Thursday, 29 May 2008

Gridlock and Road Rage

This is the title of a TV programme at 21.00 tonight on Channel 4. Apparently it's all about people spending half their lives stuck in traffic jams, and "the absurdity of our small island and its 33 million vehicles".

The Radio Times has this interesting quote:

One expert hits the nail on the head when he observes that, given a blank sheet of paper, you'd never come up with the car as a rational solution to personal transport -- "an individually owned, very expensive box, easily damaged, kills people, pollutes the environment, and they crash into each other".

Hear hear to that. I hope the programme will make it clear that there are practical public-transport alternatives to quite a lot of car journeys -- to a greater degree than many motorists realise, in my experience.

Friday, 16 May 2008

The Czech Restaurant

Dinner last night at what is said to be London's only Czech restaurant. It's in West Hampstead and it's called, er, The Czech Restaurant.

We had wild boar. Good filling nosh and good value. Good red wine fairly cheap.

The dining room has its original 1946 decor and the whole place feels completely unfashionable -- not a foodie in sight -- just what I like.

74 West End Lane, NW6. Tel. (020) 7372 1193.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Why do people write such crap?

When the London mayoral results were announced, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson both made notably gracious speeches. Johnson was widely commended for being so magnanimous in victory, praising Livingstone as "a very considerable public servant and a distinguished leader of this city".

Not so, however, some of Johnson's supporters. Last week Iain Dale, in his highly-regarded blog -- well, it is very highly regarded by Iain Dale -- delivered himself of the following astonishing assertion:

[Transport for London] have failed in virtually everything they have set out to do.
In reality, Transport for London under the chairmanship of Ken Livingstone has been extremely successful, not from a Labour or socialist point of view but in the eyes of independent transport experts and non-party professionals everywhere. For instance:

-- Uniquely in the world, a significant modal shift has been achieved from private car to public transport. This is the holy grail for sustainable cities throughout the world, and had widely been thought impossible.

-- The congestion charge, a brave pioneering move, has made the whole concept of road charging respectable. Tories used to oppose it, despite the fact that it is merely the application of market forces to a finite resource (road capacity) for which demand exceeds supply. They have now given up opposing it.

-- Bus services have improved out of all recognition. London is one of very few places in Britain where bus ridership has risen significantly.

-- Cycling in London has gone up by 43%.

-- The Oyster card has proved to be a rare win-win innovation, bringing numerous real benefits both for passengers and for operators. London was not the first city to adopt such "touch and go" smartcards for public transport -- I had one in Kuala Lumpur several years ago, and Hong Kong had them even earlier -- but it had nowhere been introduced on this massive scale, and all with barely a technical hitch.

-- The transfer of the North and West London Lines from Silverlink/Network Rail to TfL and their relaunch as the London Overground represents another big quality improvement for passengers.

As if his preposterous, pig-ignorant comments about TfL were not enough, Iain Dale goes on to mount a nasty personal attack on Dave Wetzel, outgoing TfL Vice-Chair. In the 1980s, Wetzel was Transport Chair at the GLC. In that earlier incarnation, he oversaw the introduction of the zonal fares system, "Fares Fair" and the Travelcard, all huge improvements at the time, and first steps towards a more integrated transport system. He should be a hero to anyone who really knows and cares about London.

Dale seems to think Wetzel is "Dave Spart" of Private Eye. In fact, so far from being a crazed Trot, he is a serious, widely respected and highly experienced transport policy expert, who addresses academic conferences on the subject and has a lot of letters after his name, as you can see if you take the trouble to Google him.

The only thing more depressingly unfair than Dale's post is some of the 73 mostly idiotic comments that other people have made below it. Truly breathtaking nonsense, for the most part. What a lot of ill-informed, childish, spiteful, pathetic rubbish there is in the blogosphere.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

8 reasons why the govt must go

Each one can be expressed in two words:

3. 42 DAYS.

When we were all pissed off with the Blair regime, it was put about that everything would be different once Gordon Brown took over.

As it turns out, this was a complete lie. Give or take the odd supercasino, all the same disastrous policies remain in force.

All the heart-searching and breast-beating now going on over Brown's hopelessness as leader rather misses the point, as far as I am concerned. Just changing the leader is not going to make Labour suddenly acceptable. There will have to be drastic changes of policy if I am ever to vote Labour again at national level.

Monday, 12 May 2008

How to run your car on water

Ha ha ha! If it was this easy, wouldn't we have heard a lot more about it before now?

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Train of the day

The boyf and I spent a few days in Nice. The south of France is always very agreeable.

We went on a TGV Duplex (above) from Paris to Nice in 5 and a half hours, which is amazing when you look at the distance on the map (about 600 miles).

