There’s been an interesting set of reactions to my job offer as Boris Johnson’s (part-time) cycling commissioner, revealed yesterday. On the one hand, we have the main opinion-formers in the London cycling community, who seem to be cautiously pleased. David Arditti (aka the blogger Vole O’Speed) called my statement yesterday“short but promising… [I] have time for Gilligan and I’m willing to give him a chance. It’s a highly political job and he might just be the right man.”
Danny Williams, of the Cyclists in the City blog, described me as someone with “good things to say” and as a “strong supporter of making cycling something that everyone can do as a normal activity and a real form of transport.” My former colleague, the Standard’s chief news correspondent Ross Lydall, another cyclist, said cyclists “should welcome” my appointment, since I “ride miles and know how to ask awkward questions.” Mark Treasure, from the As Easy As Riding A Bike blog, said I “seem to get it.” None of these people could remotely be described as pro- (or anti) Boris partisans. They will rightly, of course, in the end judge me on what we can deliver.
There was inevitably a second group of reactions. A small number of people who could fairly be described as partisan, such as Labour’s Len Duvall and the Ken Livingstone blogger Sunny Hundal, have damned it as “cronyist.” But as Mayorwatch’s Martin Hoscik – another man who could never be described as a patsy for the mayor – points out, all mayors are entitled to appoint political supporters to political jobs, and do so routinely without controversy. Nobody would or should call, say, the Labour assembly member Val Shawcross a crony because Boris’s predecessor appointed her as chair of the fire authority.
Cronyism, of the kind I exposed in City Hall six years ago, is when the mayor’s advisers channel vast sums of public money, for no clear purpose, to their friends, their business associates and women they secretly want to honey-glaze. I’m fairly sure I won’t be doing that. (And to anyone tempted to diss those Lee Jasper stories of mine, do remember that the only libel action to result from them was brought, successfully, by me.)
As was also pointed out yesterday, I’ve been fairly critical of several of Boris’s policies, including his cycling policies, in the past (though the future we have been discussing at City Hall is starting to look better.) I also, with my then Standard colleague Paul Waugh, broke perhaps the single most damaging “cronyism” story of Boris’s whole first term: the fraudulent use of public money by his deputy, Ian Clement, for meals with his mistress, which led to Clement’s criminal trial and conviction.
I hope, too, that our cycling policies will command cross-party support, and will not be particularly partisan, because in cycling all four of the main parties at last year’s election signed up to essentially the same things. Still, it is of course true that I am a strong supporter of Boris. That, I’d suggest, is an advantage, rather than the reverse: it gives me, and cycling, more influence with the mayor.