All change for the Tories

While the Mayor’s away, the Assembly will play!

Whilst Ken Livingstone was away in Moscow checking why they have a tube system that runs beautifully and we don’t, it’s been all change at the London Assembly.

The hot news is that Tories have dumped their leader of the last two years, Bob Neill, and elected in the blue corner Eric Ollerenshaw of Hackney Tories as their guiding light. The Conservatives have been deeply split over whether to participate constructively in the work of the Assembly or whether to sit on the sidelines in opposition to everything. It will be interesting to see how the change in leader affects this.

Other hot news – the Liberal Democrat group has turned down the Mayor’s offer of the deputy mayor post. Our job is to keep an eye on him – and that is better done from an independent position. It would have been nice – but just not practicable.

Meanwhile, myself (Chair of Transport Policy) and John Biggs (Chair of Transport Operations, Labour) have avoided pistols at dawn to decide which of us would chair the new single Transport Committee. We have compromised on doing a year each as chair and a year as vice-chair over the next two years.

The reason for the change in transport committees is that the Assembly has reorganised and restructured – yet again! The changes are designed to make us work more like the Parliamentary Select Committees, with standing committees on all the key areas: health, public services, environment, transport, economic development and so on.

The Assembly’s AGM last week ratified these changes. The day began strangely when my Ham & High co-columnist and GLA Tory member, Brian Coleman, kissed me (on the cheek) and congratulated me on the Liberal Democrats’ result in the local elections in Haringey.

It was the second biggest gain of LibDem seats in the country, but given that this had resulted in Haringey becoming a Tory free zone, I was surprised by his warmth of his salutations! Perhaps he was just in a very good mood because of his own result in Barnet.

Anyway – there had been an absolute furore of rumours ricocheting around the GLA preceding the meeting – that the Tories might ‘go into opposition’ at the AGM. The idea of ‘opposition’ on a scrutiny body always seemed a bizarre concept, as it was not clear (even to them) whom they planned to oppose. Did they want to oppose the rest of the Assembly? Did they want to oppose the Mayor? Or indeed, did they just want to oppose anything and everything?

As a scrutiny body with no executive power, the only way to deliver for London and work successfully on the Assembly is to produce cross-party recommendations from investigative committees that result in action and improvements. Improvements can be effected either by scrutinising the Mayor’s proposals and policies to improve them or by taking an issue of importance to London and shining a spotlight on it and pointing the way forward.

We never did find out what the Tories meant by opposition as, in the event, this all evaporated into nothing except their change of leader.

So the changes were rung in – and off we go into the third year of our term of office. It sure goes quickly.

I am not usually a great fan of re-structuring and tend to think it’s what people do when they want to distract you from their lack of results. However,in this case I have to say that the Assembly, although hugely overshadowed by Mayor Livingstone, has produced some very good work over the last two years. In fact, I think the Assembly has done its job somewhat better than the Mayor has done his. It’s just such a shame that he has all the executive power and we have none!