Any formal function at the Mansion House in London is normally the Lord Mayor’s show, but the annual London Government dinner — always held in early January — offers the incumbent Lord Mayor a challenge, as he is inevitably playing second fiddle to the Mayor of London, i.e. the man in charge of the whole city rather than just the City (financial district). The current Lord Mayor, Alderman Roger Gifford, acquitted himself far better than most, being skilfull in both cadence and content. That is no mean feat when one has the blond bombshell, Boris Johnson, to follow. What Boris had to say was hardly a surprise, as it had been extensively previewed in a leaked story to the Evening Standard. Basically, he was arguing that Britain should stay in the European Union — a rare bit of supportiveness for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is due to make what is billed as a “landmark speech” on Britain and Europe in the Netherlands tomorrow (how pleased he must be to be pre-empted by Boris) – but that we need to scrape the barnacles from the ship of Europe that are slowing us down. This is, frankly, bollocks, and I was pleased to see that many of the City figures predictably present on this occasion had their heads in their hands as Boris rambled genially on. It is simply not true, as Boris asserted., that the great outside world is just waiting for a dynamic Britain to go it alone, or at least situate itself in some far looser arrangement with our continental partners. As the Americans made abundantly clear the other day, they are interested in the UK precisely because it is a gateway to Europe. Close that door and we risk becoming an irrelevance. Of course Boris can be witty, and raise a laugh. But it was self-evident tonight at the Mansion House that he struck completely the wrong note. The City knows full well that it needs a prosperous Britain within a prosperous EU. And it is about time more City types stood up to be counted on the issue — and to blow Barnacle Boris a giant raspberry.
Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th January, 2013
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012
Tom Spencer is one of those rare birds: a green, federalist, pro-European Conservative. This meant that things were not always comfortable for him when he was leader of the Tory MEPs in the European Parliament, but in a sense it was as well that he stood down from his seat; he would have been hung, drawn and quartered (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the Party now. Tory MPs at Westminster — including government Ministers, who ought to know better — have been trumpeting the case for Britain’s leaving the EU. At least it was good to see The Economist, as well as the more predictable Observer, recently demonstrating why neither the Norway nor the Switzerland option is feasible for the UK. As guest speaker at the annual Christmas Dinner of the European Movement in London in an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury this evening, Tom pointed out that Norwegians pay more per capita into the EU budget than Brits do, but have absolutely no say in the formulation of rules and regulations relating to the European single market, by which they must abide. He also declared with the sort of emphatic certainty that is his trademark that there will be an In-Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016 or 2017. And despite the efforts of political personalities such as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson — who Tom described as “highly intelligent, but not very nice” — he believes UK voters will vote to stay in once the case for the benefits of membership — and the perils of pulling out — is firmly put. That is certainly what happened in the 1975 referendum on confirming Britain’s then very young membership of the European Economic Community. At the start of the campaign, opinion polls suggested the voters were 2:1 against staying in, but the actual vote was 2:1 in favour. That was thanks to the efforts of political activists including a then much younger Tom, and heavyweight politicians from all three main national parties. Will the line-up next time be as impressive and as broad church? And will the European Movement — now definitely weaker — be a motor for the referendum campaign, or does a new body, like the one-time “Britain in Europe” need to be created? It’s not too early to be thinking of answers to those questions.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Britain in Europe, Conservative Party, EU, European Movement, European Movement in London, Norway, Switzerland, The Economist, The Observer, Tom Spencer | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th September, 2012
As someone who has lived in London for more than 30 years I know how important public transport is to most people’s lives in the city, so it was hardly surprising that Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat member of the Greater London Assembly (GLA) and Chair of the Assembly’s Transport Committee, attracted a good audience and a barrage of questions when she spoke to Merton Liberal Democrats last night. She paid tribute to the way that many Londoners shifted their working patterns during the recent Olympics and Paralympics, which meant that the underground system and Docklands Light Railway managed to cope despite the millions of extra journeys by visitors. With ongoing advances in communications technology, there is good reason to assume that some London companies and their employees will build more