Thursday, 8 May 2008

Driven by the drink - thoughts on Boris Johnson's alcohol ban

I felt compelled to respond to my boyfriend’s blog post on Boris Johnson’s somewhat misguided ban on alcohol on public transport in London, not only because I have a slightly different view but because he’s worried that no-one reads his blog!

Actually, I don't think this ban is so much as a criminal offence, but probably more of a by-law. The Underground and buses publish 'conditions of carriage' which stipulate things like passengers not talking to drivers whilst the vehicle is in motion, not putting your feet on the seats, and giving up your seat to an older person etc. They also ask you to do things like not eat revoltingly smelly kebabs, and to turn the volume down on MP3 players for other passengers’ comfort.

Most people see these things as being quite reasonable and help retain an order of general acquiescence and a pleasant environment on public transport. A ban on alcohol effectively comes into the same category as the rules which stop people going through the grey gates at the end of platforms, or board a bendy bus with a pre-pay Oyster and not ‘touching in’ for example.In terms of being enforceable, a bus driver can refuse someone travel if they're being violent or abusive and in principle, they should have the right to ban someone with alcohol if they think it's going to cause a problem. So it's right that TfL staff should be empowered to prevent someone drinking on their vehicles if they think it's going to be a problem. The problem is that they won't have the confidence or the training to challenge a whole load of Arsenal/Fulham/Crystal Palace supporters (delete as appropriate!) who’ve just come from their game all tanked up and ready to cause trouble. If such a ban would work, it would be applied just as equally to the slightly squiffy young City couple on the train back to Epsom with a half-drunk bottle of Pinot Grigio in their hand...

Ultimately it's a bit harmless as a rule, and hardly criminalises the act of drinking – and as it will be so difficult to police (given British Transport Police’s other, more pressing priorities) it's hardly worth worrying about. Those people so utterly devoted to their right to carry on drinking whilst between the pub or restaurant and home might feel aggrieved that their liberty is being somewhat encroached upon. But for people who feel that buses and tubes are a 'neutral', safe, space where we just go from A to B without feeling the need to get sloshed in between, there's no harm in this ‘law’ from Boris saying “we’d rather you waited until you got to the other end!”

If anything, it just proves that Boris' policies aren't really that serious and don't get to the root of the problem - namely a culture which encourages excessive binge drinking! That one will take literally generations to sort out. Personally, I'm more concerned that Boris won't be giving any money to the Pride celebrations in London this year, or respecting the importance of London's diverse communities which Ken Livingstone used to.

So, right now I’m just going to set up a Facebook event to organise a massive piss-up on the Circle Line on 31 May! Hic

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Election postscript

I've never spent such a tense day as I did yesterday, constantly checking on the progress of the Mayoral election results. And when the result finally did come through, confirming our worst fears that Boris Johnson had comfortably won City Hall, it really hit home.

Ken's valedictory speech was moving, and I could detect a little bit of emotion in his voice as he spoke from the platform. Hardly surprising, given the passion with which he's served London and the way in which he's understood it like no other politician. He's faced down his critics admirably, sometimes controversially, but always honestly. No-one could forget the way in which he brought the city together on 7 July 2005, and the speech which said it all about what sort of city London is. And at the risk of being a candidate for Private Eye's 'OBN' column, I don't mind admitting I shed some tears last night when I think about what sort of man London has lost.

Here's one of my favourite clips of the man in action...proof of what he was up against

Ken loses it at City Hall

So where did we go wrong? Ministers such as Justice Secretary Jack Straw have been saying we all "shoulder the blame", particularly with regard to some national issues, but I think London's politics are something quite different. We really should have won this.

Our campaign was flawed for a number of reasons. An article in yesterday's Guardian went a long way to explaining these issues. For me, a lot of it is about geography and Ken's inability to reach out to the middle-class suburbs. London is like a doughnut, or a Polo mint. We concentrated too much on the hole in the middle and didn't reach out enough to the people on the outside - inner London and the suburbs are after all two very different places. Our activists were really thin on the ground in places like Bexley and Kingston, which really didn't help get out the vote there. We also didn't stick to a clear message - was Boris just a clown or a nasty right-wing Tory? Or both?

A part of me is going to have to get used to Tories in top jobs again, but the divisiveness of Boris Johnson means I really can't see how he's going to appeal to ethnic minorities, gays or anyone who's vaguely socially progressive. Johnson is a pretty much unreconstructed free-market Thatcherite, whom - bumbling persona aside - represents the return of what the sort of hard-line right wing Tories we thought we'd seen the last of in 1997. We don't really know how his policies are going to pan out, such as his fabled new Routemaster (which I suspect will be quietly forgotten once he's realised how unworkable it will be). Alongside delivering the chaotic and ill-thought out manifesto, he even promises us the "odd indiscretion" from time to time, which will no doubt have Londoners glowing with pride as this comic character attempts to run a city of eight million people.

Boris may have won London, but he's not won our hearts and minds. Roll on 2012.

Friday, 2 May 2008

All over, bar the counting

So it's all over bar the counting. Ken, and Labour's fate is sealed not only in London but across the country. As I sit down in front of the BBC's Election Night coverage it feels strangely like the last General Election, because to all intents and purposes this is a referendum on the performance of the Government since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. Oddly, I don't feel Labour's general woes have been reflected in London, as I knocked on doors and spoke to voters across the capital. Whether people in Balham or Barnet have their own reasons to vote for or against the Labour candidate is a separate issue. Personalities have dominated, as they tend to now, especially with the coverage afforded by the free newspapers, blogs, and other media outlets.

Anyway, we did well today. I'm absolutely exhausted, but the hours of traipsing the streets seemed to work a treat. We had the highest turnout of anywhere in the ward, which was good news for our patch at least. Not one person I personally spoke to said they were voting for Boris, although I'm sure they existed somewhere in the ward. Here in Balham it is difficult to tell - we're in an inner London borough (Lambeth) but with plenty of green space and wealthy commuter occupied homes. The place actually looks quite Tory, but the make-up of our street suggests otherwise.

I still have no idea what's going to happen, but I've enjoyed the campaign, and I can sleep well tonight knowing I've done something to prevent London going blue. Tomorrow will tell...

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Brixton Market, Wednesday afternoon

I really didn't need convincing that this man needs another four years to carry on his excellent work running London. But I took the opportunity to join the Ken campaign team this afternoon to convince the people of Brixton too - and it really wasn't difficult! After a slightly chaotic start, when we were told that Ken would be arriving on the Victoria Line, then by car, then finally arriving at the tube in the rain, an enthusiastic crowd of Labour and Ken-sympathetic people joined Ken Livingstone and Val Shawcross on the campaign trail around the iconic Electric Avenue, and some of the warmest supporters of this man that I've met so far. I lost count of the number of people who wanted their picture taken with him - market traders stopped what they were doing and owners left their shops to get snapped.

We were also joined by slightly random Japanese television crews as well as BBC London and LBC. Each got a fair assessment of the campaign from the man himself, who pronounced he'd enjoyed himself, although I bet by now he's absolutely exhausted, as is Victoria, his press officer, another party person whom I know through a friend. I bet they'll be glad when all this is actually over - it's not been easy from the press side of things.

I'm too tired to write any more now except to say I've had a fantastic time on the campaign trail myself and I can't wait to get down to the polling station tomorrow!

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