After weeks of enjoying Sadiq Khan’s discomfort at the media’s reporting of his fares policy and the questionable maths which underpin it, Tory rival Zac Goldsmith has finally gotten around to talking about his own fares plan. Sort of.
At a media event in Chiswick this morning, Boris’s would-be successor promised to “stand up for London’s commuters by making sure the network gets the investment it needs” – in less fluffy language, continuing with the current policy of annual fares hikes.
Questioned by journalists, Goldsmith confirmed there would be no “generalised” giveaway of the type promised by Labour’s candidate but did hint at action on “fares relating to certain people” and journeys.
We’ll have to wait for the launch of his transport manifesto for further details but it’s now clear that any cuts are going to be extremely limited and unlikely to be focussed on the core rush hour commuter market from which TfL derives so much of its income.
This may not be quite as high-risk an approach as it sounds.
Over the years broadcast journos have told me how hard it can be to find regular commuters who believe it’s possible to cut fares without making their journey (even) worse.
When you need to put together a balanced report this scepticism can be tricky, but when you want to win an election it’s a potential benefit, especially if you can fuel that distrust by citing a “£1.9bn blackhole” in your key opponent’s pledges.
Voters of course are used to individual politicians denouncing one another’s policies which is why Goldsmith used an interview with the BBC to highlight the fact that other candidates, as well as TfL, also question Khan’s sums.
The Tory strategy is clear: If Londoners can be persuaded that the cross-party denouncement of Sadiq’s plan is based on a shared ability to count rather than individual electoral ambition they may ultimately conclude that the policy really is too good to be true and ‘Back Zac’ instead.
It may work, Labour have already failed to win back City Hall with promises of big fares cuts and tackling the “cost of living crisis” has been a central element of its every recent election campaign, including the 2015 general election. Such promises aren’t automatic vote winners.
Zac’s mayoral bid is backed by some of the key figures behind Boris’s two election wins and, in Lynton Crosby, a man who helped Cameron make the leap from coalition leader to head of a majority government.
Fear played a big part in those campaigns so it’s easy to see why the Tories believe it might help them win a third successive term at City Hall – hence all the talk of the Khan/Corbyn experiment.
But I suspect many Londoners would like Zac to spare some time in the coming weeks to set out a few positive reasons why they should vote for him rather than just predict doom if we collectively decide to take a punt on Sadiq.