home-working, video-conferencing etc into their lives, reducing the need for daily commutes. Yet there is every reason to suppose that the pressure on the public transport network will increase. The underground system — the oldest in the world — still needs massive new investment to be fit for purpose, though Crossrail — now progressing after several decades of inexcusable dithering and delay — should ease the east-west congestion. Caroline was a great supporter of the proposed cross-river tram, which would have eased north-south congestion too, but the project was alas abandoned. Indeed, Mayor Boris Johnson does not seem to be aware of the true potential of trams, Caroline said. She also argued that much more use could be made of the River Thames as a transport highway, and she spoke up strongly for more, better and safer cycling provisions. I raised the issue of aviation, as the Liberal Democrats need to have more of a coherent policy than merely opposing a third runway at Heathrow. That will be the subject of a debate at the up-coming party conference in Brighton. In the meantime, what is clear is that both the Conservatives and Labour are deeply divided on whether there should be increased air capacity in London and the South East, and if so, where.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th August, 2012
David Cameron needs a parliamentary by-election in a Tory marginal seat like a hole in the head, but that is what Louise Mensch, MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, has delivered to him. The Conservatives will be hard pressed to hold the seat, which novelist Louise Bagshawe (as she then was) seized from Labour at the 2010 general election. Some fantasists have suggested that London Mayor Boris Johnson should be parachuted in, but that would be a foolish move only a few months after being re-elected Mayor and anyway even he would not be guaranteed to win the seat. For the Coalition government the by-election will be an irritating distraction and will bring unwelcome high-profile scrutiny of its austerity measures from the Labour opposition. So some Conservatives and Liberal Democrats may be tempted to hide their heads in the sand and hope no-one mentions the by-election. Nonetheless we can expect the campaign to be pretty rough, and that’s not only because of the nature of this largely industrial seat. So what about the Liberal Democrats’ chances? In 2010, they polled less than 15% in Corby and the likelihood of doing even that well might seem remote given the Party’s current standing in the opinion polls and the way that Labour is accusing the Liberal Democrats of everything short of eating babies. But it would be a mistake for the LibDems to downplay this by-election. Indeed, it gives them an ideal opportunity for differentiation — to show that even if they are in Coalition with the Conservatives, they have not been absorbed by them. Indeed, on many key issues the two parties’ policies are distinct. Now is the time for the Liberal Democrats to pin their true colours to he mast and rebuild some of their damaged credibility with the electorate, both in the Corby by-election and at their Autumn Conference in Brighton next month.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th August, 2012
The euphoria over TeamGB’s triumphs at the London Olympics over the past few days, as well as the boost to national morale that the Games have been giving, has caused a flurry of speculation about whether London Mayor Boris Johnson could become the next leader of the Conservative Party and therefore possibly Prime Minister. He always denies that this is his ambition but I doubt whether he would turn down the opportunity if it came along. Of course, he would have to get back into the House of Commons to do so, but that would not be difficult if a safe Conservative seat comes up at a by-election – definitely not Louise Mensch’s Corby, incidentally! Boris’s great advantage is that he appeals to many non-Tory voters — indeed to many people who don’t normally vote at all, including youngsters. Thus he was able to defy national opinion polls and retain the London mayoralty in May (though Labour made a big mistake in choosing tired and tarnished Ken Livingstone as their candidate again). There is a mixture of brilliance and buffoonery in Boris that is sometimes irritating but often endearing. Who else could have been left dangling from a wire during a slightly misfired stunt near the London Eye at the weekend and keep their reputation intact? And he has a way with words, like a boy’s own cartoon figure. I first came across him in Brussels when he was a boy, as I knew his parents Stanley (a writer then working at the European Commission) and Charlotte (an extraordinary artist). Boris returned to Brussels later for an ill-fated stint as a reporter covering the EU, when he lost his job for not letting facts get in the way of a good story. But his wit and verve and sheer cheek eventually won through, making him now one of the most highly paid newspaper columnists in the country. One thing is certain: in comparison with Boris, David Cameron looks insipid. But does that mean Boris would make a better Prime Minister, despite Cameron’s mistakes in government? That I doubt. One can clown about as Mayor of London; in fact it gives the job some panache. But that’s not an act that would transfer well to 10 Downing Street.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Brussels, Charlotte Johnson, Corby, David Cameron, Ken Livingstone, London, London2012, Louise Mensch, Mayor of London, Olympics, Stanley Johnson, TeamGB | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th July, 2012
