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Posts tagged with: London

Bike boxes at traffic lights – a little eye witness example

I’ve been sat for 30 minutes at a café on the corner of Great Smith Street / Great Peter Street in Westminster. This is the view of the cycle box on Great Peter Street, going westbound.

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More than half of the times the lights were red cars stopped more or less completely in the cycle box. More than half the black cabs, to my surprise, broadly respected the cycle box. I wonder how many drivers actually know they are breaking the law though? Will £60 fines help?

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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A visit to Berlin tinged with sadness – am I just doing everything wrong? Or everything by halves?

It’s 12:22 on Saturday 24th September 2011 and I’m sat in a friend’s flat in Berlin. At about this time 10 years ago I first set foot in this city, the start of a remarkable journey through European politics, work and further studies that has been a brilliant rollercoaster ride in many ways.

But did I do it all wrong? And am I still doing it all wrong?

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How to follow a breaking news event on social media

For good or bad we’ve had a glut of gripping stories this summer, those sit-glued-to-the-TV moments where everyone wants to know what’s going on. For me the Oslo / Utøya attacks, the London riots, and the rebel advance on Tripoli have been three such events.

Only now there is a complement to the TV – social media, and especially Twitter. Yet that has of course not stopped a whole host of nay-sayers bemoaning the role of social media.

Here then is a practical guide to following a breaking news story via social media, and what to watch out for.

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How to consistently get London-Brussels or Brussels-London Eurostar tickets for €49 single

NOTE: due to the popularity of this blog post, and also possibly due to a reduction in the number of London Spezial tickets it now seems harder to find €49 tickets, but as of 3rd October 2012 the system outlined below still works. You just might have to try more than one stopover combination.

I’m a regular traveller on Eurostar, and I often travel onwards from Brussels to Germany by train, so much in fact that I am used to booking tickets of DB’s website. In the past I happened to discover that through tickets from Germany to London were cheaper than tickets booked from Belgium to London. It seems DB is muscling in on the Eurostar business before liberalisation of the channel tunnel is due in 2013.

Here then is a guide to how to get the cheapest Eurostar tickets on the London-Brussels route, using DB’s website rather than Eurostar.com. The standard price is €49.00 single, sometimes a saving of 50%. Continue Reading

Lorries and cycle safety

A friend has mailed me a link to the ‘See Me, Save Me‘ campaign, run by the mother of a cyclist killed by a lorry turning. That campaign wants to pass a written declaration in the European Parliament, making it the position of the European Parliament that sensors and cameras must be installed on lorries. A written declaration is a long way from becoming EU-wide law (that would need a legislative draft from the European Commission) but the campaign is interesting.

It’s not too dissimilar from the ‘No More Lethal Lorries‘ campaign by LCC. Here the emphasis is different, with a 5-point plan: Cyclist-awareness training for drivers, Drivers must take more responsibility, Safer design for London lorries, Higher standards from lorry operators and More responsible procurement. I prefer their multi-faceted approach, but determining if these points are achievable is rather more complex, and how apply this to London only, when so much European law is involved in all of this?

I think there is also a lot of progress to be made on road and cycle lane design to help deal with this issue, a matter raised numerous times in the excellent ‘Traffic‘ by Tom Vanderbilt. Cycle lanes are often too narrow to allow safe passage along the inside of trucks waiting at traffic lights, and when cycle lanes are in place they often make lanes for traffic very narrow – that’s very much the problem with the Cycle Superhighway 2 currently in development though my part of London.

Anyway, in conclusion: I’m not going to mail my MEPs about the See Me, Save Me campaign, but I have finally got around to joining London Cycling Campaign. You can sign up here.