Press conferences

Meeting: 
MQT on 2009-11-18
Session date: 
November 18, 2009
Reference: 
2009/3142
Question By: 
Darren Johnson
Organisation: 
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
The Mayor

Question

Given growing concern about your lack of availability to answer questions from journalists on a wide range of topics relevant to Londoners, will you agree to follow the practice of your predecessor and re-instate weekly mayoral press conferences at City Hall?

Answer

Answer for Press conferences

Answer for Press conferences

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Darren has asked me whether I will reinstate weekly Mayoral press conferences.

The answer, Darren, is, quite frankly, at the moment I am not minded to do so. Just because we had several of these things in the early days of the mayoralty and I remember them, I have to say, with all due respect to my beloved former friends and colleagues in the media, as pretty lethargic affairs. I do not think that much of any great interest was brought to light during the course of these interrogations. I suppose they were of some convenience to the media who wanted to come here.

The key point I would stress is I am available for questioning not just by you; I am available for questioning by the media out and about in London throughout the week. I go out and I do all sorts of things. I open all sorts of things. I make speeches all over this huge greater London area throughout the week. Quite frankly, I wanted a system that attracted the media to come out of City Hall and to see the rest of London, which is a 656 square mile area, to see the outer boroughs of London, to see the problems and the issues of outer London and to put questions to me there. I would much rather we did that.

Darren Johnson (AM): No one is doubting that you have been brilliantly enthusiastic about getting out and about round London, doing all sorts of events and photo opportunities and so on. I think you have been much more energetic than the previous Mayor on that and congratulations.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): That is the spirit. Can we note that?! Can we get that down?!

Darren Johnson (AM): Here is the but! But do you not think that, sometimes, detailed scrutiny is far more difficult when you are planting a tree or falling in a river or whatever? It is hard to answer detailed questions.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think a lot of people labour under the misapprehension that I fell into that river by accident! It was entirely to promote volunteering and to get on the news, which we did, repeatedly! Saturation coverage I think the phrase is! I did that. We go out to venues across London because I do think it is a good way of illuminating what is going on throughout the city.

I do not want to single out individual members of the media but some of them come out time after time after time. They are there at every single thing. They shove a microphone under my nose and they get yards and yards on just about anything they want. The shame of it is that not many of them do. I think that they should. I think that they would get more stories. They would certainly be able to interrogate me about any subject under the sun in an outer London video. I am not going to be a Zone 1 Mayor. I am going to represent the whole of London.

Darren Johnson (AM): But journalists I have spoken to, a number of them, have expressed their concern that they are unable to put the really detailed questions to you because it is so difficult when it is out and about in a busy and noisy environment, or whatever, rather than at a press conference. For example, this is from the Programme Director of LBC, 'We feel his out and about opportunities are often stage managed to a degree that make it difficult for proper questioning. A recent example was the fare increase where he stood with Tube trains in the background at Edmonton Tube Depot, making live broadcast impossible, and detailed scrutiny very difficult'.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): That is completely untrue. We had a long press conference at Edmonton. I think I took questions twice from various members of the press who had come.

Darren Johnson (AM): But if no one can hear you answer them because the Tube trains are so noisy, what is the point of it?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I took questions from individual journalists twice. In some cases, such was my generosity and my lust to be scrutinised, that I went back to journalists who had already asked one question and invited them to pose another question.

Darren Johnson (AM): So have you definitely ruled out regular City Hall press conferences?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I do not definitely rule it out but I think it is highly unlikely that I want to restore a system that I think led to laziness, complacency and journalists simply thinking that they did not have to come out and see what was really going on around London and report on issues that matter greatly to people across this city.

Darren Johnson (AM): I would ask you to reconsider, but OK.

Roger Evans (AM): Mr Mayor, do you share my surprise that Members of the Assembly, whose job it is to scrutinise you in detail, appear to be very keen to contract that work out to journalists because they are not capable of doing it themselves?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Roger, I think that is excessively tough on Members of the Assembly. I think Members of the Assembly, by and large, overall, do a pretty heroic job of trying to hold me to account. I think that that is exactly as it should be. What I think would be regrettable would be if we got into a situation where we thought that this body was not doing a good enough job. The real risk, I think, is that the House of Commons will try to take away your prerogatives and try to hold the mayoralty to account.

Roger Evans (AM): Of course, Mr Mayor, your predecessor would never have fallen in the Quaggy river because the Quaggy river is not in Zone 1 and he never really got out very far. Do you feel that it has been useful to you to be able to get out and meet people in the less covered parts of London and do you feel it would be useful for some of the London journalist establishment to find out more about our great city and the people who live in it and work in it?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes, I would. May I just say by the way that all Assembly Members are always informed when I am out. Everyone knows when I am out and about in your patches, or it says on my brief that you are. It says, 'John Biggs aware'. No? John Biggs not aware! I am always told that you know so, actually, you are more than welcome to pitch up and whisper to the journalists, 'Ask him that one' and that will be fine.