Boris Johnson: the cycle lobby messes it up

There’s something about cycling which seems to bring out passions greater than it warrants – on both sides of the argument – and I say this as a convinced, indeed passionate cyclist myself.

From the anti side, we saw a dramatically bad example of lobbying recently by John Griffin, head of Addison Lee, who ordered his minicabs (illegally) into bus and cycle lanes and told the lucky readers of his in-cab magazine: “It is time for us to say to cyclists: you want to join our gang, get trained and pay up.” We do, of course, pay for the roads – we all pay our taxes (except Ken Livingstone, of course). Mr Griffin’s gang has now rather satisfyingly shrunk as many of his customers have departed in objection to his attitude.

I’ve never understood why some motorists hate cyclists so much, given how relatively little road space we use and how relatively small a threat we pose to them (if only the reverse could be said!) Equally, though, I cannot understand why so many in the London cycle lobby are so utterly, fanatically determined to claim that everything is terrible and it’s all Boris Johnson’s fault.

Not quite in the John Griffin league, but still pretty awful lobbying, has been the open partisanship of a major cycling organisation in this election. Carl Pittam, London director of Sustrans, proclaimed that “Boris is intent on bringing the capital to a standstill… Ken Livingstone sees that Londoners want a choice in how they get around and is committed to providing transport for all – unlike Boris Johnson whose focus leaves out the millions of Londoners who don’t own a car.”

This statement is surprising for a number of reasons. First, Sustrans is a registered charity and is prevented by law from endorsing political parties or candidates. Second is its stridency. Is Boris really intent on bringing London to a halt, Carl? Are you sure?

Most importantly, it is demonstrably wrong. As a simple matter of fact, Johnson has invested massively more in cycling than Livingstone ever did – at least £70 million on the bike hire scheme and £30 million on the superhighways alone. We may dispute the effectiveness of the latter – I certainly have – but it cannot be described as a failure of intention or a focus on the car. Johnson pays more than £1 billion in subsidy every year to the public transport network and is presiding over the biggest investment programme in its recent history (remember Crossrail, Carl?) He has, in fact, probably done less for motorists than for any other group of transport users.

Johnson’s cycling policies have been rewarded with vast increases in the numbers of people cycling. On the measure used by the Livingstone City Hall, bike trips on TfL-controlled main roads, cycling increased by 15 per cent last year alone (p19 of this PDF). Cycling on the TfL main roads was 83% above 2000 levels when Livingstone left office; by last year it was 150% above 2000 levels. On my maths the rate of growth under Boris is double what it was under Ken; this at a time when bike use in England as a whole is falling. The cycle hire scheme, meanwhile, has introduced entire new groups of people to the bicycle.

You won’t hear a single word about this from Sustrans, or from the other London cycling group, the London Cycling Campaign, which has chosen to rate the mayoral candidates only on their manifesto promises rather than on their respective records. Promises are cheap – as Ken shows us afresh every day – but when you compare deeds, rather than words, Boris is at least Ken’s equal if not his superior in this area.

The stubborn denial of all these realities was evident at a hustings organised by Sustrans and The Times newspaper today. Members of the audience shouted their disagreement when Johnson stated that the rate of cyclists killed and seriously injured on London’s roads had gone down. But it has gone down in his four years, and here are the figures to show it.  (Nobody’s saying it’s anything like good enough, by the way, but it is better than it was – again unlike the rest of England.)

There was vocal disagreement, too, when he said that air pollution had fallen. But it has fallen, and here are the figures (from that well-known pillar of the Tory lie machine, the BBC) to show it.

Someone complained about congestion in Chiswick, and then demanded that half the Hammersmith Flyover be given over to cyclists. That would really ease congestion in Chiswick, I’m sure. One shouty questioner even averred: “It is somewhat glib to say that cyclists have to obey the laws of the road.” A mirror image of Addison Lee’s John Griffin.

What the cycling lobby always gets wrong is that it overestimates cycling’s political salience. Cycling gets a lot of media attention, but that’s because so many media folk cycle. Bikes are the transport of a small, disproportionately wealthy and privileged minority.

Cycle lobbyists need to put themselves in the heads of a non-cyclist or politician most of whose voters aren’t cyclists, asking why we should arrange the streets for the 2 per cent who cycle rather than the 98 per cent who drive or take the bus. (I’m not saying I agree with this view, by the way, but that is the political reality we have to consider.) The way to win arguments is to stress what better cycle facilities can do for London as a whole – reducing crowding on the Tube, for example – rather than just for cyclists, who are not the world’s most popular people.

