Boris Johnson says get elected to make your voice heard in City Hall

Mayor’s Question Time yesterday at London’s City Hall was interrupted twice, by protesters in five different parts of the public gallery.

They were calling on the Mayor to ensure a living wage for workers on the London Underground, particularly those employed as cleaners. I’d noticed the young woman sitting next to me, fiddling nervously with a piece of paper, but it was only when she stood up and shouted in Boris’s direction that I recognised her as one of the group who’d carried out a similar protest in July.

At first, the Mayor and Assembly Members looked on benignly as one protestor after another stood to speak on behalf of the lowest paid Underground workers. Silken banners were unfurled, as security staff stood awkwardly beside the protestors, seemingly unsure how to end the outbursts.

City Hall staff came out of their offices and stood watching the commotion on the spiral walkway above the chamber. Meanwhile, Question Time was adjourned until order was restored. Mayor Johnson had a brief walk around the floor of the chamber, and even addressed the protesters – he told them that if they wanted to speak in this forum, they would need to get themselves elected.

So how does Boris’s “don’t get mad, get elected” attitude work in practice? Interesting to note that Boris used his voice a lot during the meeting yesterday, though not effectively. Rarely did he give a straight or succinct answer to the Assembly Members’ questions.

Each group on the Assembly has its time strictly allocated, according to the number of Members it has. The Liberal Democrat group are keenly aware of this, having one of the smallest allocations. To save time, questions are referred to by number, as they are printed on the order papers supplied to every participant. Often Johnson spent valuable moments shuffling through his papers in search of information, or even reading the questions out in full – wholly unnecessary and looking like a stalling tactic.

Dee Doocey, (Liberal Democrat policing spokesperson on the Assembly) had asked the Mayor to say where the axe would fall, as a result of £76 million in cost-saving cuts. After a lengthy rehash of the question, followed by the qualifier, “This is coming at an early stage in our budget discussions… we will be having discussions before the final proposals are submitted… if you want my general philosophy… I do not want to see cuts, as you describe them, in front-line services…” Dee Doocey then pressed Johnson for a “categorical assurance that no borough will have to cut police staff posts or police officer posts next year”. The best that Boris could give was a “highly unlikely,” but no guarantee that front-line services would not suffer.

Dee also asked Boris to give his plans for avoiding potential cuts in the numbers of Police Community Support Officers in London. Johnson launched into a long tribute to PCSOs, but was eventually stopped in his tracks by a look from Dee. “You want me to hurry up, don’t you?” he said. “Yup,” replied Dee, “The problem is, I’ve got very little time.” “Ok I’ll just shut up then,” offered Johnson. However, answers were required, so Johnson started to speak much more quickly, for a while at least.

Caroline Pidgeon, London Assembly Transport spokesperson, asked the Mayor whether he is absolutely confident that all the transport infrastructure for the 2012 Olympics will be delivered. Johnson was not aware of several issues raised by Caroline Pidgeon, although he had earlier been at pains to point out that he is Chair of Transport for London. “It sounds to me that you’re really not on top of your transport brief,” she told him after he had struggled to recognise figures and even the name of a potential contractor to deliver a transport and events smartcard for the London Olympics.

So this is how the Mayor uses his (elected) voice at Mayor’s Question Time. There were two large groups of university students in the public gallery. Each time one of them so much as shifted in their seat or moved to stand up, the security staff looked nervous, perhaps fearing yet another crop of protesters.

Assembly Members, despite having been elected, are themselves unlikely to get straightforward answers unless Boris Johnson starts preparing adequately and stops using this forum as “Mayor’s Question-dodging.”

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This entry was posted in London and News.
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4 Comments

  • Helen Duffett 16th Oct '08 - 11:59pm

    I agree that disrupting a democratically convened session is not the way to go. I was struck by the irony of Johnson’s reverence for elected voices versus his own failure to listen to them!

    Also he made no mention that the protestors could contact their elected representatives directly.

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