Watch out, watch out! There’s a Bullock about!
For those of a certain age, there was a TV ad in the seventies with a long red and white striped straw appearing on screen with a mysterious slurper who loved to make off with your milk, hence the tagline-cum-title of this post. This came to mind when I read about the latest exploits of our Mayor of Lewisham, Steve Bullock. He is now backing Mayor of London Ken Livingstone in the latter’s efforts to have more control over planning decisions in our city.
The psychologists will probably say I am sub-consciously linking Mayor Bullock’s praise of recycling cows with his name and some long-forgotten childhood fears over the boogieman (and did I mention that spooky Cravendale ad where the cows want back their milk?) But Mayor Bullock is not some vaudeville scoundrel you shout “Boo!” at when he enters stage left cackling and twitching his moustache. He represents a far bigger danger to us all. His fellow Mayors have the sympathy of the Prime Minister in giving them more powers over us. He apparently represents the interests of nine councils in London run by his political party although this is not a straightforward figure. `London Councils’ says the figure is eight including Lewisham, which has no overall political control, but then the GLA itself, courtesy of fellow party Mayor Livingstone, is possibly the ninth. And isn’t it grand that although his party has fewer councillors than the combined opposition, Lewisham can still be considered politically red: How many councillors is one Mayor really worth? Countless, it seems. And don’t forget that our Mayor also sits on the board of the New Local Government Network, a well-supported think-tank that seeks to promote executive Mayoralty in this country. Mr. Bullock has written to MPs with that old chestnut of `give us just a little more power and no more’: He says "Any new powers will only be used to address issues of real importance to all Londoners, such as providing more affordable housing or ensuring important waste recycling facilities are delivered." He says elsewhere: “There are no proposals to remove planning decisions from local councils. No statutory housing powers and duties that currently rest with local authorities are being transferred to the Mayor.” But this is from a man who sees himself bigger than Lewisham Council, so little comfort there. Mr. Bullock also adds: “Far from reducing local accountability and transparency the Government's proposal to devolve planning and housing powers to the Mayor of London will mean more affordable homes for Londoners, and will not erode local democracy as is being suggested.” I cannot help but consider the opposite is the truth. Mr. Bullock has an amazing ability to say contradicting things at the same time. He was quite happy to both praise and condemn the Save the Ladywell Pool campaign simultaneously. Therefore, I have to assume the worst.
It seems to me that we have been here before. A small, seemingly limited form of rule making decides it needs just a little more control to deliver better service. And over time, bit-by-bit, it becomes more intrusive in our lives. It ends up being totally different from what was proposed to us in the beginning. And there is little you can do unless you declare total opposition and openly fight it. So just like the European Union is today, we could one day have a form of unaccountable local Government where people like Mayors Bullock and Livingstone will order us about with impunity. Save for us shouting, “look behind you! Beware of that unmasked man!” there may be little else to do. And unfortunately, Mr. Bullock, unlike any Humphrey, will be around long after panto season is over…