Instead, today, we got the usual expressions of indignant entitlement and what Boris bravely called “moral superiority” over other road users that help explain why we are not very popular.

Boris cocked up several of his answers today – he was stupid to say the typical cyclist went through red lights. His mind was clearly not entirely on the proceedings at various points – he was probably shellshocked after his latest four-letter outburst was broadcast on TV. But it was fairly clear that a lot of people in the room believe that cycling is the left’s property, as London should be – and the only thing Boris could have done to satisfy them would be to develop a nasal south London accent and start avoiding his taxes. I would remind them that according to the polls Londoners as a whole do not share their view – in a recent ComRes poll, his lead over Livingstone on “making cycling safer” was 29 points, 48-19, bigger than his lead on any other issue.

I met Carl Pittam after the event and put some of these points to him. He struck me as a decent guy and I think that he, like me, believes passionately that London can be a great cycling city on a par with at least Berlin, if not Amsterdam. But that’s why I’m so depressed about the bog-up the cycling lobby is making of its case. If Boris is re-elected, as all the polls suggest, he might reasonably think what’s the point of trying to please these people if all they do is ignore, or misrepresent, my record?

 

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Ken Livingstone: too toxic for his own leaflets

As Guido Fawkes reports, Labour is sending out thousands of postcards to encourage people to vote in Thursday’s Mayoral election on which there is not a single mention of Ken Livingstone. There can be no more eloquent sign of just how toxic he is.

Tom Watson, Labour’s campaign co-ordinator, has publicly appealed for people to “hold your nose [and] vote for Ken,” insisting: “I believe him when he says [the fare cut figures] are going to work.”

Over the next few days I’ll be rolling out some evidence of just how much you can believe Ken.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for those tax accounts of his – the ones that he first promised to publish on April 4, and promised again on Tuesday that they would be out “shortly.” Every other candidate published theirs within 24 hours, but disclosure becomes so much harder if you’ve got something to hide.

Ken Livingstone: Muslim extremists (and their friends) urge you to back him

Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, went round the local mosques yesterday, urging congregations to vote for his close ally Ken Livingstone. At the Brick Lane mosque, Lutfur apparently delivered a speech at the Friday prayer, saying that Ken was Muslims’ best hope – not a view shared by many of the Muslims I know.

A gentleman called Azad Ali has also been tweeting his support for Ken. Azad is the community affairs co-ordinator of the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe, which controls the East London Mosque and which is dedicated, in its own words, to changing the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam.” In Ken’s last term as mayor, the East London Mosque was paid £500,000 by Livingstone’s London Development Agency to help build the IFE a new headquarters. Ken’s officials furiously protested against the grant, saying there was “no case” for an LDA contribution, but were overruled. Azad is also Ken’s vice-chair at the Unite Against Fascism organisation, and was invited to speak at Ken’s Progressive London conference last year.

Azad has written on his IFE blog of his “love” for Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda cleric. He used to attend talks by Al-Qaeda’s main representative in the UK, Abu Qatada. He has described al-Qaeda as a “myth” and said that the Mumbai terrorist attacks were not terrorism. On his IFE blog, he advocated the killing of British troops in Iraq (he sued a newspaper for reporting this, and lost.) Filmed by an undercover reporter for my Channel 4 Dispatches on the IFE, Azad said: “Democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the sharia, of course no-one agrees with that.” His response to this exposure was to threaten our undercover reporter.

In 2008 IFE and Azad repaid Ken’s favours by running a campaign called “Muslims for Ken” – which boasted that “we got out the vote” in its east London heartland. There were indeed astonishing, even unbelievable swings towards Ken in Tower Hamlets last time, no doubt aided by Muslims for Ken handing out leaflets at the mosques claiming Boris would ban the Koran.

There’s not so much overt activity of that kind in 2012 – Livingstone obviously hasn’t got the public purse to buy votes with any more. But stuff appears to be going on under the surface – and the postal-vote situation is still looking extremely promising for the Kenster.