The Johnson clan was out in force this evening at Daunt’s Books in Marylebone High Street, for the launch of Stanley Johnson’s latest book: Where the Wild Things Were (Stacey International, £8.99) — a paperback collection of his travel and environmental journalism. Stanley has form in the environmental field; I first met him when we were both in Brussels in the 1970s, he at the European Commission working on pollution et al and me as a journalist covering the European instiutions; both of us moonlighted for the Capital of Europe’s English weekly magazine, The Bulletin. He went on to become a Conservative MEP, but later failed to get elected for the Lib Dem/Tory marginal of Teignmouth in the British parliament. Two of his sons — Boris and Jo — did succeed in getting in to the Commons; Boris in Henley, before changing gear and becoming Mayor of London, and Jo in Orpington (my old political stomping ground). Both were at the book launch tonight, along with younger brother Max and other Johnsons and in-laws and various Tory grandees, including Norman Lamont, Leon Brittan and Michael Howard, and le beau monde. Boris’s arrival, dishevilled and bearing a large backpack, excited the paparazzi present. But the important thing is the underlying message of the book: the need to protect endangered species, from tigers to gorillas. In fact, Stanley is currently Chairman of the Gorilla Organisation and an Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). As always with the Johnsons, there are lashings of humour and posturing, but behind it all there is serious intent.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Brussels, Daunts Books, Gorilla Organisation, Jo Johnson, Leon Brittan, Max Johnson, Michael Howard, Norman Lamonst, Orpington, Stacey International, Stanley Johnson, The Bulletin | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th June, 2012
At the 2010 General Election all three main British political parties argued for reform of the House of Lords. And that is still on the Coalition Government’s agenda. It is indefensible that in the 21st Century the Upper House of the UK’s Parliament should be comprised of appointees and a sizeable residue of hereditary peers and Anglican bishops. As someone who has done a lot of work overseas on behalf of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in promoting democratic practices around the world, I am always embarrassed by the anachronism. Yet as the issue of reform looms, a sizeable body of Conservative MPs — maybe as many as 100 — are threatening to rebel when it comes to a vote. David Cameron, to his credit, has so far stood firm in favour of change, and he must continue to do so. Some of those recalcitrant Tory backbenchers are basically aiming to give a black eye to Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is in charge of such constitutional matters. That is extraordinarily petty and short-sighted. Moreover, up till now most Labour MPs have not come out as strongly as they should in favour of the Government’s proposals. Labour effectively scuppered the AV referendum campaign by being lukewarm, at best, on the issue. They must not allow a similar thing to happen with the House of Commons vote on Lords Reform. Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson has stuck his oar in, declaring that ‘Clegg’s scheme needs to be liquidated, vaporised and generally terminated with extreme prejudice.’ Johnson is of course thereby also undermining David Cameron, doubtless with the aspiration of becoming a future Tory leader and Prime Minister. The Mayor denies that this is his ambition, but it is crystal clear. And of course, were he ever to become Prime Minister, he could then retire at a moment of his own choosing and claim a seat in the House of Lords, as has often been the tradition, without having the bother of going through anything as vulgar as another election (as would be the case with a reformed House of Lords or Senate). So, the message is clear: LibDems must not waver (including those LibDem Peers who have discovered an unsuspected love for the House of Lords as it is since they joined it); David Cameron must whip his troops in; and Ed Miliband must push aside the prospect of party political point-scoring and come out with all guns metaphorically blazing in favour of Lords Reform. Otherwise, a once in a lifetime opportunity will be lost.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th January, 2012
During his 10 years on the London Assembly, LibDem Mike Tuffrey has made environmental issues one of his top priorities. And although he is standing down in May, he is still a man on a mission, all guns metaphorically firing, on the matter of London’s poor air quality. As he told a meeting of Merton Liberal Democrats at a policy fourm in Morden this evening, though we may not be able to see the pollution in the capital’s air these days — unlike the ghastly ‘pea-soupers’ of the 1950s — in Central London in particular the amount of harmful particulates and NO2 is often alarming. The European Union, to its credit, has set standards for air quality, to which all member stats are meant to adhere. In fact, these are only half as strict as World Health Organisation guidelines, and yet as the Mayor, Boris Johnson, admits in some respects London still falls short of what is desirable. The main victims of this are the elderly and children, as well as asthma sufferers, of course. The latter can tell when there is a particularly bad