A call for lower fares but more transport spending, a campaign headlined “The Great Tory Train Robbery” which opens with the complaint that “bus journeys have gone up” and the repetition of an attack that failed to win last year’s Mayor of London election.
This is the incoherent mess with which Labour MP Sadiq Khan attempted this week to strengthen his play for the party’s 2016 Mayoral nomination.
A couple of days ago Khan delivered a speech to transport union TSSA which repeats the peculiar tactic of agreeing with Boris Johnson’s opposition to Ken Livingstone’s policy of scaling down Tube ticket offices in line with falling demand and lambasting him for implementing Labour’s own policy.
He describes Boris’s u-turn on his promise to abandon Ken’s policy as “one of the worst examples of breaking a manifesto promise I have ever seen in London politics.”
No matter how many times Labour folk try to convince me that it all makes sense if you just squint and contort enough, I cannot understand the logic behind this one.
Fewer people are buying tickets from ticket offices. Passengers want staff out and about in stations and available to help them. Removing one provides the other.
If, as Khan claims, Londoners deserve a “high-quality” transport network, then it has to be one which is built on the foundation of recognising the technological and behavioural changes which have taken place in recent years.
Yet Khan apparently wants to stick with a staffing model that pretends it’s still 1986 and everyone’s queueing to buy a paper ticket.
Playing the fear card, he raises the prospect of commuters “using deserted stations late at night” and being unable to find help “when the ticket machines are out of order or their Oyster card has stopped working”.
He says: “Under the Mayor’s plans you will now have nowhere to turn in these everyday situations.”
This is simply scaremongering.
TfL, not a body I make a habit of leaping to defend, has repeatedly made clear its commitment to ensuring stations are staffed and that passengers have access to help and assistance.
Indeed, from the moment Ken first announced the policy back in 2007, it’s been sold as way of getting more staff out in ticket halls and on platforms where they’ll be of most use to passengers.
In a statement given earlier this week, London Underground Chief Operating Officer, Phil Hufton, made clear that: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring all Tube stations are staffed in future and ensuring visibility and availability to help our customers.”
And these hideously unreliable ticket machines that Khan says Londoners need help with? TfL tell me that each machine has “an availability rate of around 98 per cent” and points out that there are multiple machines at each station.
Khan claims passengers need access to help but opposes the plan which will give it to them and he wants lower fares but not to take the tough decisions which strip out unnecessary costs.
As he says: “No wonder the public are so cynical of politicians”.
Khan’s words leave him looking less of a moderniser and more sympathetic to union demands than was ever true of Livingstone.
In his speech Khan claims passengers and London’s future growth require “more lines and services”.
Presumably all these new lines would include stations with half a dozen ticket windows, behind which an army of staff would sit and watch passengers guide themselves through ticket gates with their Oyster and contactless debit cards?
Which is fine if running the Tube as some of heritage concern is what a Khan Mayoralty would be about, but it’s hardly the sort of modern, cost-efficient network most passengers would expect.
This incoherence is also found in a ‘new’ campaign Khan has launched to attack Boris Johnson’s record of fares increases.
This is of course the same line that Labour have been pushing for five years and on which they fought and lost last year’s Mayoral election.
Khan presumably believes his brand of down to earth, no airs and graces charm will succeed in selling this message where Livingstone failed.
But whatever criticisms Khan and his followers might have of their former Mayor, he at least knew better than to headline a campaign “The Great Tory Train Robbery” and then open it with the complaint that:
“Since Boris Johnson became Mayor, single bus journeys have gone up by 56%”.
Assuming Khan is referring to bus FARES (because bus journeys going up would be a good thing), it’s hard to see the connection between the complaint and the puntastic headline.
While train fare hikes have been announced in recent days, they’re not the result of any action on the part of the Mayor or Transport for London, neither of which set rail fares for the non-London Overground services.
Some may be surprised that I’m so critical of Khan’s speech given the amount of inspiration he’s drawn from my own holding of TfL to account.
Though he forgets to name his sources, Khan has picked up on MayorWatch’s revelations of the scale of expenses claims by TfL bosses, misquoted the amount spent on their healthcare perks and borrowed the fact that fare-payers are covering the cost of the New Bus’s second crew member.
He’s even quoted the Green party’s estimated cost of the staff, a figure the Mayor and TfL dispute.
With such a paucity of logic, coherence and the wholesale absence of any mention of his own vision for London, Khan is on course to join Oona King and Lembit Opik in the ranks of no-hopers who deluded themselves into thinking they could be Mayor.
Being Mayor isn’t like schmoozing a constituency party for the role of MP for Nowhere West. It requires more than copy and paste attacks on your opponents and an endless whine that the other guy doesn’t get it.
If Khan truly wants to be Mayor he needs to start telling us what London would look like under his leadership, he needs to explain how he’d resolve the conflict between calls for lower fares and opposing modernisation and needs to show he has what it takes to make tough decisions rather than spout what union supporters want to hear.
Given the Labour on Labour attacks in today’s papers, he’s not the only senior party figure struggling with those challenges…