 

 

Ken Livingstone: 'concentration camp guard' row was a 'huge fuss over nothing' – video

Here’s my story from today’s paper. (“Thank God Gilligan’s not here,” said Ken at one point in the meeting this week. True  – but, alas for Ken,  and with a hat-tip to the Barnet Bugle blog, I have managed to dig up the video.  The rough timecodes for the quotes are given in the text. )

Ken Livingstone has said that his likening a Jewish journalist to a “concentration camp guard” caused a “huge fuss over nothing” (5.29) and attacked the Jewish community for being “obsessive” about his relationship with the extremist preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi. (12.08)

Mr Livingstone, Labour’s candidate at the London mayoral election next week, said being criticised for his links with Islamist extremism was the “burden” he carried for “being ahead of my time.” (12.38)

In a combative performance before a Jewish audience in Hampstead this week, Mr Livingstone also accused Jewish Labour supporters of telling a “tissue of lies” about a meeting last month at which he said that rich Jews did not vote Labour. (9.10 onwards)

The March meeting caused a major row after many of the participants wrote to the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, saying they felt Mr Livingstone did not “accept Jews as an ethnicity and a people” and that he had “suggested that as the Jewish community is rich, we simply wouldn’t vote for him.”

Mr Livingstone said at the event this week: “I came out of that [meeting] thinking it was heavy going but at least it’s cleared the air. Then I read the letter and thought, what a tissue of lies. [The writers] must have been at a different meeting. I was so angry.” (9.10 onwards)

Most of the signatories of the letter issued another statement yesterday saying that they would still be voting for him.

Mr Livingstone was repeatedly asked by the Hampstead audience about his decision to host and publicly embrace al-Qaradawi, who backs suicide bombing, has called for Jews and homosexuals to be killed and said that “to be absolved from guilt, a raped woman must have shown good conduct.”

He replied: “We can spend the rest of our lives going on about what happened with Qaradawi or we can focus on where we’re going in the future (09.40)… Why is it such an obsessive point?” (12.08)

Defending his links with Islamist extremism, Mr Livingstone insisted that he was being “demonised” for “being ahead of my time.” He said: “I was demonised in Britain for saying we should meet with the IRA (12.10)… It seems to me I’m still carrying the burden of being ahead of my time. I’m always ahead of my time.” (12.38)

Mr Livingstone also defended his behaviour towards the Jewish journalist Oliver Finegold, who he accused of being a “German war criminal” and “concentration camp guard” and to whom he has never apologised.

“I thought [it was] a huge fuss over nothing which went all the way to the High Court,” he said (5.29). Mr Livingstone was suspended from office for four weeks for the remarks, but overturned the suspension in court.

Relations have long been strained between Mr Livingstone and London’s influential Jewish community. He has insulted the prominent Jewish property developers David and Simon Reuben, earned thousands of pounds from the Iranian regime’s TV channel, Press TV, compared his Conservative rival, Boris Johnson, to Hitler and repeatedly invoked the Third Reich in contexts such as London property development and the performance of the Tube.

 

 

Boris Johnson to be re-elected, but Brian Coleman, Richard Barnes and Kit Malthouse at risk: new poll

We have a poll in tomorrow’s paper from Survation, a member of the British Polling Council. Like today’s ComRes, it shows Boris Johnson in an eight-point lead, 54-46, to retain the mayoralty.

That’s the good news for Boris. The bad news is (a) the fieldwork was done before the economy went into double-dip recession and (b) even so, some of his key political allies – including Brian Coleman, his fire authority chair, Richard Barnes, his statutory deputy mayor, Roger Evans, the Tory group leader, and even Kit Malthouse, his policing man – are looking distinctly vulnerable in their London Assembly seats.

It looks like the Tories could be caned on the Assembly, going down to just eight seats out of 25 – which would mean that Boris wouldn’t have an automatic majority to pass his budget (it can be blocked with a two-thirds majority, 17 votes.) That raises the faint possibility, over the next four years, of the Assembly being a body that actually matters.

Survation is the first company in this contest to poll using individual Assembly constituency candidate names and is also using a new technique where voters are presented (online) with exact facsimiles of the ballot papers they will see in their polling stations. They give their responses by clicking the relevant box on the ballot paper.

Damian Lyons Lowe, the chief executive, says that simulating the “election experience” gives better overall results than the other firms and is fairer to smaller candidates, who are not “prompted” by the other pollsters – that is, their individual names are not given to respondents at first, only the option “other.”

Survation does show the minor parties doing better. They predict that UKIP and the Greens will get two Assembly seats each, and 10 per cent of the first-preference mayoral vote between them. The BNP is on 3.5pc for the mayoralty and 3.2pc for the assembly (losing its seat) and Siobhan Benita is last with 3.3pc.  The Lib Dems’ Brian Paddick also enjoys his best poll numbers of the campaign, 10.3 per cent. The Lib Dems will get three Assembly seats, Survation say. Labour will end up with ten.

