Boris Johnson’s cronies – to the rescue of cronyism

9:00 am - June 9th 2008

by Adam Bienkov    

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Last week Boris Johnson called for a two-term limit as part of his fight to “protect Londoner’s from cronyism”.

But as Boris’s own band of ‘forensic’ cronies release their interim report on waste at City Hall, it is worth remembering that it is not just time itself that leads to these problems, but the people who are chosen to set the clocks.

Because when Boris ran for Mayor, he did so off the back of a series of claims from the Evening Standard which centred around Ken Livingstone and his supposedly socialist cabal in City Hall. Boris deliberately never got himself involved with the detail of these claims, but instead positioned himself as the new broom that would sweep the old dirt clean.

He was not going to tell us exactly how he was going to do that of course, or who he was going to do it with, but needless to say, a new era of accountability and transparency was going to be ushered in with the minimum of difficulty and with the maximum number of bangs for your buck.

But as the days and weeks have clicked by, it has become increasingly clear that the changes swept into City Hall have had less to do with increasing accountability and value-for money, than they have had to do with swinging the old strings of power into a new set of hands.

The audit team
First of all we had the announcement of a new ‘forensic audit team’, to investigate waste and possible corruption at City Hall. This panel of Tory axe-men was headed by the ex-editor of the Sunday Telegraph, a woman most well known for censoring criticism of David Cameron in her paper.

Their assignment, we were told by Boris’s spinners, was a clear sign that the Tories meant business about cutting waste and cronyism in politics. So why then, if they were so serious, did they not choose anyone with ‘forensic audit’ experience to be a part of that team, or if they were so concerned with establishing independence and accountability, did they not employ anyone with a political allegiance that was even slightly off-blue?

Or to put it as the BBC’s Tim Donovan did to panel chief Patience Wheatcroft yesterday, why was it necessary to employ a panel of Tories to tell the city that Tories would have spent their money differently from Ken?

The way that their findings were then fed to the Sunday papers before any evidence had even been presented to the public has also reinforced suspicions about the political motivation of the investigation. These motivations are all but conceded by ‘Bozza’s’ chum Andrew Gilligan in a report by the Policy Exchange think tank released today.

Writing about the direction of Boris’s first few months, Gilligan says:

As in all revolutions, the new regime needs a phase of revolution, when the files of the old government are opened, the official chateaux are shown on TV and the full horror of what wet on is displayed to the public. The Borisians can use this period to set a baseline.

The setting of these political ‘baselines’ has been a far bigger priority for the new Tory administration than increasing their accountability to the public. On the route to power, Boris promised full transparency from ‘day one,’ but although the interim report of this investigation has been rushed out within a month of coming to power, details of the salaries and even job descriptions of his many deputies, advisors and consultants, have still not been released to date.

And where the GLA act only allowed for Boris to have one deputy, Boris has decided to employ five of them. And of these deputies and attached advisors, it was thought that two may not even have been legal at all.

Simon Milton
The employment of Simon Milton is especially contentious. Milton, of Dame Shirley Porter fame, was given the role of Director of Planning, a title and salary that he was soon to lose after it was pointed out that his continuing roles as head of Westminster Council and Chairman of the Local Government Association precluded him from the job.

This law of politically restricted posts, established by Margaret Thatcher as an attempt to prevent conflicts of interest and corruption was dismissed as a minor edict by our new broom Boris Johnson under questioning from the assembly.

However, despite losing his salary and title, Simon Milton still retains his same position in City Hall. A position which remains in conflict with his continuing chairmanship of the local authorities’ chief lobbying group and his ongoing ‘pillow talk’ with the planning supremo at Westminster Council.

Unelected advisors
Of the other claims laid at Livingstone’s feet, one of the key charges was that unelected advisors were given powers that they shouldn’t hold. But within weeks of being elected, it was revealed that Boris had handed full delegated powers over major planning decisions to an unelected advisor from Bexley Council.

Ian Clement was we were told, Boris’s deputy for government relations, intergovernmental relations and local government relations as well. These powers, along with his complete control over major planning decisions, are rather extensive for a man who, until now, is most famous for slashing pensioner’s meals on wheels.

Of the remainder of his advisors, difficulties remain over the separation of powers in the case of assembly member Kit Malthouse, the unknown powers of his previous campaign team, now highly paid transition team and the over-abundance of powers in the case of the ex-asset stripper and some say true boss of City Hall, Tim Parker.

And while Boris promised to immediately show details of all City Hall spending, we still crucially do not know how much each of his ‘transition team’ of PR executives, Policy Exchange wonks, and ex-campaign team members are being paid out of the almost half a million pounds set aside for their brief stay.

All of which prompted the half-damning, half-despairing judgement from the London Assembly Business Management and Administration Committee that Boris should immediately “lift the fog of confusion” that had settled over his new team at City Hall.

So as Boris continues to sweep up the mistakes of the past administration into the light of day, it is important to remember what few steps are being taken to prevent the same kinds of problems from settling back down over London again.

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About the author
Adam Bienkov is a regular contributor and also blogs at Tory Troll, Guardian CIF, and New Statesman
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,London Mayor ,Our democracy

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