Following the warning from ratings agency Moody’s that any fall in TfL revenue could put its credit rating under pressure, today’s Evening Standard front page makes for an interesting read.
Moody’s claim that if Ken’s fares cut goes ahead TfL “faces years of financial turmoil and even economic collapse”, with millions more being paid to the banks because of higher rates of interest on loans. Indeed, Ken has never been able to explain how you can remove £1billion of funding from an organisation that is already £6billion in debt without it having calamitous consequences.
This all comes just a couple of weeks after the London Chamber of Commerce – which represents thousands of London’s businesses – urged the winner of May’s election to prioritise tube investment over cutting fares. Their concern regarding a potential lack of investment stems particularly from the fact that London is expected to increase in population by upwards of 20% over the next 20 years. As they argue:
“Even after you take into consideration all currently planned transport investments,such as Crossrail and the Tube upgrades, by 2031 passenger demand will have comfortably exceeded supply. It is therefore essential that investment in London’s transport network is maintained.”
Ken’s plan would reduce investment in the tube by over £1billion just at the point at which it needs it most. It’s a truly reckless, short-term gimmick of a policy, for which he rightly deserves the critical headlines.
I headed down to Parsons Green earlier to see the launch of Boris’ new poster campaign. Each poster states one of the nine pledges which make up the ’9 point plan for a Greater London’ that Boris revealed yesterday. The pledges combine to form a really positive and ambitious blueprint for the London of the future – a greener London benefitting from lower taxes, more jobs, less crime, more affordable housing, thriving local businesses and a transport network that is at last getting the investment it so desperately needs.
While I was there, Boris gave an interview to LBC in which Londoners will have heard him sounding really genuinely passionate about the pledges themselves and, more broadly, the positive impact that they would each have on both Londoners as individuals and London as a city.
By ‘Investing in London’s Future’ now, we can not only secure a bright future but almost accelerate towards it. Over the next two months (it’s now just 60 days until Londoners head to the polls) Boris will outline in detail how we can reach the future he envisages for the capital. These nine pledges are a very good start.
This video from Tuesday’s AgeUK mayoral debate is worth a watch. Boris pledges to extend the Freedom Pass to Londoners aged 60 years or older, discusses driverless tube trains, and calls on Ken to reveal how he will pay for his unfunded, unaffordable pledge to cut fares.
Lynton Crosby, Boris’s campaign manager, sent out an email yesterday highlighting various contradictions in Ken’s pledge to cut fares, including Maria Eagles, Shadow Transport Secretary, having backed the existing TfL budget. He also reminded us that Channel 4 FactCheck had concluded that there is no magic surplus in the TfL budget and that Ken’s plans would result in a £1billion deficit, which could only realistically be remedied by cutting investment in London transport by the same amount.
As Crosby clicked ‘Send’, not even in his wildest dreams could he have hoped that Ken would forward the email on to thousands more people, but that’s precisely what happened last night. The entire thing – Maria Eagle’s backing of TfL’s budgetary plans, FactCheck’s independent demolition of Ken’s claims, the likelihood of huge cuts in investment – was sent to everyone on Ken’s mailing list, be they supporters, floating voters or even the odd Boris backer. Ken also re-stated his pledge to resign if he doesn’t cut fares by October – a completely worthless commitment given he makes no pledge to not reduce investment.
It’s hard to imagine the thought process behind the action. Was it just a mistake? Had Ken been drinking all day? Is it possible that, given he’s near-staggered by texting, e-mail is just one level of electronic communication too far for old Ken? Or did he genuinely think that a wider reading of his opponents’ detailed and independently validated argument against him would in some way help his cause? Whichever is the case, it prompted this reaction on Twitter from a former Labour press officer…
Ken Livingstone’s electoral strategy is actually very simple. He needs Londoners to believe that the choice at May’s election is between higher fares under Boris and reduced fares under Ken. The reality, of course, is very different – to such an extent that I’d suggest that Londoners’ choice is actually between Boris’ honesty and Ken’s deceit.
Even Boris’ critics would struggle to criticise the openness and honesty with which he’s dealt with the desperate need for transport investment in London. It would have been much easier – though highly duplicitous – to freeze fares before the election and then ramp them up afterwards. Instead, Boris has been completely upfront with Londoners about what is required, and hasn’t shied away from taking such difficult decisions. Only time will tell whether he is punished for his honesty.
By contrast, there are two key problems with Ken Livingstone’s pledge to cut fares by 7% – issues of affordability and trust. In terms of affordability, the cut in fares that Ken proposes would blow a £1billion hole in TfL’s finances, and he hasn’t yet come close to explaining how he would fund it. Possible options, were he to be elected in May, include scrapping the pledge altogether, cutting services, reducing key transport investment, ramping up council tax or running a colossal deficit.
The issue of trust is equally important. At every major juncture since the role of London Mayor was created, Ken Livingstone has made bold and noisy commitments to keeping fares down, and every single time he has subsequently reneged on his pledge. It can be hard to demonstrate simply the extent of that deceit, but hopefully the below table highlights the chronic difference, historically, between what Ken pledges and what Ken does…
A man with a track record of that level of deceit, coupled with a Brown-esque denial of financial reality, deserves never to be trusted by an electorate again.