Boris is 11 per cent ahead of Ken on first preferences, compared with 9 per cent in the ComRes poll; his lead drops back 3 points on second prefs, suggesting that second prefs are breaking less favourably for him than last time. If the race tightens – as it surely must – this could be important.

The pan-London sample is larger than normal – almost 1500 voters – but the Assembly constituency samples are small, only about 100 each (14 of the 25 members are elected by constituencies under first-past-the-post and 11 on a Londonwide list system). So there’s a wider margin of error, 8.5 per cent, on these results. That margin puts the seats of Coleman, Malthouse and Barnes in play. Coleman is behind Labour, the other two ahead, but in each case within the margin of error. Remember, too, that the news has got worse for the Tories in the three days since this polling was done. And even if some or all of these men hold on, the Tories will still lose seats in “compensation” on the list side.

The scalp of Brian Coleman, one of London’s most colourful and combative politicians, would please a lot of people on the Left (and one or two inside Team Boris) no end. Like most journalists, however, I like him and would miss him. He’s also the fire authority chair, a post he could keep if he lost his Assembly seat, I’m told, though Boris might decide to lose him. He might still hang on – his seat, Barnet & Camden, has a big Jewish Tory vote.

Kit Malthouse, another at-risk big beast, is deputy mayor with responsibility for the Metropolitan Police. Again, it’s not clear whether he could survive in that post without an Assembly seat. One of his predecessors, Toby Harris, had to quit the chairmanship of the then Metropolitan Police Authority after losing his seat in 2004 – but the MPA has now been abolished, and arrangements are different. Boris would almost certainly want to keep Malthouse if he can.

If Labour can win Malthouse’s seat, West Central, which consists of the Tory heartlands of Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham, that would be a huge coup. Malthouse’s majority in 2008 was more than 30 per cent. A Labour win is not, however, totally impossible. The party did well here at the general election – holding the parliamentary seats of Hammersmith and Westminster North, against expectations.

And the fact that this seat is even in play shows just how bad things are for the Tories now – with the exception of Boris. His personal popularity is proving incredibly resilient to the Government’s sustained efforts to lose every vote it possibly can. The question for his supporters is: will the anti-Tory tide get so strong that even Boris cannot resist it?

 

Mayoral results (first preference vote)

Boris Johnson (Con)  42.2pc

Ken Livingstone (Lab)  31pc

Brian Paddick (LD)  10.3pc

Lawrence Webb (Fresh Choice/UKIP)  5.3pc

Jenny Jones (Green) 4.4pc

Carlos Cortiglia (BNP) 3.5pc

Siobhan Benita (Ind) 3.3pc

 

After second preferences

Boris Johnson (Con) 54pc

Ken Livingstone (Lab) 46pc

 

London Assembly party standings (predicted)

Labour 10   Conservative 8  Lib Dem 3   UKIP 2  Green 2

 

London Assembly list vote

Labour 32.6pc

Conservative 28.4pc

Lib Dem 9.6pc

Green  8.1pc

UKIP 7pc

English Democrats 3.6pc

BNP 3.2pc

Others 7.5pc

 

London Assembly constituency vote

Labour 35.8pc

Tories 28.8pc

Lib Dems 13.2pc

 

Selected individual constituency results (margin of error +/- 8.5pc)

Barnet & Camden

Andrew Dismore (Lab) 38.4pc

Brian Coleman (Con) 36.6pc

Audrey Poppy (Green) 11.9pc

Christopher Richards (LD) 8.8pc

 

Ealing & Hillingdon

Richard Barnes (Con) 35.5pc

Onkar Sahota (Lab) 31.8pc

Helen Knight (Fresh Choice/ UKIP) 12.5pc

Michael Cox (LD) 7.8pc

 

West Central

Kit Malthouse (Con) 40.1pc

Todd Foreman (Lab) 35.1pc

Susannah Rustin (Green) 9.9pc

Elizabeth Jones (Fresh Choice/UKIP) 7.9pc

 

Havering & Redbridge

Mandy Richards (Lab) 39.5pc

Roger Evans (Con) 28.4pc

Lawrence Webb (Fresh Choice/UKIP) 9.9pc

Malvin Brown (Res) 9.6pc

 

Merton & Wandsworth

Richard Tracey (Con) 34.3pc

Leonie Cooper (Lab) 31.9pc

Mazhar Manzoor (Fresh Choice/UKIP) 12.4pc

As I say, a small-sample health warning on these results. The overall London sample size (for Mayor and pan-Assembly numbers) was a healthy 1453. The survey dates were 18-24 April. I’ll post data tables as soon as possible.

