A missing Victoria Borwick, Conservative Assembly Member and Boris's statutory Deputy Mayor, meant this morning's Mayor's Question Time took a very weird turn – it only had the Mayor in it for less than 30 minutes.
Today was supposed to be all about the last opportunity to debate London's budget but, as Boris Johnson gave his update to the Assembly, there was a flurry of activity among the opposition parties. They'd spotted that Victoria wasn't in her chair, meaning the Conservatives had only eight members present to the opposition's 16. For any Assembly vote on the budget to be binding on the Mayor, it has to pass with a two-thirds majority, and they thought they'd spotted a chance to reject a budget that plans for cuts to police and fire services.
Labour proposed that the meeting skip the entire scrutiny bit – you know, one of the main raisons d'être of the public body – to try and get to the voting before she turned up. You can see the Mayor's reaction to being booted out in this clip from ITV London. And the plan didn't work anyway; Victoria appeared literally as Boris was leaving.
The left-leaning groups argued that they were right to forego the chance to question the Mayor, who rarely gives straight answers anyway, to try and grab a chance to reject his budget. While we concede their weariness about not expecting to get any answers – we've become so familiar with the back-and-forth we've devised a game of MQT bullshit bingo, and managed to tick off a quarter of it before the session was curtailed – there are two things here:
a) It was never going to work. Victoria Borwick hadn't sent in apologies, she was clearly on her way, and even if Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens had dropped all their amendments, the Tories would simply have talked and talked and talked until she turned up.
b) That's not the point. There are very few opportunities to scrutinise Boris Johnson. He doesn't do regular press conferences or serious in-depth political interviews, sessions like Talk London, People's Question Time and #askboris on Twitter are either carefully managed or brief, rare and impersonal. These ten Mayor's Question Times a year are pretty much the only time the Mayor gets held to account, and one of them has just been flushed away. What's more, the opposition parties have just handed Boris the perfect response the next time they complain he's not answering their questions; we expect to hear a lot of "you didn't want me to answer your questions last time!" in March. *adds phrase to bullshit bingo*