London Assembly Member fears “bloodless” virtual City Hall


The London Assembly could become a “bloodless” forum for debate if it can’t meet in person, one of its longest serving members has warned.

Conservative Tony Arbour – who has been an Assembly Member since it was set up 20 years ago – said online meetings are “very unsatisfactory”.

As coronavirus spread rapidly in the capital in March, the Assembly cancelled most scheduled meetings.

A socially distanced Mayor’s Question Time was held shortly before lockdown began.

Members have now moved to online meetings, with a small number at City Hall and most dialling in from home.

But speaking at the Assembly’s first virtual annual meeting today (Friday 15 May), Mr Arbour warned that effective debate cannot happen digitally.

“It’s not cut and thrust, it’s not flesh and blood – it’s not the kind of politics that any of us would have wanted,” he said.

The Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston member said he feared the Assembly could have two eras – the first twenty years of strong debate, and the less certain years to come.

“I fear the future is going to show a bloodless sort of Assembly, unless of course we can actually look each other in the eye  and see how things are done,” he said.

Nearly 6,000 people have died of coronavirus in London hospitals – the pandemic hit the city harder and faster than any other UK region.

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And as Londoners stay home during lockdown, Transport for London has seen fare revenues plummet – forcing the Government to step in with a £1.6 billion bailout late last night.

But Mr Arbour said the capital must continue to function during the pandemic.

“London has to run properly, the buses have to run, the police have to exercise their duties – and we have to see that our city isn’t brought to its knees,” he warned.

Assembly members met today via Microsoft Teams to elect a new chairman, as outgoing chairman Jennette Arnold stood down after six years.

Ms Arnold said she felt “extremely lucky” to have worked alongside “formidable and committed colleagues”.

She will remain as an Assembly member, but is now shielding from coronavirus in line with Government advice.

Labour’s Navin Shah, who represents Harrow and Brent, was unanimously elected new chairman.

Mr Shah said he was “truly proud of the record and history” of the Assembly, and would always “fight its corner” and ensure Londoners are represented in difficult times.

“We work constructively and in the spirit of healthy debate to reach consensus when we can,” he said. “The Assembly is a strongest when we speak with a single voice.”

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