Boris Johnson not seeking publicity? That has to be news

Boris Johnson is keeping an unusually low profile online (Photo: Paul Grover)
Boris Johnson is keeping an unusually low profile online (Photo: Paul Grover)

Could this be the first case in recorded history of Boris Johnson not seeking publicity? The new-look mayoral and GLA website was unveiled yesterday – and one conspicuous absentee is Britain’s most famous blond.

I still remember the golden days when a picture of Ken Livingstone appeared at the top of not just the website’s front page, but every other page too. Where is that bloke now, I wonder? That’s been over for a while, but I’m still surprised that BoJo is being so self-effacing. To look at the front page, you’d hardly know that it was the mayoral site at all.

I’ve got more serious concerns, too. Whenever websites are revamped, you always have to watch for valuable content being taken off. True to form, the new site no longer includes any links to thousands of dull but important and often revealing pages, such as committee agendas, past spending commitments and mayoral decisions which are more than about 6-12 months old. You can still find them by searching, but I’ve had quite a few stories by browsing too.

After a certain amount of fiddling I am happy to be able to tell you that the old site, which does still have those pages on, is still available to browse, at least for the moment. That must continue indefinitely if it is not to be another of the growing number of black marks against the Johnson regime’s record of disclosure.

I must admit to not caring very much that Boris has stopped doing weekly press conferences. Unless every journalist present is determined to ask the same thing, press conferences are poor ways of eliciting information. Any halfway competent politician can easily dodge a tricky question by giving a non-answer, then moving straight on to another reporter with a completely different topic.

But I do care that genuinely informative documents are no longer being published – such as the annual congestion charge monitoring report, which has not appeared since July 2008. It was that report which allowed me to prove, for instance, that “Transport for Livingstone” was lying in its campaign to keep the western extension of the C-charge. That, in turn, may have been a factor in Boris confirming his election commitment to get rid of it.

It is true that the new regime has gone into more detail on advisers’ interests and somewhat more detail on GLA and LDA spending. And they are doing some promising work on bringing together statistical detail in the “London Datastore.” But the fate of the information on the website will be an important barometer of their commitment to openness.

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