Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Protesters this week took to the streets in the Ukraine after the government there reversed plans for greater EU integration. Events were sparked at the start of the week, after the country’s President, Viktor Yanukovich, succumbed to pressure from The Kremlin and backed out, at the eleventh hour, of a free trade and political integration pact with Europe. At the subsequent EU summit on Friday, Yanukovich stood by his decision, prompting further demonstrations, with peaceful protesters dispersed from Kiev’s Independence Square early on Saturday.

Over the weekend 300,000 strong crowds converged on the city, and marchers carrying EU flags clashed with riot police. Tear gas was used on demonstrators, many of whom had travelled from Ukrainian-speaking parts of the country where pro-EU sentiment is strongest. Recent polls show 45% of Ukrainians support EU integration– compared to less than a third who say the country should remain in Moscow’s orbit.

Those involved in the Orange uprising of nine years ago described developments this week as “a revolution”. With opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko still jailed, many feel the demands of the 2004 insurgency – for a more transparent, less corrupt democracy – have not been met. For some it came down to a straight East-West decision. One demonstrator said he was there “to support a European choice for the Ukraine”.

The Ukraine is very difference place to Britain, and drawing overly close parallels would be pointless. But I do find it striking, when so many recognise EU integration as their best hope of a stable and prosperous future, that those on the UK political right want to turn their back on the continent.

Eurosceptics will mock the comparison, arguing that Britain is an affluent world power whereas the Ukraine is a post-USSR satellite state. But they underestimate the extent to which our wealth and global influence come because of – rather than despite – the fact we are in Europe. I will be making this case tomorrow evening at an ‘EU In or Out’ debate at One Birdcage Walk in Westminster.

This week also saw London Mayor Boris Johnson spark outrage by claiming, in a speech commemorating Margaret Thatcher, that fighting inequality was “impossible” because “16% of our species have an IQ below 85”. He added, using language which verged on social Darwinism, that “The harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top”.

Although couched in Johnson’s usual crowd-pleasing terms the comments went down badly, both in the room and among politicians. Nick Clegg called The Mayor’s words “unpleasant, careless elitism”.

Johnson is a florid and often frivolous character, who uses eccentricity to beguile voters who would otherwise find his views repellent. As someone from a privileged background, who is set on extending the inequalities from which he has profited, he is the very opposite of what a city like London, with its jarring poverty and wealth, is in need of.

Finally, as I wrote in my round-up last month, we are now into the part of the year where women effectively cease to be paid. It is an outrage that the gender pay gap still exists. As Labour’s spokesperson for women in Europe I am determined that the EU leads from the front in the fight to eliminate it. This week I set out my ideas about how we can make this happen, and from now on I will be producing regular bulletins on what the EU is doing to end workplace inequality for women.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Boris Johnson received something of a battering on the Andrew Marr show this weekend (you can watch the full interview here).

Eddie Mair, standing in for Marr who is recovering from a stroke, quizzed Johnson about the “sandpapering” of quotes as a Times journalist, failing to deny that he lied to the party leader at the time, Michael Howard, about an extramarital affair and conceding that he had humoured an old friend when he asked for a phone number of someone he intended to beat.

Johnson also said the UK economy benefited from the influx of “skilled workers around the world” but this led to a “real indignation” among UK workers.

The interview, which originally was supposed to promote the BBC documentary on Johnson that is on tonight, is rather painful to watch, but does say rather a lot about the man who is currently mayor of London.

I would rather have seen Johnson being taken to task for some of his failures as Mayor though, rather than problems that are already out in the open. He did admit there was a lack of planning ahead of the financing of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford but said the deal to allow West Ham United to play at the venue would help provide £10m a year to the taxpayer.

Johnson has also singularly failed to encourage housing development in London, leading to a growing housing shortage and massively increased rent. The figures, showing the situation towards the end of last year, may indicate that the long-predicted “displacement effect” of capping and cutting local housing allowance – the form of housing benefit paid to tenants housed by private landlords – has been occurring, with households being obliged to relocate from the heart of the capital to its cheaper suburbs.

The overall number of claimants in Greater London as a whole has gone up sharply in the period concerned, reflecting the very a high rate of rent increases in the capital compared with incomes.

I think Johnson may have got a taste of what putting himself forward to be leader of party might be like.  Thus far he has managed to charm and bluff his way through, but some of the sheen definitely came off him yesterday

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Tory Boris Johnson blatantly disregards Londoners’ fears

There was a fiery exchange in the chamber of the London Assembly yesterday after Mayor Boris Johnson was accused of political bias and astonishing ignorance as he announced the latest round of cuts to London fire services.

