Opposition Assembly Members tried something different at today’s Mayor’s Question Time, instead of making random interventions against one another, they opted to ‘theme’ the event on the topic of Boris Johnson’s manifesto commitments.
The catalyst for this great (and ultimately over-briefed) coming together was the fact that today’s MQTs, being the last for a couple of months, is the closest to the midway point of Boris’s term of office.
In two years London will be caught up in the excitement of another Mayoral election which looks set to be a contest between Boris in the blue corner and Ken Livingstone in the red – little seems to change in London politics and after two Livingstone V Steve Norris contests it seems somehow natural that 2012 should be rematch of 2008’s contenders.
AMs queued up to help each other bash the Mayor over his perceived failure to deliver fewer press officers, his imposing of cuts on the police budget and lack of progress in delivering affordable housing.
One of the best potential targets was the Mayor’s breaking of an election promise to oppose the closure and reduction of opening hours of tube ticket offices. Despite this open goal an overly simplistic line of questioning focussing on the closure aspect ultimately let Boris off the hook.
While the Mayor loudly insisted he wasn’t closing any offices (though an internal TfL document currently circulating which list stations earmarked for closure seems to sit at odds with this – see below) AMs failed to capitalise on his election time opposition to reducing opening hours.
As he cited the successful take up of Oyster for the declining need for full time ticket offices, the Mayor claimed he had no idea what his predecessor’s policy on the matter was. Which would be odd to say the least because he certainly knew what Ken Livingstone’s policy was during the election.
Livingstone first announced plans to scale back ticket offices in 2007, himself citing the successful take-up of Oyster for reducing the number of journeys which started at a ticket office.
At the time Livingstone said this meant he’d been able “to shift station staff from behind the plate glass windows in ticket offices to the platforms and in ticket halls” and insisted that “by increasing the visibility of staff they will make the stations a safer place and will be able to fully assist customers.”
In response Boris wrote in his manifesto: “Ken Livingstone plans to close a large number of ticket offices at Tube stations, predominantly in outer London because he claims that the increase in Oyster use has made them surplus to requirements. However, what he has not taken into account is that local people feel it is important there is a manned ticket office at their station, as often there are not enough Oyster outlets in the local area.”
Note that in 2008 the success of Oyster wasn’t considered by Johnson to be sufficient grounds to reduce the availability of ticket offices.
However last week TfL, now chaired by Mayor Boris, issued a press release which stated that proposals to reduce opening hours “reflect the huge success and take-up of Oyster, which now accounts for around 80 per cent of all journeys on the Tube. There has been a sharp decline in tickets sold at station ticket offices in recent years – just one Tube journey in 20 now begins with a ticket office transaction.”
The new “vision” sees staff “remain available to assist customers in ticket halls, at gate lines or on platforms, ensuring that the system remains safe and secure” but not, you’ll notice, always in the ticket offices.
Objectively it’s difficult to see much difference between the two set of statements so it’s easy to see why political opponents are enjoying pointing out the Mayor’s very obvious u-turn.
It’s not the first time Boris has claimed a Livingstone policy for his own but given the political kicking he’s going to get he probably wishes he’d let the cuts come sooner. That way he could have followed the example of Kraft’s bosses who, in the middle of their fight to take over Cadbury’s, made promises they too were ultimately unable to keep and got off with a quick apology while blaming the old management for the advanced state of irreversible plans.
Tickets offices proposed for closure:
Aldgate East (East)
Canary Wharf (East)
Chancery Lane (Saturday)
Charing Cross (Trafalgar)
Earl’s Court (Warwick Road)
South Woodford (West)
Waterloo (Main – Excess)
Wembley Park (Bridge Road)
AUDIO – Boris denies any knowledge of Ken Livingstone’s policy on ticket office closures