Wednesday, 16 December 2009

BNP on the Bush: To condemn or to condone?

At today's session of Mayor's Question Time in City Hall Richard Barnbrook, the British National Party’s member of the Assembly, eventually got to ask his question about these events in Shepherd's Bush and White City which surrounded the appearance of Nick Griffin his party leader on the Question Time programme. In the event, and as the Mayor remarked in response, his question illustrated that the best way by far to deal with fascists is to allow the public to hear from them in all their magnificence and to make their own minds up.

For Mr Barnbrook, it soon became clear, does not understand the difference between the words “condemn” and “condone”. Thinking that one meant the other he repeatedly demanded that the Mayor condone the violence that took place and got angrier and angrier as the Mayor with a smile repeatedly refused to condone violence but condemn it.

Like a maddened bull in an unforgiving Spanish arena Mr Barnbrook became notably irritated by the laughter from the public gallery at his inability to master the language his party claim to defend from those nasty foreign immigrants. Eventually Mr Barnbrook realised his error but by that time he’d run out of time and the fun was over. I told you he was thick.

We were also treated earlier in the session however, from this clearly nervous and twitching fascist, to a rendition which began with “twitter, twitter, twitter ..” which was a reference to this incident, followed by an angry demand for Darren Johnson’s resignation as Chair of the Assembly. It was notable that other members from all parties cried “rubbish” and events moved swiftly on.

Having never watched Mayor's Question Time in person before the big story for me however, aside from the illiterate ramblings of Mr Barnbrook, was the extent to which most of us have no idea about how our daily lives and areas are actually shaped by what goes on in that beautiful building by the river. There were numerous other exchanges of interest to those of us that live in W12, including about numbers of police, jubilee line upgrades and the future of the Piccadilly line. Most of it was fairly bog standard yah-boo politics but flung around in the exchanges were scarily large figures in the millions of pounds and major policy decisions that will shape the Bush.

Mike Tuffrey, Liberal Democrat, revealed that the cost of Boris far outweighed the cost of Ken, by some millions of pounds in terms of how much money was now being taken from fare payers and spent on staff at City Hall. While Boris denied this with his customary bluster, he was forced to admit that having attacked Ken for employing 15 PR people, Boris’ official figure for the same thing was a bizarre 14.8 people!

John Biggs, Labour, accused the Mayor of setting a budget for London that would lead to cuts in police numbers across the Capital. He argued that the Mayor’s budget had only managed to retain current police numbers by rising transport fares. He said that the recently announced freeze on future fare increases would therefore mean numbers would go down.

Boris was also asked by Len Duvall, Labour, about the process of recruitment for the post of Chair of the London Arts Council which has been covered extensively here. Boris of course tried to hire his former cheerleader during the election the then Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley which was blocked by the Secretary of State for Culture and Media. Boris said that that block illustrated that the government was playing politics with London’s arts while other members pursued a line of questioning that suggested Boris was using tax payer’s money to appoint stooges.

There were also exchanges that seemed to reveal that Boris wants to scrap the Metropolitan Police Authority, and himself assume Chairmanship of that body. The Mayor denied that he had, in his words, “an oven ready policy”, but it was clear what he wanted to do.

As I walked home in the snow on the south bank I reflected that here we have a London Assembly which makes huge decisions about our city, including the Bush, and we all know next to nothing about it! Far from wanting to defend Boris spending huge amounts of our money employing people to spin for him, the only way that institution is going to be well understood by any of us is if they adequately manage to communicate what they do! Must do better, London Assembly. They could pay for English language lessons for the BNP for a start.



  1. For an explaination of the role and work of the London Assembly see our annual report 2008/9 at

  2. I know you've taken a strong line on the BBC's decision to host Question Time, saying the Bush (specifically) would have to pick up the bill for security, but this is why it was important to have them on there. All mystique about Nick Griffin was dissipated after that QT performance - he was bumbling, shambling, incoherent, illogical, just like Barnbrook.
    I have a family member who's a central member of the QT team, and they have been pushing for the BNP to be on QT for a long time not because of ratings - the BBC resisted for years - but because editorially it was untenable to refuse them a place on the panel after they won elections, especially given the BBC's rules about balance of political opinion. And because their politics and arguments don't stand up (even if they weren't so thick) sunlight really is the best antiseptic.
    I am interested to know, though, if the Bush had to pick up the bill for the security as you said before - and if so, why? That would seem unfair. QT is a roaming programme, but the BBC had to do it at Television Centre because nowhere else wanted the trouble. As a freedom of speech issue, really the cost of policing should be spread equally throughout the London force, not specifically for W12 just because the BBC happens to be there.
    And it is interesting to think that there wouldn't have been the need for the cost of so much helicopter fuel and on-the-ground policing, had not thousands of anti-fascist protesters turned up to protest against the BBC's decision, supported by our MP.

  3. Mark - thanks for this reply, I'm quite impressed both by the fact that Assembly officials read this blog and then responded to it so quickly - you clearly 'get' the need to communicate, much more than I had assumed you did. Well done!

    Rupert - I happen to share Boris' enthusiasm for letting the BNP demonstrate to people how thick they are, but having been a canvasser for a political party and seen what they do and say on people's doorsteps I don't think you really appreciate just how nasty these people are. I know three people who live near TV Centre who actually made sure they were out of the area that night because they felt intimidated by the prospect of racist thugs being on their streets. So no, I don't think it was right that the event was held there and no I dont think the Bush should pay for it, and in fairness our Council is lobbying against that too.