Stalin's lovechild

The rozzers enter Westminster without a warrant, help themselves to the contents of an MP’s office a

This is the time of year for traditions. And one of them is that the newspapers are full of untrue stories about killjoys trying to ban Christmas. Luton council has forbidden people to celebrate the festival. Birmingham has renamed it “Winterval“. A Reading man has been told to take his decorations down.

I came across a good example the other day. The management of the Marlowes Centre in Hemel Hempstead has banned the Brownies’ usual carol-singing event on health and safety grounds. They have been declared a fire risk.

Unlike the journalists who raged about this decision, I took the trouble to ring Hertfordshire Fire Brigade. They confirmed that Brownies are highly inflammable and that the centre had no choice.


I had not heard of Len Duvall before today. He sounds like a ballroom champion whose attempt at Continental sophistication - by adopting “Duvall” - is undercut by his first name. Maybe he is one of the less popular judges on Strictly Come Dancing?

He turns out to be the leader of the Labour group on the Greater London Authority.

How times change! In the winter months, as the wind howls around the Devil’s Chair and rattles the windows of the Stiperstones Inn, I keep the locals enthralled with tales of the glory days of the old Greater London Council.

There was Sir Horace Cutler. Ken Livingstone, his newts and acolytes. And more exotic creatures too.

Adrian Slade, for a time the only Liberal on the GLC, was a cousin of the Julian Slade who wrote Salad Days.

George Tremlett, a Tory councillor, was the king of the cut 'n' paste biographers. In the 1970s he poured out instant, uncritical works on chart acts like Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust and Slik.

Slik? A poor girl’s Bay City Rollers, they were the band Midge Ure started out with. He doesn’t talk about it.

These leading GLC councillors were public figures whose reputations reached far beyond London. So much so that councillor-spotting became a popular hobby with schoolboys. They thronged the approaches to County Hall with their notebooks, squealing with excitement when a Tony Banks or a Dave Wetzel came into view.

You won’t find them at the new City Hall. London politics has not produced a figure of substance for years. Some people mention Nicky Gavron, but I never worked out who he or she was.

But then whole point of the new way of governing London was to produce a strong, charismatic figure who would bang heads together and get things done without wasting time on committee meetings. Tony Blair’s ideal candidate would have been the bastard lovechild of Richard Branson and Joe Stalin.

The anaemic assembly set up to monitor the Mayor has not proved the sort of institution that allows politicians to build support across the city. But then it was not meant to.

Which brings us back to Len Duvall.

He has written to the chief executive of the Metropolitan Police Authority complaining that Boris Johnson has breached its code of conduct by speaking to Damian Green and discussing the case in public.

Wonderful. The rozzers enter Westminster without a warrant, help themselves to the contents of an MP’s office and all Labour’s leading London politician can do is complain the Mayor has not been supportive enough.

From what I hear, local councillors now spend their time reporting the opposition to the Standards Board like officious schoolchildren: “Miss, Miss, he said a bad word.”

But shouldn’t a great city like London be able to produce one politician who can rise above that?

Jonathan Calder has been a district councillor and contributed to speeches by Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. These days he prefers to poke gentle fun from the sidelines. He blogs at Liberal England