Confessions of a Political Animal

March 28, 2010

Boris and Transport: Easy Words, Broken Promises

Two years and half way through Boris Johnson’s first – and I trust, only – term as London Mayor and the opposition parties on the London Assembly rightly took the opportunity last month to step up scrutiny of the Mayor’s…ahem…interesting approach to his manifesto pledges.

Johnson’s 2008 manifesto was a fascinating mix (rather like the man himself) of the sweeping, the generalised, the populist and occasional flashes of obsession with random bits of minutiae. But what was partially evident at the time of it’s publication, and has become even more so since, is that it was written with very little input from anyone who had the foggiest idea what they were talking about. Nowhere was that more clear than in the transport manifesto, saved from oblivion by The Guardian here. Everyone knows its headline-grabber: the removal of the bendy bus and the introduction of a new Routemaster – a policy which it has since become clear has no significant economic, environmental, safety or public utility case to its name. Sadly, this was not a lone case. And a badly thought-out, media-driven manifesto means a manifesto that gets broken all too easily, with just this week a new entrant to the fast growing list emerging.

“It is not good enough…that the Tube doesn’t run later on Friday and Saturday nights. […] It would be a major benefit to Londoners if the Tube ran one hour later on Friday and Saturday nights, and we want to see this happen.” (p.20)

If it wasn’t good enough when Johnson wrote his 2008 manifesto, he’ll have to say that it still isn’t good enough when/if he writes the 2012 version. This week saw the death of this pledge after TfL announced that it was impossible to implement later running and that this would remain merely ‘an aspiration’. This should have come as no surprise to anyone who has had a passing interest in London’s transport pre-2008 – so we can assume it came as a surprise to the Mayor. In his second term, Ken Livingstone consulted on running a one hour later service on Fridays and Saturdays, with commencement of service at weekends cut back by one hour to ensure the amount of time available for engineering and upgrade works was not curtailed. From the consultation it became evident that the later start would leave the many commuters, particularly shift workers, who relied on an early Underground train at weekends heavily inconvenienced, so in 2006 TfL proposed a compromise: running trains 30 minutes later on both Fridays and Saturdays and cutting back starting time on Saturday mornings by one hour whilst leaving Sundays unaffected (this would have meant that Saturday and Sunday start up times were the same). However, by February 2007 it had become clear that negotiations with unions over changed working hours had ground to a halt, and the proposal was shelved.

Despite all this, Johnson in his manifesto reverted to the original proposal of an hour extra for both Friday and Saturday, strangely neglecting to mention that this would need two hours to be cut from somewhere else. Even if this barely-disguised Thatcherite could have succeeded where Livingstone failed with the RMT and ASLEF, he would either have had to at least partially break his manifesto promise by implementing the 30-minute extension plan or taken a potentially highly unpopular decision to leave early-morning commuters without an Underground service. And we all know Johnson doesn’t like making unpopular decisions. So, this manifesto promise was setting Johnson up for a fail, as anyone with a bit of nouse could have told him. The Mayor is trying to claim that upgrade work is what is preventing him from keeping his pledge, but this is clearly rubbish: whilst upgrade work does take place at night, so too does the day-to-day engineering work necessary to keep the Underground running. Even when the upgrades are complete, it is almost certain that any extension of operating hours in the evening will have to be matched by a curtailment in the morning. (more…)

December 31, 2009

I’m a London Taxpayer, and I approve this message

Visit London/Ryanair 'Only in London'

Visit London/Ryanair 'Only in London' (Click for full poster)

In November, the Evening Standard‘s City Hall Reporter Katharine Barney (now sadly culled) penned a short piece on a speech by Boris Johnson at the Royal Opera House. It appeared at first glance that this speech was something to celebrate – he was lauding the achievements of Visit London in attracting increased tourism to London despite the recession. Johnson claimed that by spending £2m, he had produced £50m. This sounds like a very welcome conversion to the cause of active, city-government led promotion of tourism on the part of the Mayor: after all, amongst his first acts in the job had been to slash around £6.5m from the promotional budget. But one sentence in Barney’s article stood out:

In a speech at the Royal Opera House, Mr Johnson praised his “Only in London” campaign, which included helping to pay for adverts for Ryanair and easyJet in foreign press.

The Mayor’s campaign helping to pay for budget airlines’ adverts? Really? Aren’t there supposed to be EU state aid rules about these sort of things?

Of course, it rings true because Johnson has form in this field. Transport for London poster sites carry free adverts for BA flights to New York as part of a supposedly reciprocal deal with the Big Apple’s transport authorities.

Intrigued by whether the Standard had got it right, and if bits of the GLA precept from my council tax bill were lubricating the marketing budgets of a couple of airlines, I fired off an FOI request to City Hall, who referred it over to the London Development Agency. Firstly, I asked whether the Standard quote above and its paraphrase of the Mayor represented accurate reportage. No, said the LDA, they would not be

accepting that the passages you quote are accurate reportage. (more…)

October 15, 2009

Hey, low earners! Thanks for the subsidy.

Fare change 2010

You can read plenty about Boris Johnson’s rather impressive hikes in TfL’s fares today elsewhere. With many of the increases coming in at more than 18 times the current rate of CPI, describing them as ‘inflation-busting’ would be like calling Richard Littlejohn ‘moderately right-wing’. And, worryingly for our jovial Mayor, for all his attempts to pass the blame for the increases off as being the fault of Ken Livingstone, the quite correct notion that Johnson inherited healthy TfL reserves and has bought this for the most part on himself is gaining traction. As Dave Cole notes, the extra revenue to be raised by the incredible 20% increase in Oyster Pay-as-You-Go fares on buses fits very neatly into the £50-£70m hole left by the removal of the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge.