The mayor was questioned about how much exactly was to be saved by reducing the number of fire engines, a perfectly reasonable question asked by Labour’s Andrew Dismore as the closure of 12 fire stations and loss of 18 fire engines happens across the capital.

However, he was clearly on the defensive when scrutinised by the Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee in City Hall because when asked to give a precise figure of how much would be saved by cutting the number of engines Johnson snapped: “I won’t take repeated ignoratio elenchi from you! I’ve given you the answer! put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

The news site London Loves Business, further reported the Mayor told Dismore, who was merely doing his job by holding the mayor to account, “to go and find out about it himself”.

This blatant disregard Johnson has for political process and for those trying to hold him to account could not be more apparent than in this episode. Quite rightly Labour AM John Biggs told the mayor he should know the answer: ““It’s your budget, you have your fingerprints on it. You own it.”

He even refused to confirm with the committee, when asked about the Metropolitan Police Service’s new targets on Police numbers, who had advised him of aiming for such a target and jokingly said: “I get advice on these things from reputable people… and some disreputable people I’m sure!” Of course none of this is a joke. Ensuring adequate fire services are available across London is hugely important.

Labour politicians attempted to have a serious debate, tried to hold the mayor to account and asked searching questions, but they were dismissed, chided and seemingly sneered at by the Mayor who, based on what I’ve read on the London Loves Business site (you can read it here too), didn’t seem to take it at all seriously.

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Boris Johnson’s bid to lead the Conservative Party gathers momentum

You have to feel sorry for the beleaguered David Cameron. Caught between a rampant Boris Johnson on one flank and his Eurosceptic wing on the other, Cameron clearly doesn’t know which way to turn.

Today’s Times reports that Cameron may urge the public in a referendum to support the looser relationship with Brussels he hopes to negotiate. However, Cameron is prepared apparently to give the country the chance to say no to such a deal. Such a result would effectively be seen as a vote to leave the European Union.

Although David Cameron has not, as yet, made his well trailed speech on EU membership, he is obviously going in only one direction – a referendum which may well signal Britain’s exit from the EU.

Yet before we get there, the Prime Minister will have to negotiate with the EU this much hyped change in Britain’s status. He seeks to take us from the heart to the periphery getting rid of what he and the Tory Party see as troublesome regulations on the way.

There is one extremely serious flaw in this approach which is obvious yet almost virtually ignored, namely that the EU may well not play ball. The idea that powers can be “repatriated” from Brussels to London is at present purely a Conservative Party construct. Although Germany may be making some helpful noises, there are those who would be glad to see the back of Britain.

While it is true that we are a contributor country to the EU budget that does not necessarily mean there will be unanimous agreement to go along with the Tory demands and negotiate in the way David Cameron envisages. There are, as we all know, very many ways to conduct EU negotiations and since it will be 26 member states against Britain, I would hazard a guess that David Cameron is not in a very strong position.

Enter both Christian Noyer and Boris Johnson. Mr Noyer, Governor of the Bank of France, makes it clear in today’s Telegraph that he wants London stripped of its status as Europe’s financial hub, saying, “Most of the euro business should be done inside the euro area. It’s linked to the capacity of the central bank to provide liquidity and ensure oversight of its own currency.” 

“We’re not against some business being done in London, but the bulk of the business should be under our control. That’s the consequence of the choice by the UK to remain outside the euro area.”

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, according to the Times, would prefer a minimalist EU stripped down to the single market. What this really means is that the social and employment legislation associated with the single market – health and safety at work, maternity rights and much more, will go. This is what the Tories really want. Rights for people at work are, as we know, anathema to many Tories.

Withdrawing from one side of the single market while keeping the part the Conservatives see as good for the British economy may just not be a runner. It’s difficult to see how and why the rest of the EU would allow the UK such power without responsibility.

David Cameron has a long way to go to realise his dream of the EU allowing the UK to become semi-detached on its own terms rather than those of the EU as a whole. What is more, the CBI, Britain’s foremost business organisation, want Britain to stay in the EU. Cameron is, indeed, between a rock and a hard place, digging an ever deeper hole for himself.

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London’s air is the worst in Europe while the Government delays action

London has the worst air of any European capital. Despite this, the Conservative-led Coalition doesn’t plan to comply with air quality standards in legislation since 1999, set to be met by 2010, until a staggering 2025, according to the BBC.

Something needs to be done urgently in London. Air pollution cuts life expectancy in Britain by a massive eight months. The main culprit is the pollutant N02 which comes mainly from vehicles.

The Government’s refusal to act is quite simply not acceptable. Ministers know that air pollution is the second biggest public health threat after smoking. It costs the UK an estimated £20 billion a year, more than twice the amount for obesity.

