Another Presidential candidate

Log on to my home email to discover Simon Hughes is going to go for Party President as well as Lembit. I am not sure that Lembit didn’t know this was on the cards. He had said that there were no other contenders as far as he knew. Simon had a message into me – and I phone him back to tell him that Lembit had asked me and in lieu of there being any other contenders – I had agreed to nominate him. ‘Frustrating’ – was how Simon expressed it!

Charles visits Wood Green

Charles Kennedy and Simon Hughes meet me at Wood Green Shopping City for a walk about.

Lots of LibDems gathered to meet the party leader and the media of course. We walk through the market halls to real excitement from local shoppers. I guess it is a bit of a surprise to see Charles Kennedy wandering around. But it was a really good feeling and everyone just seemed to be supporting the LibDems!

Then we all buzz off to one of the Abbeyfield care homes for a visit. Really impressed with level of care and lovely environment. Abbeyfield has a great reputation and deserves it. Not sure what the residents made of all of this – and we carefully reduced our numbers actually going in down to three so as not to create too much disturbance.

Had lots of fun talking to those residents who were able to converse – and had a really good laugh with a couple of the ladies there.

Then we departed – and it was back to the more humdrum election occupation of delivering leaflets and stuffing envelopes.

Election press conference

Press conference with Charles Kennedy, Simon Hughes and Chris Rennard (campaign guru and mastermind of LibDem successes) at Lib Dem HQ.

We all walk in and sit – lots of journos and a couple of TV stations in attendance.

Charles kicks off with a stirring piece about our chances of success (good). He takes the national angle.

Then Simon speaks about what he will do for London and then I have a go at Ken Livingstone.

He has his own agenda – not really London’s. And he will spend on his pet projects, areas and his own publicity. If you cross him, he is vitriolic and vengeful. Given the piece the Guardian G2 ran quoting me on Ken’s nastier aspects – I hope and pray

Simon wins – or Ken will be out to get me. Nasty business – hey?

Then Chris Rennard does the real business of the day – revealing the new polling showing that Simon is really closing on Norris and that if he pulls that off – the second preferences that come his way once Norris is out the race put him within 1% of beating Ken – too close to call.

Really exciting now!

Simon Hughes visits

Simon Hughes (Lib Dem Mayoral candidate), Wayne Hoban (GLA Enfield and Haringey constituency candidate) and myself went walkabout in the borough.

I took Simon to Crouch End first to have a look at the Town Hall – the big issue in the area. Then a walk about. Simon went into practically every shop and talked to every passer by. Then on to Queens Lodge (or what is left of it) the building that fell down in Queens Avenue and on which Labour has refused an inquiry into why the council didn’t stop this happening.

Then a walkabout in Muswell Hill. I particular liked the man who Simon introduced himself to but responded – I want to talk to Lynne!

Then lastly to Haringey Heartlands – where Haringey Council is not working particularly well with local residents – surprise! Whenever residents point out that the housing they are hoping to put on the site will need an infrastructure and may be too much – they simply throw their hands up and say the Mayor of London says so.

Of course, if Simon wins, he too wants lots of housing, but his targets will include any residences being brought back into use counting towards those targets (e.g. empty properties or flats above shops). That will really help the boroughs resist developers who simply want to shove non-affordable housing on backland sites.

Campaign launch

Launched the Liberal Democrat campaign for the Mayor, Assembly and European Parliament this morning.

First – the action pictures with Simon Hughes using a new spray gun that removes graffiti. Simon is captured by the media cleaning a wall of graffiti (in workman’s overalls) to reveal his slogan ‘action not words’.

That went well. Then we all went into a local venue in Southwark for the press conference. We are all very upbeat as the bookies have Simon on much better odds than Norris even though the polls don’t yet show quite the same differentials. I expect bookies know a think or two!

Manifesto launch

Meet Simon Hughes and Sarah Ludford MEP at LibDem HQ in Cowley Street from where we are taking a tour of central London on an open top bus to launch Simon’s Mayoral Manifesto (see his website for more details).

And the sun shone down on us which made the whole event fab. If it had poured with rain, the massed ranks of the media that accompanied us might well have given less rave reviews. As it was, the media analysis of Simon’s manifesto was pretty good.

The bus tour was linked with the manifesto pledges and commitments – and Simon on microphone talked the journos through the problems and challenges of London as we passed them. It worked really well and Simon was on top form.

He did say to me that the sun shines on the righteous…!

Falling out of love with Ken

Take scrutiny officers that have served the Transport Committee to pub for a thank you drink after the last meeting of the Transport Committee in the first term of London government. I felt rather sentimental after four years of absolute pleasure in my brief – and felt even more sentimental after a couple of gin and tonics.

Sadly, I had to go back to work to finish of the speech I had been writing for Thursday evening’s London Region Lib Dem Rally.

