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Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
London's Mayor
Topic: Politics

I'll be on TV tonight. Don't worry, it's not a repeat of 'Bar Beat'. I'm in the audience for ITV's "You Decide" show in which the three main candidates for the job of London Mayor took questions from the public. You'll be relieved to learn that I didn't ask a question.

The real shock of the night for me was the lack of security. My name was not on my ticket. Indeed I don't think the friend who acquired our tickets ('The Beirut Correspondent' from an earlier article about Lebanon) even had to forward my name at all. I was never frisked or searched and never went through any kind of metal detector. I've had more trouble getting into pubs. Anyone who got a gun into the studio could have shot the politician / policeman of their choice.

You'll see most of what was recorded on the show tonight. It's a one hour broadcast and they didn't record much more than that. I'll be interested to know how much of the audience noise comes across. Two seats to my left was a very pretty blond right-wing Tory who shouted 'Liar' at Ken more than once. With a bit of luck that'll get the camera pointed at me at some stage. If you do see it, ask yourself whether Alistair Stewart's introduction of Ken Livingstone was a bit biased (against him). Boris and Brian didn't seem to get such a hard landing. I'll be curious to know whether they include the question from the black man in the audience who said that Boris had claimed that blacks had low IQs. This turned out to be a reference to an article by 'Taki' in the Spectator during the period in which Boris was editor. I also want to know whether anyone clapped when Ken took credit for bringing London the Olympics. I'm sure some of us jeered.

In a lot of ways, the whole thing was a waste of time. The warm-up man asked us during the interval whether anyone had changed their mind. One hand went up in a crowd of about three hundred. Of course the studio audience isn't representative of Londoners as a whole. I didn't hear anyone speaking in Polish for instance. Viewers at home, who don't have a strong political allegiance may look for more subtle tonal clues. From where I sat, Ken was the one who looked like he wanted the job the most. The other two had a certain hollowness to their conviction. Ken had a mildly better grasp of detail, but that is inevitable given that he's the incumbent and has had to deal with the day-to-day issues for eight years. Boris has a flustered look about him which is endearing in many ways, but which makes it look like he doesn't have an answer to the question even when he has. At one point, Ken lost his cool a bit and ranted about SUVs and sports cars having no place driving through London. If you've ever dreamed of driving a Lotus or a Porche through Knightsbridge, there's no place for you in Ken's utopia. Alas I think he said that after filming stopped when they took extra questions from people who'd not been selected during the recorded portion.

The problem with the whole debate, if it can be called that, is that the job is so narrowly drawn that it's hard to have wide differences in ideology. The show was split into four parts - Transport, Crime, Housing and Fitness for Purpose. Inevitably all were in favour improving the first, decreasing the second, increasing the third (hurray!) and claimed to be most fit for the job. Thus the whole night was spent on technical matters about the costs of restoring Routemaster buses, the best methods to reduce anti-social behaviour on buses and how to punish councils that fail to build more houses. The audience didn't believe Boris's tranport costings or Ken's crime figures. These are of course matters of fact rather than opinion or judgement.

Sadly nobody suggested that there was no need for a London mayor.

ITV, 10.40pm

_ DY at 12:53 AM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 22 April 2008 1:13 AM BST
Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Sunday, 11 May 2008 - 7:37 PM BST

Name: "Richard123"

Evening Mr Young, you must be happy that Ken Livingstone is no lone Mayor Of London.

 I know that the pro Israeli crowd are.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008 - 11:21 AM BST

Name: "David Young"

I am glad that he's gone, though it has nothing to do with Israel. I think that the Congestion charge is immoral and should never have been introduced. I'm not convinced there was every a need for it. It's been rejected as a concept by New Yorkers.

Aside from the selfish reason, which I'll come to next, in general it's a tax that affects the poor most. The tax punishes people who are cash-poor but time rich, favouring the cash-rich, time-poor. Why are the latter more deserving than the former? I don't know. I guess I'd need to be a socialist for forty years to undestand why a tax that his the poor hardest is a good thing. It's been put to me that it's all about cutting congestions. Few people seem to think the way that I do - that congestion itself IS A TAX. It takes your time!

I think a lot of Londoners were sold on the idea that the tax money raised would be used to fund improvements in the transport network. The reality is that a very high proportion of the income is spent on the administration of the scheme. So in effect it's just a giant transfer of money from Londoners' pockets to the shareholders and workers of Capita (and now IBM) for running their big call centres, which aren't even in London!

And for me personally, I don't like it because it puts me in a situation each afternoon in which I have to decide around about 2pm whether to go to the Vic or not. If I don't go then, then I have to wait for hours, because it's not worth paying at 5pm for just one hour's benefit after that it's not always worth the effort because the games are worse at 8pm than they are at 2pm (at least they were when I really looked into it) so I then might was well stay home until 10pm and go and do the night shift.

On a few other issues, I actually agreed with Ken. He said that the Saudi Royal family should be hung from lamposts and that London should build more high-rise accommodation.

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