Monday, 31 March 2008

Political Performance Index

Iain Dale has a ...

Q. Hang on, what are you doing reading a Tory blog?
A. I happened to be over there putting them right about proportional representation.

As I was saying, Iain Dale has a monthly survey where you can give scores to 40 leading politicians on their performance. He wants non-Tories to take part. He's just added Caroline Flint to his list, thereby affording me the pleasure of giving that ignorant and stupid guttersnipe 1 point out of ten. How on earth did she get into any Cabinet?

Anyway, here is the page that links to the survey:

Vote in the March Political Performance Index

Sunday, 30 March 2008

The gay vote in London (contd.)

Further to my "Gays for Paddick?" post yesterday, Johann Hari has interviewed the three main candidates and wrote about it in yesterday's Independent. His piece says everything we need to know.

Train of the day

LRT line 1 in Kuala Lumpur. It runs through the city centre on stilts. I prefer elevated railways in cities to underground ones, because you can look out of the window.

Other elevated railways I like: the Hammersmith and City line, between Paddington and Hammersmith. Metro lines 2 and 6 in Paris. (Line 6 is the one that goes over the river near the Eiffel Tower.) The Northern Line through Golders Green and Brent Cross. The east-west S-Bahn in Berlin.

In Kuala Lumpur (or KL, as we old Asia hands call it), the LRT is very efficiently run: fast, frequent, modern and cheap. Unfortunately the 2 LRT lines, the monorail and the suburban electrics were all built as separate - in some ways almost "competing" - projects, and the powers that be have not understood, or only understood too late, the importance of integration in urban transport networks. What a pity they were too proud to learn from European experience (and indeed the mistakes of London in the 19th and early 20th century). I believe they've now hired in some Dutch chap to try to knit it all together and with the buses too. If anyone knows how to do this, it is the Dutch. When they've finished with him, maybe he can come and sort London out.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Terminal failure

The dear old Grauniad has a splendid leading article this morning on the Heathrow fiasco:

Flights to Manchester, Paris, Brussels, Newcastle and Edinburgh were among those cancelled at Heathrow yesterday. It would be no bad thing if they never resumed. ... It would be better if [the government] ... instead backed at least one new high-speed rail line from London to the north, which could serve Heathrow too. This is what has happened in the rest of Europe, where fast rail links from Madrid to Barcelona or Paris to Lyon easily trump flying. Not many of the passengers struggling to board short-haul flights from Terminal 5 yesterday really wanted to travel to or from London by plane. They were doing so either because British Airways has abandoned direct flights from regional airports or because, absurdly, it is cheaper to travel by air than by train.
Why is this Labour government so bloody useless on these issues?

Gays for Paddick?

The Pink Paper reports that Brian Paddick is leading among London gay voters, according to a (rather small) opinion poll.

That's understandable and reasonable. Paddick deserves a lot of kudos for his courage in coming out when he was a senior policeman. But I hope these voters will realise that (since Paddick is unlikely to win) they need to put Livingstone as their second preference, because he has also been impeccably pro-gay throughout his political career:

Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association secretary, George Broadhead, praised Mr Livingstone for his "long-standing support for lesbian and gay rights notably inaugurating the first ever registration of their partnerships - and his enthusiastic support for the London Pride events".

The Week in Westminster

This Radio 4 programme, insufficiently noticed I feel, is usually good value. Today the presenter was the excellent Peter Riddell (why do we see so little of him on the telly, incidentally?) who did a longish interview with Sir David Manning about the UK's relationship with France in light of the Sarkozy visit. He made the sensible point that, contrary to the usual assumption, it is in Britain's interests for France and Germany to get on well with each other, as well as each with the UK.

It's a refreshing change to hear intelligent discussion about the EU instead of the usual small-minded Europhobic nonsense.

I also enjoyed Alan Beith being airily dismissive of Jack Straw's damp squib of a constitutional reform package.

If you missed the programme you can listen to it here.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Things I am sick of hearing/reading about

(1) House prices. House prices are whatever they are. I propose to live in this house until I drop dead, so I don't want to know about any other houses.

(2) The McCanns. A tragedy for them, but why is it of any interest to anyone else?

(3) So-called "celebrities", most of whom I have never heard of. TheLondonPaper is a particularly egregious offender here, but even the proper press seems to be obsessed.

(3) Motorcars. Completely unnecessary if you live in a city; indeed, a positive liability. I have enjoyed not having a car for 28 years now.

(4) Cookery. Food is nice, but does every other TV programme have to be about it? Do any real people actually do all this cooking?

(5) Crime. About 70% of cinema and TV fiction seems to be about criminals and detectives. This gives a wildly false impression of life, as also does the gutter press every time it makes a big splash about actual crimes. People end up thinking crime is much worse than it is.

Why I support Ken Livingstone for Mayor

I am supporting Ken Livingstone for Mayor but voting Green or LibDem for the London Assembly. Checks and balances, and all that.

But I cannot believe anyone seriously thinks Boris Johnson is the man for the job.

Also, I am outraged by the Evening Standard's campaign of vilification against Livingstone. Has there ever been such one-sided coverage of a local election by the monopoly local paid paper anywhere in Britain? The Standard's man Andrew Gilligan actually said on TV the other day that he was "out to get Livingstone" because he, Andrew Gilligan, the fount of all wisdom apparently, had decided that KL was a fraudster and a crook. This is a disgrace to journalism and to local democracy.