N02 affects long-term health. According to the BBC, experts giving evidence to the Environment Committee, EFRA, said the health of Olympic athletes visiting over the summer should not be harmed as long as the UK avoids a heat-induced smog episode.

I find it extraordinary that there is such a huge unwillingness to tackle pollution in London. The situation is obviously very bad indeed. There is even a chance that the showcase Olympics may suffer. Those of us who live in the capital are at serious risk.

What is more, the financial cost of pollution is huge. Cleaning up are act would not only save lives, it would also save money. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and London Mayor Boris Johnson will, I hope, take note, though the previous track record of both these Conservatives does not give us much cause for hope.

By coming down heavily on the UK Government’s inaction, the European Commission is doing us all a massive favour. Londoner’s should be thankful that there is at least one institution which is concerned about their health.

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‘Reading Between the Lines’: Offical Launch of my Report

I’ve commissioned a report that explores the link between sex advertising in local papers and human trafficking. Today it launches.

The report has been sent to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. I hope the Mayor addresses my concerns identified within the report that  vulnerable women are used to advertise services. Also the report found that charities use these adverts to identify vulnerable women and offer outreach work to them once they’ve been identified. The Mayor must ensure that proper resources are available to stakeholders so that they are not reliant on using such advertisements to identify victims.

Please read this important report by clicking the image above following the link here.

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Ken for London

Once again Ken Livingstone is showing us just why he should beLondon’s next Mayor. Ken has plans to benefit the vast majority of Londoners after the 2012 mayoral elections. We know Ken will deliver, just as he did during his previous eight years as Mayor when his achievements included the congestion charge, vastly improved bus services and road improvements, including Trafalgar Square, to name but a few.

I really enjoyed listening to Ken address a fundraising dinner organised by Putney Labour Party last Thursday. Ken spoke about his fairer fares campaign which will be a key plank of the Labour campaign in the Londonelection next year.

New figures confirm the positive impact of Ken’s pledge to cut the fares. While Boris Johnson is committed to year on year fare increases at two per cent above inflation for 20 years, Ken has pledged to cut fares and keep them lower than Boris Johnson’s plan.  A comparison of the effects of the two policies after four years confirms Londoners would not pay any fares after 8th November compared to Boris Johnson’s ‘high fare’ policy which would see Londoners pay fares to the end of the year.

Ken’s Fare Deal will, in fact, see the average Londoner saving £800.

It was also good to have the opportunity to chat to Ken during the dinner. Livingstone conversations are always interesting and sometimes unexpected. I never thought that the Putney dinner would lead to an exponential increase in my knowledge of garden compost, worms and associated matters. Ken has seemingly moved on from small reptiles to small invertebrates, aiding the environment in the process.

A very pleasant evening ended on a high note when Rex Osborn arrived at the dinner late and sat next to me. Rex, now leader of the Labour Group on Wandsworth Council, is a very old friend. We once shared an office in County Hall when working on the campaign to save the GLC. I hadn’t seen Rex for a long time and it was great to meet up again.

I was also pleased to see Leonie Cooper, another person I have known for a long time. Leonie is the GLA candidate for Merton and Wandsworth who is fighting a cracking campaign. We all wish her the very best.

So all in all an excellent dinner. My thanks as ever to Putney Labour Party, Councillor Peter Carpenter, former Party Chair, Hans Pauley, the current Chair, Sean Lawless who organised the event, Tony Belton and Penny Corfield plus the seventy other guests who all contributed to making the evening such a resounding success.

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Daniel Hannan thinks Greece should go the way of the last Russian Tsar

I blogged yesterday about Boris Johnson pontificating on the euro. Today it was the turn of fellow MEP, hard-line Tory Daniel Hannan, to wax intellectual on the Today programme.

The line was very similar; Greece should withdraw from the euro, default on the debts, or vice versa.  Mr. Hannan used the snappy little phrase “default and decouple”, making it sound rather like an acrimonious divorce as opposed to the possible start of the second global financial meltdown in three years.

Mr. Hannan has a good knack for sounding rather reasonable, but if we examine what he says closely it becomes apparent that his views veer towards the extreme.  He would like us to believe that there is an agency at work that is willing to sacrifice Greece on the alter of a single European currency.  This is of course ridiculous; there are number of governments and supra-national institutions working hard to ameliorate a situation that is one of the biggest threats to European and global financial stability.

