Last night ITV hosted the first head to head between Labour mayoral contender Sadiq Khan and Tory rival Zac Goldsmith and it proved to be something of a revelation as Adam Bienkov has already commented on over at Politics.co.uk.
After allowing Sadiq to dominate him at the campaign’s first two hustings Zac came out fighting and scored a couple of decent hits against his opponent, most notably on his pledge to freeze fares for the full four years of the next mayoral term.
Sadiq claims his policy would cost £450m. Everyone else says the true cost is closer to £1.9bn and the reason they do so is because Transport for London has said that’s the case.
BBC London was told Labour’s man got his sums wrong, Simon Harris of ITV has heard it and even lowly old me, the scourge of transport commissioners past, has seen TfL’s workings out.
Plain and simple, the cost TfL has put on Sadiq’s policy is £1.9bn.
But Sadiq doesn’t want this to be true because his claims of a “fully funded” policy only work if the cost is £450m – and only then if you’ve not read the cable car sponsorship contract and know that it’ll cost more to close than to keep open because, annoyingly for all of us who enjoy pouring scorn on it, the wretched thing somehow manages to make a profit.
So when he appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Politics last weekend Sadiq repeatedly denied that TfL had said any such thing and he did the same thing with Simon Harris on last night’s ITV debate.
But viewers are quickly going to spot that every journalist challenging Sadiq is saying TfL thinks his pledge will cost £1.9bn and the chances are they’ll conclude that the reason journos are saying it is because it’s true.
Put under pressure from both Harris and Goldsmith, who claims the £1,9bn figure would put TfL’s expansion plans at risk, Sadiq sought to claim his policy had the support of renowned London government expert Tony Travers, telling Harris (scroll to 13 mins 40 seconds in the video below):
“Let me give you an example of one person who agrees with me, one of the world’s leading experts on London, Professor Tony Travers agrees with me”.
The Late Debate – February 5, 2016
In May, Londoners go to the polls to elect a new Mayor. The two front-runners to take over at City Hall are both MPs from south of the river. Conservative Zac Goldsmith and Labour's Sadiq Khan. I spoke to them both on The Late Debate.
Posted by Simon Harris on Friday, 5 February 2016
But does he?
I can’t find any example of Travers putting forward his own, independent cost on Sadiq’s fares policy but he did, just a week ago, tell the BBC:
“If you ask the simple question ‘could they stand a fares freeze?’, the answer is yes. Would that mean, on the other hand, there was less money going into the system against which TfL could have borrowed in order for example to build the Bakerloo line extension? Well, that money wouldn’t be there. So there will be less money in the system. And of course more crowding if fares don’t go up.”
That sounds a lot closer to agreement with Khan’s detractors than it does an endorsement of his policy.