I don't agree with all of Livingstone's views by any means, but I think he is essentially an honest man. Maybe rather too honest, sometimes, if anything. I'm sure there may be a few bean-counting irregularities here and there in the accounts, but he is obviously not a crook. And I couldn't care a toss if he drinks whisky in the office at 10 in the morning, if he does the job required. (Churchill had champagne for breakfast throughout the war, and we still won it.)

The key point for me is Livingstone's achievements in transport. In particular, I can't think of any other politician who would have had the courage and vision to push through the congestion charge, an absolutely vital first step towards reducing the car-dependent mentality in our culture and beginning to restore our urban civilisation that the motor car has come so catastrophically close to smashing, in my view.

Also, he has done wonders with the bus service, which is hugely improved. Some airhead in TheLondonPaper the other day blamed him for the high tube fares! He doesn't have any power to reduce them because he has to work within an inadequate budget and with the idiotic PPP scheme forced on TfL by a scandalously blinkered and inept central government Treasury. It's obvious from his record going back to the 1970s that he would like to have reduced tube fares if he possibly could.

My vote will be for Ken Livingstone personally, in the light of all the above, not a vote for Labour, which I currently feel I might very well never vote for again.

All my life I have voted either Labour or, more often, Lib Dem. Why am I not supporting Brian Paddick? Partly because he has alienated me by climbing on the silly anti-bendy-bus bandwagon, saying they are "deeply unpopular" when they are not. I do agree with him that what we really need are trams, but who is going to agree to fund that kind of long-term investment in the mad system we have today? Also, this is a two-horse race and Paddick is not going to win.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Boris and transport

The "Blairwatch" blog has a rather good analysis of Boris Johnson's transport policies.

Johnson is on record that people want 'the wonderful Routemaster buses they used to have', because he sees things from the point of view of a non-bus user.

Just the point I was making yesterday!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Bendy buses in London

At last, some balanced coverage of this issue, courtesy of BBC News.

It has always seemed to me bizarre that something which is absolutely normal in most European cities is such an issue here. Maybe one of the comments on the BBC page has hit on the answer:

When people come to London, they want to pretend they're in a sixties movie, swinging onto that back pole of the Routemaster in the rain, not stepping on to an 80s-looking bendy bus.
Boris Johnson of course has been pushing this false dichotomy with the Routemaster. In reality, Routemasters were on their way out, for several good reasons, long before bendy buses came in. Bendy buses are not a substitute for Routemasters. If anything they are a substitute for the trams that we ought to have, but don't (except in Croydon), i.e. they serve the few particularly high-demand strategic routes.

Anyway, I note that most of the comments from actual bus users (as opposed to politicians and commentators who don't actually travel on them) are favourable to the bendy bus. The accessibility argument is the clincher, in my view. You don't have to be particularly disabled to find double deckers (old or new) a real pain to navigate when there is no room except upstairs.


Just found this interesting definition of globalisation:

Globalization: an excuse for the rich capitalist f***s of the world to expand and build their personal wealth by using the corpses of the poor, through the means of pushing unnecessary products aimed at creating rampant consumption and mindless consumerism. Meanwhile, the environment and scores of people suffer.

With thanks to Raging Against the Machine.

Friday, 21 March 2008

No to Heathrow Airport expansion

This is what I wrote for the consultation on the expansion of Heathrow Airport:

Dear Ms Kelly,

The proposed runway 3 and terminal 6 at Heathrow are wholly unnecessary and extremely damaging.

(1) Short-haul flights from London to "near Europe" can mostly now be conveniently replaced by rail journeys (by Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels, Lille or Paris and then changing to other high-speed services as necessary). This is certainly true for Benelux and most parts of France, Germany and Switzerland, where the door-to-door journey time is broadly competitive with that by air, once getting to and from the airport, check-in times, etc. are taken into account. There is thus simply no need for most of these flights, which are far more environmentally damaging than their rail equivalents.

(2) Given the journey times nowadays offered by the British railway network, domestic flights within mainland UK are frankly a nonsense, except for the north of Scotland. For environmental and other reasons, it should be public policy of government to discourage such flights strongly by all means possible. Making airlines and their passengers pay the real external costs of their flights would be a good start (e.g. by removing the tax breaks on aviation fuel - or at least giving the same tax breaks to rail operators) so that rail and air modes would be competing on a more level playing field.

(3) Planning should start immediately on a new north-south UK rail line. (This is going to be needed in any case before very long, since the existing trunk rail network will soon be at capacity as a result of present rising levels of demand.) The new line should connect at the London end with the existing HS1 line at St Pancras and go in the first instance to the Midlands via Heathrow Airport, probably along a route similar to that suggested by Greengauge 21. This would transform Heathrow into a rail-air interchange hub, nullifying the argument that UK domestic flights would still be required for interlining purposes.

(4) If all this were done, the claimed increase in future demand for slots and passenger throughput at Heathrow would be much less than is being suggested, and capacity at Heathrow would be freed up for those long-haul journeys which can only practicably be made by air ("far Europe" and intercontinental).

(5) It is frequently asserted that the proposed expansion is necessary to preserve London's position as a world financial centre, on which its economy allegedly depends. It is very odd, in that case, that the present Mayor of London -- who spends much of his time and energy promoting that position -- does not think so, and opposes your plans for Heathrow. In fact, a recent report found that the majority of passengers at Heathrow are not business travellers, as we had been led to believe by the vested interests involved, but holidaymakers, who, if all these unnecessary flights did not exist, would simply go somewhere else on holiday, or use the train, with no disbenefit to the London economy at all.

For all the above reasons, I urge you to scrap forthwith the plans to expand capacity at Heathrow, which if implemented would increase noise, pollution and congestion, destroy communities, and run completely counter to the government's declared aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Yours sincerely,