Nolan Principles

Meeting: 
MQT on 2009-11-18
Session date: 
November 18, 2009
Reference: 
2009/3396
Question By: 
John Biggs
Organisation: 
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor

Question

Do you support the Nolan Principles and do you consider your office to be bound by them?

Answer

Answer for Nolan Principles

Answer for Nolan Principles

Answered By: 
The Mayor

I support the Nolan principles. I support the Nolan sisters! I support Sidney Nolan! I do indeed.

John Biggs (AM): You started your comments today by celebrating accountability, so let us try a bit of that here. What have you learned, then, from the period that was generally known as the period of Conservative sleaze under the previous Government which led to the introduction of the Nolan Principles?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I have learned that a lie, an untruth, a misleading impression, a piece of false propaganda can go halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.

John Biggs (AM): OK. Another way of putting that would be that not only do things have to be done properly but they have to be seen to be done properly. Would you agree with that?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I would.

John Biggs (AM): In that case - and I know there is a bit of long grass work going on here to push this into various technical discourses - can you justify why you chose to interview and then attempt to appoint somebody who an independently advised panel had recommended was not appointable?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): This is all about the appointment of the Chair of the London Arts Council, folks. What happened was that I had a conversation with Dame Liz Forgan, who is the intergalactic Chair of the Arts Council, the overall supremo, and I said to her that, following some dispute about the initial process, I proposed to interview all four of the candidates, to which she said - and this is a minuted version of what she said and this was taken down by officials - she could not say fairer than that.

John Biggs (AM): That is not quite what she said though is it?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): It was very much my view, after talking to all four candidates, that the one that was outstandingly the best on the day, the one who understood what the Arts Council London was, what its budgets were, what it actually funded, what it did and what it could do, was the candidate that I sought to appoint.

I then sent a letter requesting this to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, in full conformity with the devolved solution we have here in London. This is a Mayoral appointment; we did not need to go through quite so much of the early flummery as we, in fact, did but, nonetheless, we went through it. There it was. I wrote to the Secretary of State. He sat on the letter for two months. He did nothing. We heard nothing. We bit our nails. We did not know what had gone wrong. Then, mysteriously, on the eve of the Conservative Party Conference, he decided to release the fact that he was unhappy with my appointment. I think that that was a political decision and I regret it.

John Biggs (AM): You started by saying you supported the Nolan Principles and that implies that you support the independent scrutiny that helps you in the process of appointment. You finished by saying that that was a process of flummery. Could you clarify which is correct?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think that there was some initial confusion about the role of the independent observer. The independent observer is there to ensure that the process is fair and that a reasonable appointment can be made. I do not believe that the independent observer is necessarily there to adjudicate upon which candidate he or she believes ought to be successful.

John Biggs (AM): Right. But he wrote - and this is in the public realm - 'I concluded that Ms Wadley, on the basis of her performance and background, was at best marginal for the role' and, in a subsequent clarification, because this was misinterpreted again, he clarifies that, 'At the end of the Panel discussion there was eventually an agreement that three candidates should be interviewed, not including Ms Wadley'. So he is pretty clear about that and he is a knighted person - whatever value that attaches - he is a former Governor of Gibraltar, and he is a former senior civil servant, so he is not some old leftie off the street who is there to trip you up. He is an independent element. What is the point in having an independent element if you disregard their advice?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think, as I say, there was a confusion about his role. He was not there to arbitrate on the actual decision; he was there to ensure that the process was fair and was reasonable and I think, as he himself testified, he could not say that it would be unreasonable to appoint the person that I sought to appoint.

I would simply point out, for the benefit of those watching this on Mars, or in Scotland, or tossing and turning late at night in a hotel in Vientiane or wherever it happens to be, this has been turned into a political football, quite unnecessarily in my view. The candidate that I wanted to appoint, Veronica Wadley, is an excellent candidate for the job.

I think that if you allege that she was not suited on grounds that she did not have a longstanding background in the arts then I would dispute that; I think she has shown considerable interest in the arts for a very, very long time, in her capacity as a leading cultural figure in London. She has done an awful lot to promote theatre and all the rest of it.

[Sir] Gerry Robinson, who was Chairman of the Arts Council, Labour appointed, what background did he have in the arts? Indeed, what background does the current Chair of the Arts Council have in the arts; I would like to know.

