пятница, 18 сентября 2009 г.

Ken Livingstone: the Lebedev connection

Dave Hill's London Blog

I'm in a coffee shop called Snacklite across the road from Palestra, where I've just watched my first meeting of the LDA board. One thing all agreed on - and there wasn't very much - is that the £160 million Olympic land purchase overspend - or "over-run" is it was delicately renamed by chairman Harvey McGrath - was entirely the fault of the previous LDA regime under the previous mayor.
That's not the only reason I've been thinking about Ken Livingstone this morning. His (once and future?) chief of staff Simon Fletcher has reported that Ken's forthcoming guest editorship of New Statesman will feature a Diary column written by the new owner of the New Evening Standard, Alexander Lebedev.
Vintage Ken. What could be cheekier than to invite the new publisher of the erstwhile Evening Boris to grace his special edition of the political weekly that joined in with the old Standard's pre-election trashing of him? Not that all traces of the gruesome old regime have yet been cleansed. Consider last week's "Baby P Social Workers Fed Child To Terror Plotter (Well, Sort Of)" front page. That said, it's hard to disagree with the Standard's recent editorial arguing that the Olympic land purchase affair is a further indictment of the way the agency was run when Livingstone was Mayor.
It is a very different story from the LDA grants affair that did damagingly good business during the election campaign (the telling of it was a classic case of overselling and "monstering" in the service of political spite). The Olympic overspend is not about public money being misspent, but about spending decisions not being recorded properly and the financial implications therefore not being known about until much later than they should have been.
To have gone over budget when under pressure to complete hundreds of lands deals so that preparation of the Olympic Park site could go ahead on time may be forgiveable - and not surprising. These things happen in the property trade (and no one is complaining now about the Park's construction being up to speed). But the mysterious failure of the organisation to detect that this was happening and make adjustments at the time renders the view that the LDA was poorly run on Ken's watch that much harder to argue with.
Mayor Johnson's opponents may argue that the Boris LDA isn't exactly ship shape either, and some of Boris's own allies on the board seem to agree. But from where I'm sitting, if and when Livingstone launches his 2012 mayoral bid, he'll need an all-new, improved and suitably contrite story to tell about how he'd have the LDA operate. If not, the Olympic dream he did so much to bring to life may yet turn into an electoral nightmare. And being nice to Lebedev won't make it go away.
PS. This post was augmented and sharpened up at at 14:02. Perfectionism or what?

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