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December 08 2011

Opposition to Dow Olympic stadium wrap deal crosses international and political boundaries

Since I lasted posted about the row over London 2012's organisers controversially awarding the Olympic stadium wrap sponsorship deal to Dow Chemical, the Indian government has urged the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to make its displeasure known to Seb and Co, and Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Commttee chairman, has joined Coe and Boris Johnson in echoing Dow's line of defence - that in 1984 it wasn't involved with the company that owned and ran the chemical plant in Bhopal that leaked catastrophically in that year, leading to the deaths of thousands of people.

Anti-Dow ampaigners, of course, think otherwise. They believe that when Dow bought Union Carbide, the firm that did own and run the plant at the time, it also also inherited an obligation to put right the enduring environmental damage the disaster did to Bhopal and its people, up to 25,000 of whom they claim have died as result of it. The IOA has ruled out a boycott by India's athletes, but has noted that pressure for the Dow deal to be dropped has acquired an international dimension. And among London politicians it has also become a bit of a cross-party issue.

Last Friday, marking the disaster's 27th anniversary, a letter organised by Barry Gardiner MP (Brent North) and Labour Friends of India was sent to Coe urging him to review the decision. As you'd expect, most of its signatories were Labourites, including the party's mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone and former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell MP. But it was also signed by senior Lib Dem Simon Hughes MP (Bermondsey), and by four Conservatives members of the Commons including Bob Blackman (Harrow East) and that famously green Tory Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park and North Kingston). Others who put their names to letter included academic Noam Chomsky, actor Martin Sheen, artist Antony Gormley and TV personality Nancy Dell'Olio.

At a press conference held beside the stadium a spokesperson for the Bhopal Medical Appeal said that responsibility for Bhopal and its legacy was being "shifted to the Indian state," by Dow and that "that's what LOCOG is supporting when it supports Dow's statements unquestioningly."

Livingstone accused to Dow of using "every legal manoeuvre to avoid honouring its obligations" and said he didn't want the Olympic stadium becoming "the target of protestors," urging LOCOG to change its position in order to pre-empt this. He added that if elected next May, two months before the start of the games, he would be "looking for a legal challenge to try and drop Dow Chemical" and in the meantime would be "writing personally to Seb Coe to say I think this is a catastrophic error and it isn't going to go away."

He's not far wrong, I'd say. Sir Robin Wales, mayor of Newham, the Olympic host borough in which the stadium stands, is another (Labour) politician to come out against the Dow deal. So has his independent Tower Hamlets counterpart Lutfur Rahman. For more on the issue, catch up with top London blogger and Sunday Express correspondent Ted Jeory's trail blazing coverage, which has now taken him to Bhopal itself. See here and here and here. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 02 2009

How Boris lost his shine | Dave Hill

The mayor of London's quest to land a friend and old ally a cushy job looks worryingly like cronyism

A chap can push his luck too far, even when his name is Boris Johnson. You know the one I mean: clever, funny, a bit accident-prone and sort of sexy if he's your kind of blond. He gets away with things, too, and does so in a knowing way that confirms his disarming roguery. But the shine can come off even the most dazzling chancer when his cavalier style starts to look like arrogance, and his disrespect for boundaries like plain old opportunism. Mayor Boris of London is in danger of sliding that way.

Just 18 months into his term he is routinely accused of drift, ineptitude and attention-seeking – while at the same time dodging scrutiny. To this list some now add that he is taking the wrong sort of care of an old friend. A fat file of correspondence has been published on the Greater London Authority website following a request by one of Johnson's Labour opponents. It relates to his dauntless quest to get a friend and erstwhile media ally a nice little quango job. The story told by the file's 660 pages contains pregnant gaps and many ambiguities but the clear central narrative is of a political machine working hard to make what could easily be taken for classic cronyism look respectable.

The alleged crony in question is Veronica Wadley who, as editor of the Evening Standard during the 2008 mayoral election campaign, daily waged a zealous war against Johnson's opponent Ken Livingstone. In some ways, it did her no good: under a new owner the first large act of her successor was to woo lost readers by launching an advertising campaign apologising for the previous regime. Johnson, though, has remained a Wadley fan.

In late April this year, the couple lunched. Afterwards, Wadley wrote Johnson a note, daintily seeking his blessing to apply for the post of chair of Arts Council England's London region which he had "mentioned" while they dined. Three people presided at her subsequent first interview. One was Munira Mirza, Johnson's culture adviser. The other two were ACE chair Liz Forgan (who also chairs the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian) and Sir David Durie, a former governor of Gibraltar, who provided independent oversight.

Durie, as was later made clear to him, was a panellist without a vote. But he knows what he saw, and didn't like what happened next. Both he and Forgan considered Wadley to lack the necessary arts background, and claim that she interviewed markedly less well than three other candidates before her. Both claim it was agreed at the end of the interview meeting that those three, and not Wadley, would go forward to a second, final interview with the mayor. Both made clear their dismay on learning a few days later that, in fact, the mayor intended interviewing Wadley anyway at the expense of one of the other three.

Johnson later consented to seeing the elbowed candidate too, but required little time to make his final choice. Wadley was the last of the four he saw. Her appointment with him, witnessed only by a senior GLA official, was for 3.30pm on 24 July. A letter informing her that she was the mayor's pick was being drafted by 5.15pm on the same day. The saga didn't end there. Johnson needed culture secretary Ben Bradshaw's approval of his choice. After consulting Forgan, Bradshaw declined to oblige. Johnson's riposte has been to start a rerun of the whole process, scheduling it to end handily close to an expected change of government and surely heartened by shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's indication that he, unlike Bradshaw, wouldn't prevent Johnson from getting his way. The job was re-advertised on Monday. Aside from Wadley, it seems that only rejection addicts need apply.

As the correspondence file shows, many around the mayor have striven to ensure that the jolly buccaneer they serve has acted legally and in accordance with written protocol. Mirza has provided a different version of what that first interview meeting concluded. Johnson has told Forgan that were it not for his goodwill she wouldn't have been involved in the first place, and emphasised that the ACE London job is – thanks to the Labour government, by the way – a mayoral appointment, after all.

But the real story here is that Johnson has exploited the process's potential for being reduced to a farce, and done so in order that it generates the outcome he desires – no matter how unfair to others that might be. He's shown no flicker of embarrassment about this. Neither has Wadley. Same old Tories. Same old inflated sense of entitlement. If I were David Cameron, I'd have a word. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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