At the rally, Charles Kennedy, Simon Hughes, Sarah Ludford (MEP) and I are primed to rally our troops and kick off our London campaign.

So we did. Charles was in excellent form. Spoke for 20 minutes without notes, stirring stuff! And he seemed fit and well – which I was as relieved about as everyone else.

Simon gave us his vision for London (more of which will follow over the coming weeks of the election – and will be launched to the media on Monday), then Sarah and then me.

If I say so myself, it was one of my better speeches. I had an unashamed attack on my ex-best friend Mayor Livingstone. I will publish the speech on the web next week. But made the serious points through humour – and there are lots of not very funny things about Ken which after four years working with him I can see explain very well why he was treated like the devil incarnate by the Labour Party last time out.

Chelsfield's trains

All hell has broken loose in Chelsfield. Where’s Chelsfield? It’s a small rail station, just part Orpington – a commuter village where almost all the population rely on the train to link them to their work in Central London.

But the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) has put out to consultation their plans to make the railways more “efficient”. In real terms they are proposing large cuts to the peak hour services.

As I travelled down to chair a meeting with local residents, I have to stand all the way. The driver announces that there are seats down the front of the train – so I make my way from the back towards the front. Three carriages on, I give up.

There are packed carriages with standing passengers everywhere and it is, in the end, impassable. If this is what it is like with 6 trains – no wonder life as Chelsfield has known it will end if they cut the numbers.

The meeting is packed with over 150 people. Simon Hughes (as LibDem spokesperson for London) is there, as is Chris Maines, the Leader of the Opposition on the local council, and Duncan Borrowman – the LibDem GLA candidate. We all agree, despite the fact that the LibDems have organised the meeting and form the panel – that all political parties need to act and stand together to fight these proposals.

A couple of hours later the meeting agrees to take it forward in a variety of ways. My role is to champion it at GLA level and respond to the SRA from the LibDem GLA group. There will be people counts at the station and representations at all levels.

The SRA are an outrageous body who seem to care nothing for regional needs and support unquestioningly the Train Operating Companies whose only interest is the profit from long-haul journeys. That’s why it is vital that London has its own Commuter Rail Authority. Peoples’ lives and life choices are based on the ability to travel into central London – but the SRA couldn’t care less. Given their constant failure to make any headway with our rail industry – their days must be numbered.

What’s more, Mayor Livingstone has singularly failed to get anything out of them with what powers he does have. We had all the players into a scrutiny of the Assembly Transport Committee last year and they assured us that the best way forward was to rely on the very good working relationship between the Mayor and the SRA.

But the ‘working relationship’ has delivered nothing but reduced rail services for London. Time the Mayor used his teeth and issued directions rather than guidance – which are the two powers he has under the GLA act – but he won’t!

Mobiles on the Tube

Meeting with Simon Hughes (LibDem Mayoral Candidate) myself and Tim O’Toole (Managing Director of London Underground for TfL).

A number one on the LibDem list for the London Assembly elections in June, I accompany Simon to many of his meetings with the transport top brass as he consults them on his ideas for his manifesto or statements to make sure they are robust and make sense to those working on the frontline of providing public services.

One item Simon brought up was the issue of enabling mobile phone use on the underground. This is something that is being worked on by TfL currently, but the tragic events in Madrid in which a mobile phone was probably used to detonate the bombs, means a rethink maybe necessary.

Tim thought that the safety provided by letting travellers use mobile phones more than outweighed the bombing risk. He pointed out that terrorists could use any method of detonation. Indeed, as I pointed out – given terrorists looked like being caught from tracing contacts on the one mobile phone that didn’t detonate its bomb, it probably wouldn’t be the

method of choice next time.

Anyway – as I said – these meetings are confidential so that we can discuss frankly policy ideas in advance of any decisions on what policy to put in the manifesto before June’s elections, but Transport for London virtually immediately (and certainly very suddenly after the meeting) issued a press release on mobile phones and their future on the underground following the Madrid bombing. Bad behaviour indeed!

With Simon at the seaside

Meet Simon Hughes to go to Brighton to see the only bus company that runs completely on Global Positioning System. So many people complain about buses bunching together and Countdown (the system at many bus stops which tells you how many minutes – in theory! – to the next bus) not working, I have persuaded Simon that GPS is the way forward in London.

GPS tracks the passage of buses accurately and transmits the information to electronic signs at each bus stop in real time – so you know exactly how long before the next bus comes. This is much better than Countdown which only takes snapshots of where buses are – and can even “lose” them from the system.

Sitting on the train for an hour, Simon, clearly impressed by my recently ‘blog’ success, tells me he has commenced one of his own. However, being Simon, a local supporter has offered to do the donkey work for him. He telephones her from mobile and spends most of journey dictating his life over last few days.

First Mayoral candidate to have a ‘blog’. Where I lead – Simon

follows!

However, I think he needs to edit a bit more, otherwise the poor woman will be typing until kingdom come.