Mayor's Question Time, at City Hall review
Mayor's Question Time has fallen a bit flat since Boris Johnson left. I used to like watching him because he was funny -- he used to slip in a few jokes and anecdotes and liven it up a bit. But the mayor we've got now is much more of a shiny shoes and smart suit kinda-guy. He fires off a stats attack and bamboozles you with data.
Mayor's Question Time is held once a month at City Hall. It's usually in the middle of the month but they change the date around all over the place so you have to check their website first. If you want to grab a seat then you need to get there early. And I don't mean 4 o'clock in the morning -- that is too early. Half past nine should be fine (assuming that it starts at ten, which it usually does). They won't actually let you in until ten minutes before, though, but you have to get there early in case you're queuing through security for fifteen minutes.
Once you've negotiated the x-ray machines you'll have to stand outside the council chamber whilst they shuffle the chairs and fill up the water jugs. You'll probably be surrounded by a million billion school-kids at this point and you can stand there earwigging on their conversations. I'm having trouble understanding half the stuff they're saying (I must be getting old). It's as if they're talking in code. They're all talking like they text -- in 128 characters or less. I even heard one of them say "LOL" instead of laughing. They spend so much time texting it's become their actual everyday language.
The chamber itself is surprisingly small. I'm guessing there are about 350-400 seats in total -- most of which are taken up by journalists and those dopey-looking students with paper pads on their knees, and biros sticking out of their mouths (and noses). The rest are being occupied by photographers, business-type people scribbling furiously into their notebooks, and a lady who seems to be updating her Twitter feed every 0.5 seconds.
Here we go... Sadiq Khan has just marched in and sat down. Where's his tie? He's got his top button undone like it's a summer afternoon. He's fiddling with his water jug and positioning it like a shield. He looks a bit nervous to me and I'm not surprised, because the chamber is arranged for his maximum uncomfortableness (if that's even a word). He is all on his own in a solitary seat, whilst a horseshoe table fans out around him with enemy Assembly members. And after them come the baying mob, sitting in four tiers of seats like a Roman amphitheatre. And there is no safety glass between the him and us, either (unlike at the House of Commons), so there really is no escape for the poor fella. Everyone is looking at him. Every camera is focused on him, and every word he says is amplified out of three billion speakers that are dotted around the room. They've even placed a huge TV screen off to the side with a close-ups of his face, so you can see every bead of sweat that is rolling down his forehead.
He's banging on about the night tube at the moment.
He's still banging on about the night tube.
A bit about rough sleepers and pollution now... knife crime figures... lots of stats... numbers... bigger numbers... I glaze over at this point and start looking through the back window at the Tower of London. By the time I focus back on his words he's rattling through a passage on jobs and Heathrow expansion. The Assembly members are plainly against it, as is the Mayor (I think), but he just stonewalls the lot of them. For somebody who seemingly agrees with the room he is strangely non-committal. He won't agree to anything in case it later comes back to haunt him. He is using that popular political technique of answering a question by asking a different one, but the Assembly members see right through that silly game. Just answer the question, mate. Here is how it works: we ask you a question, and then you answer it. We're here to ask you stuff, not the other way around. If you try and ask us a question after we ask you a question then we'll have to answer your question before our question, and then your answer to the question will be after our answer to the question you asked after our question -- which is totally out of the question.
The next question is about east London river crossings. He filibusters for another five minutes and I'm not sure we're learning anything at all. He's just answering every question by reciting lines from his folder now. Then we move onto the government's grammar school plans and we may as well be in Westminster. No Labour Mayor is going to agree with a Tory policy and it's a waste of time trying. He doesn't want to explain, just blame and complain.
It's quite interesting watching the crowd whilst all of this is going on. If you've never seen two hundred people daydreaming before then this is the place. People are dragging their fingers through their hair like they're running sticks through concrete. They're grinding their eyes with the pad of their thumb. Eating isn't allowed inside the chamber so they're nibbling on their biro tips. Or chewing their fingernails. Stifling yawns. Coughing ever so quietly to try and tickle their dry throats. One guy is unscrewing and screwing and unscrewing and screwing his bottle top fifty thousand times. Another one is idly leafing through the question paper without reading a single word. These are the sights and sounds of boredom.
As time goes by the arena empties out as people pick up their bundle of coats and clothes and walk out. Whole rows of school kids leave at once, leaving fifty seats free for the latecomers. If you turned up after 10 AM then this is when they'll finally let you in. They operate on a one-out, one-in basis, so you could be standing outside for an hour before you finally get a space (so don't be late!).
Despite my rather gloomy review I still definitely recommend a visit to Mayor's Question Time, because it's a great way to see the Mayor in close-up. It's amazing that they let you get so near in this day and age. If you had a bag of rotten tomatoes then I reckon you could hit him nine times out of ten. But it's not a patch on watching Boris. Boris was an entertaining Mayor whereas Sadiq Khan is... frustrating. He's so guarded in his answers that he sees practically every question as a punch -- something to be parried and batted back across the table without supplying an answer.
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