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Posts tagged with: Boris Johnson

2 hours of school sport, or not? Is it even the right question to ask?

The political debate around the legacy of the Olympic Games over the last few days has revolved around whether every kid in every British school should have to do two hours of compulsory sport every week. Cameron thinks not, while Boris Johnson and Kelly Holmes think they should.

But as far as I am concerned this question really misses the point.

What are we actually trying to achieve through school sport? Do we even know?

Is it to keep kids fit, and reduce obesity? Is it to give kids a taste of sports that they may then subsequently excel at? Is it to give kids the first taste of elite competition, which may eventually lead to olympic medal victories?

As far as I am concerned it can only ever be the first of these, and a little bit of the second. It cannot ever be the latter. But I would like to see some evidence about all of this, because at the moment we’re high on hyperbole and low on analysis.

In my school I was ‘lucky’ – I had at least three hours of sport a week. Rugby, football, cricket and some running and swimming. Yet the only two of these I was ever any good at – swimming and long distance running – were thanks to lessons outside school and nothing whatsoever to do with what the school could do. The kids who were useless at swimming at 11 were still useless at 16. I was reasonably good at 11 and was still reasonably good at 16, and all of that was due to my parents taking me to lessons in the evenings as a small kid and swimming racing and lifesaving training in later years.

It turns out that the sport I can really do – inline skate marathons – was something I first tried at the age of 28 – who knows what might have happened if I had discovered this at the age of 14 instead? Or canoe slalom, or dressage? But the only way this could ever be possible would be through the provision of facilities and clubs for whole towns and cities. We cannot expect schools to achieve that sort of provision.

Likewise the “too many British medallists are from private schools” critique by Owen Jones and others riles me. Unequal sports achievement is a result of our unequal society where not enough parents can afford to take their kids to swimming lessons or taekwondo classes. In that context it’s no surprise that places like Millfield excel, and 2 hours of sport (or not) in all our schools is not going to make much difference when it comes to elite sports.

We need solid and concrete steps towards the achievement of a more equal society, and more equal sporting success will flow from that. Everything else is secondary.

Lessons from Atheist Bus for the Gay Bus dispute

Stonewall has been running an excellent campaign on 1000 buses with the slogan “Some people are gay. Get over it!” So – surprise, surprise – some bigots decided to run a counter campaign on 25 buses with the slogan “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!” Only Boris Johnson, in the middle of an election campaign, has intervened to try to get TfL to pull the ads.

Boris is wrong to make this request. Here’s why.

I have quite some experience with this sort of thing as I was one of the people who started the Atheist Bus Campaign. We needed our slogan – There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life. – to get the OK of the Advertising Standards Authority. With that permission granted our advert was good to run. Our campaign prompted a whole slew of counter campaigns. One from the Christian Party asserted there definitely is a God and TfL allowed it, while a further ad basically branded people fools. Our atheist ads caused offence but we were right to run them and likewise the counter campaign caused offence too (not least the Christian Party one that attracted the second highest amount of complaints in ASA history).

Yet I would have taken the UK response to all of this over the German response any day. In Germany atheists were barred from advertising on public transport by one local authority after another, and in the end resorted to hiring a bus and driving it around Germany. This is despite religious adverts being allowed on German public transport, as documented here.

So then ask yourself the question: in the dispute over the Gay Bus ads, which approach would you prefer?

While I intensely dislike the anti-gay message on the counter advertisements, I still think they should be run. The rules need to be equally respected by both sides, and the ASA has also confirmed the anti-gay ad does not contravene any UK advertising law. If the law is wrong then it needs to be changed, and the new rules applied equally to everyone. By intervening to stop these adverts Boris has shown just the sort of intolerance that prevented atheists advertising in Germany. Is that the sort of approach to public debate we want in the UK?

[UPDATE 13.4.12, 0900]
Just to make it clear: the ASA does not pre-approve ads, but in the Atheist Bus campaign case we checked with CBS Outdoor, the company that manages the ads on London transport, and they stated that as far as they could tell there was not a problem. Subsequent complaints by Christian Voice and others to the ASA confirmed this.