The problem is that Mr. Hannan seems to judge other by his own low standards.  It is hard not to feel that his entrenched ideological scepticism towards the all things EU is the motivating factor behind his comments.  Mr Hannan’s likening of the situation to the Bolshevik execution of the Tsar betrays his somewhat jaundiced view of European politics and verges on the territory of the conspiracy theorists.  This is one of the biggest issues facing the U.K, Europe and the world.  If there is a time where we need to be pragmatic it is right now.  If the right solution isn’t found, it will have dire consequences for us all.

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Boris Johnson talks Nonsense on Greece

Boris Johnson is, as ever, talking utter nonsense out of a part of his anatomy I would rather not mention. He writes in today’s Daily Telegraph: “For years, European governments have been saying that it would be insane and inconceivable for a country to leave the euro. But this second option is all but inevitable and the sooner it happens the better.” Boris, just hang on a minute and think about this one.

For starters, it’s profoundly shocking that people in Greece feel the need to protest so vehemently in such large numbers. Deflationary austerity measures, still seen by the world’s financial authorities as the way to deal with economic crises, always impact on those who had nothing at all to do with creating the crisis in question. It’s Greece’s men and women in the street, now in protesting in large numbers in Syntagma Square, who are really suffering.

The citizens of Greece are going through this because of a massive failure of the international banking and financial system. This was not originally a crisis the euro but a crisis caused by transnational banks with a global reach. As Richard Woods and Philip Pangalos put it in the Sunday Times yesterday: “Three years ago after Lehman’s fall, governments bailed out other banks: now nations are teetering on the brink.” “Greece borrowed far too much, particularly from French and German banks…”

True, the low interest rates in the eurozone facilitated this borrowing. However, non-eurozone countries such as the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and, of course, Japan, also had, and still have, low interest rates. The current severe difficulties facing the eurozone are not, as Boris Johnson and his cronies would have us believe, purely a result of inherent problems with the single currency, but more to do with the global financial and economic situation.

True, as a member of the eurozone Greece cannot devalue its currency to make its exports more competitive. However, this strategy only works when a country has something worth exporting. Greece, as we all know, has few manufactured goods and its main exports – olive oil, marble and aluminium – are not exactly going to make the big time. Moreover, no-one would dispute that Greece’s economy is in a very bad way; it contracted by 4.5% last year and the official unemployment rate of 16% is probably a gross underestimate. However, most of this is not down to the euro and would not be solved if Greece were to leave the single currency.

Boris, a weak Greece with massive economic problems would impact on all of us whether not Greece was in the euro. The United States has sold credit default swaps, a form of insurance, on the Greek debts held by European banks which European banks facing losses may try to claim back from the American banks. This is surely a global issue if ever there was one.    

Having underwritten any subsequent bail-outs for Greece, it is hard to argue anything other than that Britain was at the heart of the one we saw recently. More significantly, the UK has contributed £19.7 billion to the International Monetary Fund, which could well be used for another such bail-out. Given that half of Britain’s exports go to the EU, we obviously nave a huge interest in keeping the pan-European economy in reasonable working order.

The thing is, Boris, all those people in Greece who are unemployed, fear being unemployed or simply cannot make ends meet, do matter to us for our own reasons. They would buy our goods if they could afford it. They are therefore important for our own well-being. When they are poor, we become poorer, whether or not Greece, or indeed the UK, is or is not in the European single currency.

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My heart bleeds for Olympian Boris minus tickets

While I hold no candle for Boris Johnson or for those who can gain free entry to sporting events, I do find it faintly bizarre that the Mayor of London failed to secure any tickets to the 2012 Olympic Games from his personal application.

Could this be Bonkers Boris claiming to be one of us, the “people’s” mayor who, despite his position and his wealth, suffers the same strains and stresses as the rest of us? Or is it one of the world’s most shameless posers claiming his life is no different from other Londoner’s?

I simply cannot believe the Mayor of London will be ignored by all those corporate and other interests who will make it their business to invite their favourite movers and shakers to the Games. I would be very surprised indeed if the Mayor and Members of the GLA did not receive tickets from some source or other for some of the best Olympic events.

Come off it Boris. Your pseudo-upset “I’m a victim too” just isn’t working.

And while we’re on the subject of the Olympics, you will remember that those who were lucky enough to be able to buy a ticket to the Olympic Games had to  use a Visa debit, credit or pre paid card for their purchases. And that the only card the retail outlets at the Games will be allowed to use is Visa. Visa does, of course, have a complete monopoly, which is surely wrong for any organisation, even if it is a major sponsor.

Sadly the European Commission, charged with monitoring the EU’s strict competition rules who claimed to be concerned about the Visa monopoly at the 2012 Olympics, have done nothing to resolve the situation. I blogged earlier that I had put down a Question in the European Parliament on this issue. Obviously no luck this time, though I do not intend to give up on this one just yet.

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