What divides London’s Mayoral hopefuls?
Not a lot going by last night’s business hustings where Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Jenny Jones and Brian Paddick used the platform to set out their business-friendly credentials.
All were robust in their support of immigration, insisting it was essential to feed business with the new staff needed for expansion.
None favour a mansion tax they fear will eventually clobber cash poor households who own properties now worth £1m, but which cost much less when bought.
The four also oppose new runways at Heathrow, though Jenny’s suggestion that few business people really need to fly and many could make do with teleconferencing received a frosty response.
The key difference between the two leading candidates remains fares.
Ken’s promise to cut fares by 7% allowed Boris to question the credibility of every transport investment or new initiative he proposed, while Livingstone accused his successor of “sitting on money” which could help Londoners and boost the economy.
As Boris told the audience, on this issue voters face “a binary choice”.
Ken seemed slightly subdued at the start of the evening, but I thought he picked up as the night went on. His tax arrangements gave each of his rivals an easy line of attack which he had to sit and grin through. I’m not convinced he found it as comfortable as he’d like us to think.
But Labour’s candidate was able to get some jibes of his own in, suggesting that Tube unions thought Boris was a soft touch and claiming, and this needs to be checked, that during his own Mayoralty he never improved a single pay deal once the unions threatened to strike.
It was at the same event four years ago that Boris’s promise to close London’s international offices collided with the City’s like of them and desire to keep them. After a number of business leaders stood up to praise the offices, Boris announced he was open to being persuaded about their merit.
With last night being light on specific proposals from any of the candidates, there was no danger of policies being similarly condemned.
But Boris needs to find a new act. The noise-making, interrupting, smirking routine he deploys at City Hall didn’t play well to an audience of senior business people. Several times he had to be asked to behave by Chair Samira Ahmed and at one point, though whether from the floor or platform I wasn’t sure, he was told to shush.
Overall, the absence of specifics and a lot of consensus made for a flat event.
By popular acclaim the star of the night was Brian Paddick who, as well as swiping at Ken on tax, suggested Boris loved the new bus for London because it looked like his house, with “three entrances and two staircases”.
It’s hard to imagine Paddick making such an effective intervention four years ago, a sign perhaps that he really is the “more confident” candidate he promised Liberal Democrat members they would get this tine.
PS: Boris Bingo players can mark off “neo-Victorian”, “exporting cake to France” and, if memory serves “Morning Star subscription”.