On Monday night I had the serious honour of chairing Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville’s very first Mayor’s Question Time before an audience of Hackney residents in the chamber of my home borough’s handsome Town Hall.
Mayor Glanville, who succeeded the long-serving Jules Pipe in a by-election just over a year ago, has said he wants to have the most open discussions possible with those Londoners he and his administration serve, in line with the council’s stated aim of ensuring as many local people as possible benefit from the rapid changes the borough has gone through in recent years.
When I arrived at the Town Hall, a campaigner, who later asked a very good question about the redevelopment of a leisure centre in the south of the borough, described the event as a “vanity project”. I thought that unfair. Hackney is solidly Labour, but even so Glanville probably has more to lose than to gain from putting on events like these.
He received a good range of questions, some of them them pretty tough, about, among other things, housing repairs, crime, youth disaffection, car parking, protection of green space and, suitably enough, the way the council communicates with residents. His answers were pretty detailed and though not every questioner was satisfied with them, he was big enough to hold his hand up when he felt the council had got something wrong.
The full two hours of this inaugural Hackney MQT were filmed and have now been posted on YouTube. I’ve only watched a few minutes because I’d sooner not dwell for too long on whether I wore the right shoes, what my body language might reveal about me, and so on. But you will be far more interested in the questions and answers – and not only if you live in Hackney.