, the London Assembly held their annual general meeting this morning. The main business was to allocate committee memberships and chairs for the final year of this term - unsurprisingly every member turned up.
Chairing the Assembly
I had agreed to be my group's candidate for chairman, although my hopes were not high. The other parties did a deal to shut us out of the most significant role three years ago and despite a combined majority of only one vote, they have stuck to this arrangement. In the event I was defeated by Labour's Jennette Arnold who won by 13 votes to 12. The Conservative group leaders said some nice things about me for which I am grateful and Jennette revealed that I was the first Conservative member she met when she joined the Assembly in 2000, replacing list member David Lammy - I must have made a memorable impression.
Jennette demonstrated a steely resolve in chairing a meeting which drifted from humour to ill temper and back again. I wish her well for the pre election year which I predict will see some heated exchanges.
Lib Dem Dee Doocey - now a Baroness and well deserved - defeated Conservative Victoria Borwick by 13 to 12 to become the deputy chair. Dee is effective but she has been stretched by her commitments as a working peer and I hope she is not biting off more than she can chew, particularly as she was also made chair of the Economy, Culture and Sport Committee.
I was reappointed chairman of the small Audit Committee, unopposed, for the third year running. I have set out to broaden the remit of the small panel, moving beyond just talking to auditors and accountants, and inviting the City Hall managers to give evidence when we consider audits of their departments. I believe that the audit process gains more credibility when a public hearing is involved.
And Victoria Borwick becomes the new chairman of the Health and Public Services Committee, succeeding James Cleverly who has done some good cross party work and raised the profile of the committee since 2008.
The Stitch Up
Of course these were minor concessions in a process that once again stitched up the chairs of all the major committees:
Budget & Performance - John Biggs (lab)
Business Management & Administration - Jennette Arnold (lab)
Economy, Culture & Sport - Baroness Dee Doocey (lib dem)
Environment - Murad Qureshi (lab)
Planning & Housing - Jenny Jones (green)
Transport - Caroline Pidgeon (lib dem)
And there is a timely lesson here for the advocates of proportional voting systems. The Assembly has existed for eleven years, and on every occasion the Lib Dems have sold their support to one of the larger groups in return for a disproportionate reward. At their high point they had only one fifth of the membership (5 seats), yet they have chaired the Assembly for 5 years, the budget committee for 6 years, the economic development committee for 6 years and the transport committee for 6 years.
In a hung authority the third party almost always wields disproportionate power and where an authority is routinely hung as a consequence of the electoral system, then that abuse of power becomes routine. We can't have this in our national government, so I am voting NO in tomorrow's referendum - and I urge everyone to do the same...