Friday, March 16, 2012

Final MQTs

Wednesday morning saw the final Question Time of this four year term. Following the great Audit Panel Occupation, there were concerns about security. More staff were on duty and Climate Rush demonstrators made their point outside City Hall, but the session itself was undisturbed.

With some members retiring, Question Time had an end of term feeling. Requests from Labour for the Mayor to talk about phone hacking had failed to meet the required deadline, having been lost in the secretariat. The Chair apologised, but the Mayor refused to take the out of time questions and the Labour leader made a rather grouchy statement.

Into the questions, and Labour lead with their collective chin, with a section about transport in Outer London. They tried Outer London as a subject last year and the result was a total car crash, so I was surprised to see them try the same thing again. Boris was suitably robust and knocked them flat by pointing out that their promises would be rendered impossible to fulfil by Ken's plan to cut fares. Conservative members piled in with questions about transport improvements in their own boroughs and it was plain that Labour weren't going to get off the floor again.

I used the opportunity to seek an assurance that disabled access will be an essential feature of all the new Crossrail stations - something that concerned Redbridge Transport For All when I met them on Monday.

The Lib Dems were more calculating in their approach, asking if Londoners were better off than four years ago. A clever question which allowed them to raise a variety of issues as supplementaries. Mike Tuffrey and Dee Doocey are retiring at this election and we will miss their calm forensic style which can sometimes put Boris on the back foot. With the field for subjects wide open, I asked if Boris would get Locog and London & Partners to publicise Gants Hill as a post games destination for spectators who would otherwise clog up restaurants and other venues in Stratford and the West End. Only Five stops away on the Central Line, Gants Hill provides a high quality but less crowded alternative to centres in town and I can see real potential to generate business for the area. Fortunately Boris agrees with me.

I used a question about the new bus to praise the removal of crime ridden bendies from route 25 which serves Ilford. Labour's line is that the new buses are very costly, but new models are always expensive and the price per vehicle will reduce as demand grows. During Ken's reign TfL spent £9.65 million on a trial of hydrogen buses, which they defended as an essential investment at the time, and this is a similar case - except this trial doesn't involve forcing an unwanted hydrogen refuelling station on residents adjacent to the A127 in Upminster.

The Greens raised cycling safety and Jenny wrangled with the Mayor over the accuracy of the figures she is quoting. Casualties are too high regardless of which of them is right, and work on the major road junctions as well as a crackdown on unroadworthy lorries will save lives.

The whole session drifted a bit and ended with a whimper rather than a bang, and I get the impression that Labour were content to leave things in the hope that they will have more members after May 3rd. The small parties face the prospect of another squeeze and could even lose members. Richard Barnbrook, once the BNP's great hope, was absent having gone independent some time ago. It is unlikely that the BNP will be back in May.

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