As the Conservatives enter the second week of hustings to select a candidate for Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has attacked what he called front-runner Boris Johnson’s “damaging transport policy blunders”.
Mr Livingstone also accused Mr Johnson of “systematically refusing to accept questioning from the media at his press events or to accept serious questioning in interviews since his campaign launch – with the exception of two that strikingly exposed his weaknesses.”
“Boris Johnson has spent the two weeks since the official launch of his Mayoral campaign avoiding opportunities by media to seriously question him. Two months after he announced he would run for Mayor he has refused to do a single press conference at which media could ask him questions. The Today programme has similarly revealed he has turned down repeated requests to interview him.”
The incumbent Mayor issued a list of “achievements” which asked Londoners and the media to compare to the policies advocated by Boris Johnson:
The renaissance of London’s bus system in the seven years since Ken Livingstone was elected Mayor has been a spectacular success – as is widely acknowledged, and as has been welcomed by Parliament, the National Audit Office, the Audit Commission and the London Assembly.
London bus ridership has increased by one and a half million journeys a day, from 3.7 million to 5.2 million. This is in contrast to the rest of England where the inherited Thatcherite contract regime for privatisation and deregulation has actually led to the decline of bus ridership.
Due to its spectacular success the government is now considering expanding the London bus contract system to the rest of the country.
However Boris Johnson, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, has proposed not that the rest of the country should adopt London’s system of bus contracts but that London should abandon its system and go over to one based on the bus contract system that has failed in the rest of the country.
This proposal is so extraordinary that it was attacked even in the letters pages of the traditionally pro-Conservative Daily Telegraph based on the experience of bus travel in Oxfordshire where Boris Johnson’s constituency is located. (external link)
The Congestion Charge
Boris Johnson has proposed a total Tory U-turn by abandoning the seven year Tory campaign against the charge. This was announced at his campaign launch, at the Tory hustings and in his campaign literature.
But this is not merely a complete u-turn for the Tory party but for Boris Johnson himself who attacked the charge in the following terms: “In these dark days of the New Labour tyranny, when the maniac Ken Livingstone is charging you an extra £1,200 for the privilege of using the Queen’s highway”.
While such a radical U-turn is welcome it shows the policy incompetence not only of the Tory party but of Boris Johnson in opposing a policy for seven years and then completely reversing position.
Increasing the congestion charge for highly CO2 emission cars
Ken Livingstone has proposed to increase to £25 the congestion charge for cars with the highest carbon emissions.
This is in line with Liberal Democrat approach, and even that of the Tory Party Quality of Life review, in sharply increasing taxation on cars with high carbon emissions. Boris Johnson has so far evaded clearly stating his policy on this – although he has already attacked the discount for green cars and criticised ‘class warfare’ against certain types of car.
Metronet and the PPP
Ken Livingstone waged the strongest possible campaign against the PPP on the London Underground. Boris Johnson dismissed Ken Livingstone’s opposition to the PPP in the Daily Telegraph as mere “ideological warfare”. In light of the collapse of Metronet it is clear that Boris Johnson’s dismissal of the arguments over the PPP and the future of the Underground as mere “ideology” is a serious error of judgement.
The Freedom Pass
The Tories in London have called the Freedom Pass, which provides free public transport for older and disabled Londoners, a “stealth tax” and have sponsored amendments in parliament to end the Mayor of London’s ability to guarantee the Freedom Pass. Boris Johnson showed his lack of concern for free travel for older Londoners by not even bothering to turn up to the vote in Parliament on the issue.
When discussing travel for older residents in his Oxfordshire constituency he has failed to advocate free public transport for them. Unlike Ken Livingstone, someone with such a record cannot be trusted to be a defender of the Freedom Pass.
Free travel on buses for under 18s in full time education
Ken Livingstone has introduced free travel on buses for those under eighteen in full time education. There is cross party support for this policy – the Liberal Democrats have consistently backed it. It is a measure greatly aiding less well off London families as those with children suffer particular economic pressure. T
he Tories in the London Assembly have pledged to abolish this free travel. Boris Johnson has shown his lack of interest in the issue first by constantly referring to it as ‘under 16 travel’, when it in fact refers to under 18s. He proposed at the Ilford Tory hustings that it should be accompanied by some type of ‘curfew’ as well as making it clear that he opposed overturning the policy simply because that would be ‘unpopular’ and not because of any commitment to help less well off Londoners.
Half price bus travel for the Londoners on income support
Boris Johnson has made clear he would scrap the half price bus travel scheme for Londoners on income support.
All Tory candidates, including Boris Johnson, declare themselves strong supporters of London’s East-West rail link, Crossrail. Why, therefore, did Boris Johnson not bother to vote for it in Parliament?
To avoid serious discussion of London’s most important transport issues Boris Johnson has attempted to concentrate attention on discussion of the “bendy” buses that have been introduced on a small number of high volume bus routes in order to carry the very high passenger numbers travelling on them.
Not only does he make factually false claims regarding them, but the fact that Boris Johnson concentrates on discussing only 4 per cent of London’s bus fleet shows, and in the context of advocating wrong policies for 100 per cent of the bus fleet, how remote he is from having competent policies for the key issues of the transport system in London.
Mr Livingstone said “if journalists are ever allowed to seriously question him, or if he is seriously questioned at the hustings, these are the key transport issues he has to answer. London’s transport achievements should not be overturned by Boris Johnson’s blunders.”
Mr Johnson’s campaign team had not responded by our publication deadline.