Opposing the opposition
Roger Evans is the London Assembly Member for Havering & Redbridge and the London Assembly Conservative Spokesman for Budget & Administration. Here he explains how his role has changed since the arrival of Boris Johnson.
The fantastic vote which propelled Boris Johnson into office in May also produced a historic result for Conservatives in London government. Our London Assembly group increased from nine to eleven members – the largest single political group ever elected to City Hall. During the count, as the results became clear, one Labour member sourly remarked ‘You are about to discover that Assembly Members are lower than dirt on the Mayor’s shoes.’
Thanks to a more collegiate approach from Boris, this prediction has not come to pass, however it casts an interesting light on the relationship between the Mayor’s office and the group which shares his politics but has a responsibility to scrutinise the executive – the key question being ‘What is the point of the Conservative Group?’
The most visible element of our role is the monthly Mayor’s Question Time. For two hours the 25 Assembly Members get to pose questions and follow up with carefully planned supplementaries. The opportunity for detailed discussion is much greater than is afforded by PMQs and the obvious danger for the administration is that they slip into the sort of sycophantic questioning that Labour MPs indulge in every week. ‘Can I congratulate the Mayor on (insert latest statistics)?’ is not going to win us any friends or cast the authority in a good light. Instead, we should use the opportunity to focus on constituency matters. Since the election our postbags have ballooned and Londoners who voted for change are understandably keen to see things improve. Questions provides the chance to get publicity for key issues and to focus the attention of our family members (eg TfL) on the small things that matter to residents.
Much of the rest of our time is taken up with scrutiny work. After the election the other parties ganged up to deprive us of influential committee chairs and since then they have used their positions to maintain a barrage of criticism, sometimes deserved but mostly politically motivated. Conservative AMs have a key role as critical friends to the Mayor, highlighting valid concerns and rebutting Labour’s carping which has continued since May 2nd. When Labour demand that the Cross River Tram be built (for example), we should be asking them where they will find the money, for such schemes need financial support from their own government.
And once a year the Assembly votes on the Mayor’s budget. A two thirds majority is required to make changes, so with a group of 11 out of 25 the Mayor’s plans are safe. But we should not merely protect the Mayor’s budget, we should be advocates for his proposals within our own constituencies. There is a real role for AMs, helping to sell the Mayor’s policies and the achievements of a Conservative administration.
The key themes are support without becoming enslaved to the executive, friendly criticism without being destructive. A City Hall team that works together with common objectives will be stronger than one of two halves.