John Biggs (AM): Right. So you are now saying that, because in your view, some other people might have got away with it in the past, that sets a precedent for you to get away with it in the future?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No. All I am saying, dear John --

John Biggs (AM): I think that is what you said. Very clear.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Dear John, all I am saying is that I think this was a relatively straightforward appointment that is devolved to this body under the settlement that we have in this country. I think there was an attempt to play some party political fancy footwork by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and I regret it.

John Biggs (AM): You see, an interested observer would say that you appear to have started with a conclusion and then tried to massage the process to allow you to reach that conclusion which you had started with. I think that is --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): That is actually really not true. I really mean it when I say this. I told the Chair of the Arts Council. I said I was going to interview all four candidates and, as I say, she said she could not say fairer than that --

John Biggs (AM): You see that is not quite what she said.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I then went ahead and did so.

John Biggs (AM): That is not what she said though, is it? She clarified that is not what she said.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): In the presence of an impartial witnesses we had a long series of interviews. I was absolutely clear in my own mind; I was fully prepared to appoint someone else. I was fully prepared because I could see that this was going to be difficult and I could see that, already, there were going to be political questions raised. However, on the day, there was absolutely no doubt - and this was confirmed and you can check, if you like, the minutes that were taken by impartial observers - and it was absolutely clear to me that the best performer, the best interviewee, was Veronica Wadley. She alone actually understood the budgets of the London Arts Council, she knew which institutions it funded, she understood how it might be developed and she had some very interesting ideas for how to promote music in London's schools and I thought she had a great deal to offer, a great deal of energy and I had absolutely no hesitation in recommending that appointment.

John Biggs (AM): OK. Do you not recognise that we now have a problem, which is that you stated very clearly in front of the world's media and the audience here that you are absolutely clear about the right conclusion to this process and, at the same time, you have written to the Government saying you are going to start the process afresh. Now is there a compatibility between you being clear what the outcome is and starting it afresh --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes, of course there is, and I understand --

John Biggs (AM): -- or should you not hand it on to some independent process of appointment or, alternatively, recognise that the thing has got so messy and damaged that you probably need, with regret, to retreat from that proposed appointment and find someone else?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I do not know who will reapply. We are going to open it up again. We are going to start again. We are going to invite people to say whether they want to be Chair of the London Arts Council and whoever comes forward will be interviewed in due course. There will obviously be an Arts Council element in the interviewing process and there will be an independent element as well. My mind is not made up. We will have to see what happens.

Brian Coleman (AM): Mr Mayor, would it surprise you that I have had absolutely no correspondence about it? This is not a burning issue on the doorsteps of London. It does seem to be a slight obsession by a few media luvvies in the Labour Party. Would you not think there were more important issues for the lead question from the opposition party this morning? Would you not also think that Veronica Wadley, whose politics I have no idea what they are, is an admirable successor to the wife of the Labour Peer Lord Hollick, which appeared to be Lady Hollick's main claim to fame when she was appointed?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I do not wish to cast any aspersions on the good work done by the Labour Peer's wife, Lady Hollick; I am sure she was terrific in that post. I just think this whole thing has become unnecessarily politicised. I think it is a great shame that the Secretary of State chose to respond in the way that he did. I think it is short sighted.

I want to stress that, although Veronica Wadley was very good on the day, there were other people who were also extremely good. There is a lot of talent out there in London. There are a lot of public spirited people who want to serve the London Arts Council and that is a great thing.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): Far from Mr Coleman saying this is of no interest to Londoners, do you not remember, during the election campaign, one of your central charges against the previous administration was one of cronyism and you defeated Ken Livingstone and came in on a ticket of accountable government, transparent government, open government and not sofa government. This is not the first of your appointments to go pear shaped, to put it mildly. Isn't it time --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): You cannot simultaneously accuse me of cronyism and failure to get my appointments through! You have got to get your story straight, Mike.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): The central charge, Mr Mayor, is that you had a process in place, they come up with names and you appointed the one that was not even on the list. So my question to you is isn't it time that on all of your appointments you had a proper open process and you stuck to it, instead of trying to move the goalposts?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): We did have a very open process. Indeed, I think it was open to a fault, as it has now become a matter of intergalactic concern how we appoint the Chair of the London Arts Council. I think that you could not ask for a more open, exposed and transparent system of government than this. I think this has been, regrettably, frustrated by the Secretary of State and we are just going to have to do the best we can to vindicate the rights of London and to vindicate the rights of this institution to get on with what we are asked to do under the devolved settlement in this country.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): We shall see. We shall see. Thank you, Chair.