[Image generated from the ever-excellent Bus Slogan Generator]

Political versus administrative communications on Twitter: the Boris Johnson case

Yesterday current Mayor of London Boris Johnson renamed the Twitter account from @MayorofLondon to @BorisJohnson and kept more than 200000 followers. The URL listed with Twitter is now the website of Boris’s re-election site and not the GLA site as previously. There are posts at Liberal Conspiracy and Political Scrapbook explaining what happened, and The Guardian has also picked up on it.

The issue here essentially boils down to your answer to one question: is there any longer any point in insisting on the separation of party political and governmental (i.e. supposedly impartial) communications?

If your answer is that there is still a need for a separation, then Boris is clearly in breach of the rules. The Twitter account in question was established after the 2008 elections, staff time from officials at the GLA was used to maintain it, and – prior to the username change – the account was prominently displayed on the GLA website, a site maintained by the administration that is supposedly above party politics. It’s an even more flagrant breach than the William Hague case I’ve previously debated.

If you contend (as in this tweet by Paul Evans) that the separation of the governmental and political doesn’t matter any more, then today’s argument is a storm in a teacup.

The reason I have a problem with the latter approach is that the UK has never really had a proper debate about the party politicisation of its administration. If anyone knows anything about the civil service (and by extension, officials working at City Hall) is that it is supposed to be impartial. Modern communications – where the medium, message and person are mixed – can make the distinction rather absurd, yet riding roughshod over the remains of the rules is no good either. If we need a new relationship between party politics and administration then we need to debate it as such, not just switch a Twitter account and assume it’s fine to do so (Boris) or just complain loudly (everyone on the Labour side).

Other similar examples in other sectors do not help us much either. Laura Kuenssberg taking her followers from BBC to ITV is the closest equivalent, but the move was agreed amicably by the BBC (so she says), and as far as I am aware Kuenssberg writes all her tweets herself – not the case for Boris. Phone Dog in the USA is also suing a former employee for taking followers when he left the company but we don’t yet know the outcome of that case.

The problem too is that the author/message, and its media/reach are intrinsically intertwined on Twitter. Some combination of Boris himself and his administration amassed the more than 200000 followers. If we compare it to Boris writing an op ed in a newspaper then the number of people Boris’s piece reaches is going to be determined by the paper itself and not by Boris himself or his piece.

The reach of the a social media profile is based on the relationship the profile has with each of its readers, and readers follow a particular profile expecting a certain type of content. A citizen of any political colour has an interest in following the institutions that govern them, but which politicians they follow will to a greater extent depend on their political views. Changing an account from institutional to political calls this into question.

So what should happen?

It would actually not be hard to separate the party political and administrative comms for someone in Boris’s position. A party political, personal Twitter account could be maintained by the politician and his political staff (even if these are taxpayer funded – i.e. SpAds and equivalents – and you could even make the case for there being more of them), and linked to the politician’s political website. A further administrative account (@LondonGov or something like that in this case) could then be used for the governmental comms. If the political account chooses to RT something from the governmental account, so be it, but the administrative account would not RT the political account. When the politician leaves office, his/her followers stay with him/her, while the governmental followers transfer to the next administration. Everyone would know where they stand. Too much to ask?

As for the Boris Johnson case: the account should be returned to the GLA and should not be used by anyone during the election campaign as resources from the impartial administration have clearly been used in its creation, production of content, and increasing its reach, and the two account solution put in place thereafter (of course applying to @ken4london and not Boris!)

[UPDATE – 21 March, 0700]
As Adam Bienkov points out on Twitter, everything has now been switched back – @MayorofLondon is once again the account with more than 200k followers. It’s not yet clear how or if this account will be used during the election period.

What’s Ken’s equivalent of the Congestion Charge this time?

Ken Livingstone’s first term as Mayor of London is intrinsically associated with the Congestion Charge. An unpopular idea at the start it is now impossible to imagine London without it. The quid pro quo for it was the investment in London’s buses, now almost without exception modern and disabled-accessible. The plan was visionary, bold, determined and – viewed over the medium term – right.

Fast forward to 2012 and Ken’s re-election bid next year and what has he got? The problem this time is that Ken does not look like the radical outsider he did in 2000. This time he is the institutional one, against Boris the buffoon who many still love despite his policy inadequacies. While Ken may struggle in the character stakes, he could partially make up for it with eye-catching policies… but what could those be?