It was our first time on a double-deck TGV. We were on the upper deck. Surprisingly it did not seem cramped at all - you hardly notice that you are in only the upper half of the train.

Why can't we have such wonderful railway services in the UK?

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Those results in full

Much nonsense is being written about the London election results.

From most of this morning's media coverage, you would suppose that the voters had deserted Ken Livingstone in droves. Here are the actual share-of-the-vote figures compared with last time, for the first preferences, from the official London Elects website:

Tories: Up from 28.24% to 42.48%

Labour: Up from 35.70% to 36.38%

Lib Dems: Down from 14.91% to 9.63%

UKIP: Down from 6.02% to 0.91%.

Note the following:

1. Ken Livingstone's share of the vote was actually fractionally up!

2. The big losers were the Lib Dems and UKIP. Most of the big increase in the Tory share of the vote must have come from them.

3. Brian Paddick has been a disaster for the Lib Dems. Even on his home patch in the Lambeth-plus-Southwark constituency, he scraped only 12%. Across London, he got less than 10% compared with Simon Hughes' almost 15% four years ago.

Roughly the same can be said of the votes for the London Assembly. UKIP lost both its seats. The Lib Dems are down from 5 seats to 3. For all the talk about Labour meltdown in the country as a whole, in London Labour actually gained a seat - up from 7 seats to 8.

The Greens with 8.29% kept their existing 2 seats. And yet their mayoral candidate, Sian Berry, whom I had thought quite impressive, secured only 3% of first preferences. I think maybe she would have done better if more people had realised that they could give her their first preference without wasting their vote, as long as they put Ken second. My hunch is that many people did not fully understand how the voting system worked.

Labour did a bit better in London, and the Tories and Lib Dems much worse, than in Thursday's council elections in England and Wales -- here are the share-of-the-vote figures for the London-wide party lists, compared with BBC estimates for E + W:

Tories: 34% (outside London: 44%)
Labour: 27% (outside London: 24%)
Lib Dems: 11% (outside London: 25%)

Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson both scored a lot better than their respective parties; Brian Paddick scored even worse than his.

Finally, we should not get too panicked about the BNP gaining one seat. They only just scraped through the 5% threshold, having only just failed to do so last time round. Meanwhile, their mayoral candidate's share of the vote was actually down on 2004 (from 3.04% to 2.84%).

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Livingstone "extraordinarily successful Mayor"

A very fair analysis this morning from the Indie's Steve Richards:

(...) many elections present difficult choices. Today's contest in London is not one of them. Livingstone has been an extraordinarily successful Mayor under difficult circumstances. Presumably some voters have complacently forgotten what the city was like before he got the job, queuing for tickets to go on a hopeless underground service, waiting for buses that never came, no hope of a new Crossrail linking parts of this unwieldy capital.

Now travellers whiz through the ticket machines with their oyster cards, the rate of increase in cars entering the city has stalled and buses run around the clock. Recently I met on holiday a non-Labour voter who lived in Bristol, despairing of her local authority that had failed to seize the initiative on every front. "I wish we had someone like Ken Livingstone", she added.

Richards continues:

Presumably those striding to the polling stations seething with misjudged fury at Livingstone, and hailing Johnson as a decent chap, have decided that it is a coincidence that their teenage kids are now able to get around the city relatively smoothly on the buses. Perhaps those over 60 who travel for nothing believe that their free access is a gift from God. (...) so sheltered in their disconnected, atomised lives that they assume things happen around them without reason, no buses one year, lots the next, cheaper houses one year and none the next.

They have failed on a second count too. They have fallen for the relentless anti-Livingstone propaganda in the Evening Standard, spiced by the spineless imbeciles at Channel Four who echoed the orthodoxy by making a one-sided anti-Livingstone film. Would it not be a triumph for democracy if the voters of London showed that they are bright enough not to be brainwashed by an unelected newspaper?

Unfortunately, most of the people who can still make a difference today probably don't read the Independent.

Stop Boris - says Peregrine Worsthorne

Not that it's likely to make much difference at this late stage in the game, but today's Grauniad has a big collection of comments from a wide range of people on why a Boris Johnson mayoralty would be a disaster.

Believe it or not, one of those taking this view is the arch-High Tory, Peregrine Worsthorne, sometime editor of the very right-wing Sunday Telegraph:

If Boris loses, that will be bad news for David Cameron. But if he wins it will be much worse news, because the Boris campaign has shown that without the jokes there is nothing there. He just can't do seriousness and responsibility. So with two years to go before the next election, Boris will have had more than enough time to demonstrate his lack of bottom; a demonstration which will call into question the whole Cameron -- a horse from the same lightweight stable -- enterprise.

This is encouraging because it gives us hope that there might be significant numbers of similarly-minded Tories who, though unlikely to vote for Ken, will not bother to turn out to vote for Boris.