Tower Hamlets electoral fraud: here's some more evidence

Both the BBC and the Standard are today running hard with the story I broke on Sunday about fake votes and postal vote harvesting in last week’s Spitalfields byelection, narrowly won by Gulam Robbani, the candidate of the extremist-linked and Ken Livingstone-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman.

The allegations have now been referred by the Electoral Commission to the police.  The Electoral Commission was in its usual hopeless form on the World at One this afternoon, claiming there was no evidence of widespread fraud in Tower Hamlets. Here is some more evidence they might like to consider.

At a flat in Hobsons Place, Hanbury Street, a man named Abdul Manik is shown on the council’s official records as having cast a postal vote in the byelection. I called at the flat on Tuesday. Mr Manik’s daughter, Jona, told me that he was dead. He’d died in Bangladesh, where he’d lived for several years, the previous week.

As I reported on Sunday, one of the centres of potential malpractice appears to be a council block called Brune House, in Bell Lane. The son of a resident in Brune House  told me: “My mother normally votes down at the polling station but Gulam Robbani supporters came and got my mother to sign up for a postal vote. After the ballot paper arrived, this girl came into my mum’s house and asked her to hand it over. I was there at the time and saw it. Another guy came into the house too and they walked out with my mum’s blank ballot paper. My mum doesn’t speak English, she has no idea she’s not supposed to give her vote.”

Despite much trying, I’ve never been able to get any response from Gulam Robbani to these allegations.

But the fact remains that some extremely interesting movements in the electoral register have been taking place in Brune House. In the two  weeks between March 16 and April 4 (the deadline for registering for the byelection) the number of postal voters in the block more than doubled, from 34 to 71.

And looking at the record of those who voted, it turns out that 55 of those 71 postal votes were actually cast in the byelection – a turnout of 77 per cent.

These movements may have been going on on a wider scale in Spitalfields. Only 14 per cent of people in Tower Hamlets have postal votes – but 36 per cent of the votes cast in last week’s byelection were postal. And that’s after 135 postal ballot papers were rejected by the counters, mainly because of doubts over their authenticity.

Turnout in council byelections is usually very low. In December 2010, for instance, there was a byelection in the Spitalfields with a turnout of 17 per cent.

Last week’s turnout was an altogether more impressive 31 per cent, thanks in part, as I revealed, to the miraculous participation of incarcerated prisoners and dead people.

Doubtless the council, and the police, and the Electoral Commission will carry on trying to pretend, as always, that there’s not a problem here. But there clearly is – postal voting on demand is an open door to fraud, and should quite simply be ended. Nobody in Tower Hamlets is more than ten minutes’ walk from a polling station. We should go back to the situation we had before, when you had to have a reason for needing a postal vote.

The people accused of the malpractice last week are big Ken supporters – and the postal ballot papers have now gone out for next week’s mayoral contest. I still think, despite the evidence of today’s ComRes poll, that it will be close. If it is very close, Boris v Ken could be decided by postal votes in Tower Hamlets. That’s a prospect to frighten anybody who believes in free and fair elections.

Ken Livingstone promises full tax details 'shortly'

Come on Ken, you can do it!

On Tuesday night Ken promised once again to publish a full set of accounts for his famous personal company, Silveta, which enables him to pay corporation tax at 20% on his massive earnings rather than income tax of up to 50%, and avoid National Insurance altogether.

Asked at a campaign event: “Will you give an understaking to publish a set of your tax affairs and accounts certified by your accountant?” he replied: “I’m happy to [go] back and get my accountant to certify [my tax figures] – we got them from my accountant, I’m happy to do that.”

He didn’t get the figures he published from his accountant, of course – unlike every other candidate. They were knocked up by one of his advisers, Mark Watts – one of the famous “cronies” who shared a £1.6 million payoff from taxpayers after Ken’s City Hall. Hope you didn’t channel that through a personal company, Mark!

And unlike every other candidate, Ken still hasn’t told us how much he earns (he’s given us the earnings he takes out of Silveta, but not the earnings he’s had paid into it.)

Yesterday morning the Standard extracted a promise from Ken that the full, certified accounts would be published on his website “shortly.”  Nearly twenty-four hours later, there’s still no sign. It’s now more than three weeks since Livingstone promised to “publish details of everything I’ve earned over the last four years” – a promise fulfilled by Boris Johnson within 24 hours.

How about doing your bit for trust in politics, Ken?