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Boris denies snorting particulates off London’s roads

This video of Green AM Jenny Jones having a go at Boris Johnson is worth watching, not least because of Boris losing his rag and refusing to answer the AM’s questions (and also denying snorting the particulates off the roads).

The essence is that London has apparently found a trick to get around air pollution problems – sticking particulates onto the roads, to prevent them being inhaled by pedestrians. But the solution – spraying Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) twice a day (more on how it works here) – is costly, and hence is only being done on the streets where pollution monitoring stations are located. As Jones is right to point out, this is no solution to London’s air quality problems and is just a way for London to avoid a hefty fine from the European Commission for breaching air quality standards.

An additional irony to all of this is the very idea comes from an EU-funded pilot project in Austria and Italy, although admittedly there the CMA application is done in winter time when it has de-icing properties too…

Time to revisit plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street

It remains one of my most-read blog entries – a quick 2006 post on why Oxford Street without buses is actually very pleasant, and I thought back to it having read that Boris has announced Boxing Day will be traffic free on Oxford Street.

But now, with elections for Mayor of London a little over a year away, isn’t it high time to revisit the issue in more depth?

The basic problem is this: the street is a major shopping street, but is also a major route for buses going east-west. How reconcile the two, also now given new purpose given London’s air quality problems?

The Liberal Democrats developed a reasonably nuanced policy on this in 2005, but that involved a tram running down the street, something that in today’s restricted financial environment there’s going to be no way to achieve. So what could be done?

How about a plan in two parts? The easiest stretch to pedestrianise – permanently – would be between Duke Street and Regent Street, shown here on the map in green, as there are alternative bus routes via Wigmore Street / Margaret Street.

The parts shown in orange are more complicated – as far as Orchard Street in the west and as far as Tottenham Court Road station in the east. Here a partial solution would be to create better, higher capacity bus terminals at each end of the stretch, possibly with a reduced price, special underground fare on the central line between Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road (via Bond Street, Oxford Circus).

Another option would be to push for every weekend to be traffic free, with buses only during the week, and all buses on these routes to be lower-emitting hybrid vehicles?

I’m sure there are votes to be won with this policy, and even shopkeepers could be in favour if it were approached sensitively. Which candidate for mayor is going to be ready to run with this one I wonder?

The bullshit bus? New routemaster unveiled

BBC London lunchtime news had a gleeful report of the unveiling of the new prototype Routemaster bus today, the latest stage in the New Routemaster saga I’ve blogged about here and here. This is a screenshot from the TV report:

There are five interesting things from the report.

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If a camel is a horse designed by committee then what’s this contemporary Routemaster?

At attempt to return to the past always gets the Brits drooling. Let’s get back to times when Britain ruled the waves!

This was essentially the sentiment behind Boris Johnson’s promise to get a new Routemaster bus onto London’s roads by 2011 2012, replacing the bendy buses he made such a fuss about. It’s time to restore a London icon was the refrain, and the original design proposals that I previously blogged about did at least look a bit like the bus of old.

But shock of shocks: the realisation that no manufacturer makes a front engined bus chassis, that an open back would require a conductor at all times, and that hydrogen power is not yet adequately advanced means that the plans have been changed quite a bit, culminating in the unveiling of the final design a few days ago – as shown in this Youtube film:

More from the Mayor’s website here.

The engine has now been moved to the back, the characteristic bonnet has been removed and the only two aspects of the traditional Routemaster – the curved rear and back entrance – remain. Only the back does not even have to be open all the time.

Interestingly the bus actually has 3 doors and 2 staircases – a welcome innovation… But where else in the world are there double-deckers like that? In Berlin of course – the MAN Lion’s City DD… This irony has of course not been noticed by ‘design critic’ Stephen Bayley who is quoted thus in a sycophantic and ill-researched BBC article about the new bus:

It proves the old rule that if you want things to stay the same, they have to change. And it was designed for London, unlike the hated and insulting bendy-bus, which was designed for Berlin

No Stephen. This bus has not been designed with London in mind. It’s a standard chassis, probably built in Sweden, with a slightly amended body on top of it and some odd bit of 1950s history bolted onto the back, making the bus work more like a Berlin double decker than a London one. It’s a horrible mess, designed with the heart rather than the head. And who’s to say it will even be on the roads by 2012?