day even if the pollution monitors which boroughs are meant to instal and maintain are not functioning. Roads, or rather the traffic they carry, are the main polluters and despite all the publicity about the supposed environmental advantages of diesel fuel, diesel fumes are particularly noxious, Mike says. While some of us might hope that London could follow the example of continental cities such as Berlin and Copenhagen and make a concerted effort to turn our city more bicycle-friendly, great effort also needs to be put in to encourage the shift towards electric vehicles, especially light goods vehicles. Mike also pointed out that Heathrow is the one serious blackspot outside the centre of London, not just because of the aircraft but also because of all the vehicles that transfer the passengers to and from the airport. Tougher standards on what sort of vehicles can enter the airport would certainly help, but it is unlikely BAA would agree to such a measure. In the meantime, though, Mike stressed that although environmental issues rank relatively low in the priorities of a majority of London’s voters, health is a major concern. And poor air quality is even more of a health mattter than it is an environmental concern.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th January, 2012
Once a year, in January, the Lord Mayor of London (currently the genuinely charming David Wootton) hosts a banquet at the Mansion House for 300+ movers and shakers and top officials in London government; I’ve been there for the past three years as Chairman of London Liberal Democrats. The surroundings are historic — the banqueting hall is magnificent and pristine — and there are some very good Old Dutch Masters on the staircase on the way in. Unsually there was venison as the main course at the dinner this year, and very good is was too. But of course it is not the food or the (excellent) wines that really count, but the political content and the networking. The Aldermen and Common Councillors of the City of London — most of them present last night – are strictly non-party political, and for once the party politicians from the GLA and London boroughs put aside their differences and mingled. Council leaders and mayors are invited, as well as Chief Executives from each borough and the occasional hack (Tim Donovan of BBC London and Peter Dominiczak of the Evening Standard). The key attraction at these events is the speech by the Mayor of London (i.e. of Greater London, rather than the City), currently Boris Johnson. This year he stuck largely to his script, prepared (with the addition of a few of his own jokes and asides) by his staff this year; in the past, he has been known to furiously scribble notes for a speech during the meal itself. Predictably, his pitch was how wonderful London is and what a fantastic year we will have with the Olympics and Paralympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, etc. He made fun of the very modest facilities provided at the 1948 London Olympics, which was a little below the belt, as Britain was still in a state of rationing and post-War fatigue then. But he is still fizzing with energy; love him or hate him he is a genuine character.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th December, 2011
London Mayor Boris Johnson this evening had his fifth meeting with the capital’s Ibero-American community, i.e. the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking populace, who are thought to number about 700,000 in the city, and over one million in Britain as a whole. As a warm-up act, those of us (including several Ambassadors) who had gathered in one of the large meeting halls of Senate House, University of London, were entertained with an interesting power-point presentation which highlighted those areas where the community is strongest, including Southwark and Lambeth (mainly Hispanic Americans and Portuguese), Brent (Brazilians) and Tottenham (a bit of everything). Isaac Bigio, the indefatigible Peruvian journalist and Ibero-American community activist who has been one of the prime movers in getting this section of London’s diverse population politically motivated, gave an amusing stream-of-conscious style introduction to Boris, claiming that because the Mayor had been born in a Puerto Rican trust hospital in New York (true), his parents had called him Boris, as a nod to boricua (which is what PR natives call themselves). That got a big laugh and a round of applause, but Boris himself — who is not so much a Mayor as a performance — provided an alternative and rather moving explanation, which was that he was called Boris after a man who had known his parents when they were living in Mexico and who had stumped up the airfare to New York so the pregnant Charlotte Johnson (a painter whom I knew in Brussels, along with her husband Stanley) could give birth in the comparative safety of the United States. Boris — who is the spitting image of his father, even down to his voice and intonation — was his usual charming bafoon self, mixing overtly political points with wild gestures, sighs and outrageous exclamations. One of his more challenging over-the-top statements was that we Londoners are now ‘going through a neo-Victorian period of investment in our city,’ which offers great prospects for progress and infrastructure. If he uses that line much in the run-up to next May’s elections, I’m sure his opponents will be quick to point out that whereas the Victorian age was wonderful for capitalists and professionals, life for much of the urban poor was pretty dire.