Combine that with the decision not to proceed with the Gas-guzzler Charge, the end of the Venezuela oil deal, the scrapping of bendy buses and the advent of the neo-Routemaster – all at a time of falling fare-box income thanks to economic circumstances pertaining – and you begin to see where the hole comes from. And that’s why Boris is coming after you with his hat.

And when I say ‘you’, I mean ‘you’ (possibly), not ‘me’. One thing you won’t see much of in the coverage of the new fare regime is a complaint that you aren’t paying enough. Well, here’s one. The 2010 TfL fare settlement is too lenient on me – and on people like me. And it makes me sick. The graph at the top of this post may give you an idea why. (more…)

February 25, 2009

Snowday appreciation: TfL responds

Filed under: Greenwich,London Politics,Transport — Political Animal @ 11:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

london-snowA confession: when the Animal wrote to the Mayor a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t really expect to get £3.11 back as a mark of appreciation for getting into work on ‘snowday’. I also didn’t really expect a letter from the Mayor: I’ve worked in the Mayor’s office and I doubt this administration gets significantly less correspondence than its predecessor. But I did think I might get a response to the political point I was trying to make about Johnson’s decisions on that day. No such luck.

A response arrived today from a TfL customer relations officer: a perfectly nice reply, but I would have expected that the points I was raising would have been better responded to by City Hall, not TfL. Interestingly, according to TfL, my letter (which should have been received in City Hall on 5th February) wasn’t passed on to the non-politicians at TfL until the 19th. (more…)

February 4, 2009

A letter to the Mayor

boris-letter2

For all the Animal’s claims to socialistic purity, at heart I remain a money-grabbing little so-and-so and will happily jump at the chance to obtain some free cash. Even if it is only £3.11. But particularly if it’s from Boris Johnson. Below is the text of a letter dispatched to the Mayor this afternoon.

Dear Boris,

As you are well aware, London was subject to very heavy snowfall on the night of Sunday 1st February, which led to severe disruption of public transport across all modes on the following day. This included the withdrawal of almost all buses and severe disruption to rail, Underground and DLR services.

My journey from East Greenwich to xxxxxxx normally uses a combination of rail and DLR, with a bus alternative as a backup in case of disruption. On 2nd February, neither of these routes was available to me. Fortunately, I was able to reach my place of work via functioning sections of the Underground, with lengthy walks in difficult conditions at either end. My return journey used a combination of one of the bus routes re-instated later in the day, the Underground, a boat and another lengthy walk. However, I have no particular complaint about this. I fully understand that Monday’s weather conditions were exceptional and that is not financially or politically sensible to proof the city’s infrastructure against such a rare occurrence. I should also add that all members (more…)

February 2, 2009

The wrong sort of information

Filed under: Environment,Greenwich,Market failures,Transport — Political Animal @ 11:24 am
Tags: , , ,

setrains

Above: The front page of the Animal’s local train operator’s website, as of 11am this morning. I’m awfullygrateful for advance warning of what looks like rather severe disruption to some unspecified services on an as yet undecided Thursday in May, but I was hoping for some information on whether I’d be able to get home from work this evening. Southeastern’s website has somehow managed to be even less useful than the information on the electronic displays at Westcombe Park station, which simply read ‘Due to severe weather conditions, we are unable to provide you with any information at this time’.

Now, I realise that this is once-in-a-decade weather down here in the balmy south east and the trains and buses are going to cease up. It just isn’t worth paying for the infrastructure resilience that will stand up to the severe conditions experience on one day in about 4,000. But I can’t quite understand how snow prevents electronic information systems from functioning correctly.

Anyway, the short answer is that South Eastern weren’t managing to run any trains into London today, but finding that out was a process of guess work from the undisturbed snow on the railway lines themselves. Still, the walk through the ecology park to North Greenwich station for the skeletal Jubilee line service was very scenic.

Keep warm, readers.

January 27, 2009

A lighter shade of green?

third-runwayThe past week has seen a lot of column inches devoted to the increasingly infamous Boris Island Islands airport plan, with puff pieces in the Sunday Times and the Evening Standard following the Mayor’s day out in a boat with a handful of carefully selected journalists. The whole ludicrous scheme has been carefully taken to pieces by Tom at Boris Watch, whose posts someone at City Hall would do well to read.

What is fast becoming apparent is that this is the purest greenwash, designed to at once allow Boris to maintain an opposition to Heathrow’s third runway, whilst not losing ground with the Tory petrol-heads(or should that be kerosene-heads?) who consider Cameron’s opposition to Heathrow expansion to be an unforgivable concession to unwashed tree-huggers, or something.

Now, I come from the starting point of opposing all airport expansion, pretty much anywhere, but particularly in the South East. I’m invariably drawn to the position, therefore, of considering both the Third Runway and Boris Island to be two evils of pretty much equal magnitude – and therefore, on this issue, to consider Johnson and Brown to be at the same level of ecological villany. The question is, should I? Let us assume, for one rather improbable moment, that the argument in favour of increased airport capacity for London had been won. From an environmental prospect, which is the worse option of a bad choice? (more…)

January 20, 2009

Liberal with the spin

Norman Baker MP

Norman Baker MP

Skimming through Guardian Online yesterday, I came across this doom-and-gloom article about rail franchise holders going cap-in-hand to Geoff Hoon, waving the threat of service cuts if the Department for Transport (DfT) doesn’t show some ‘flexibility’ (for which read slashing) in the premium payments that it will be demanding from many of them in the next financial year. This has come about as a result of falling growth in passenger numbers – note falling growth, not falling numbers – due to economic circumstances pertaining.

No-one is expecting the franchises  in question to cease to be profitable (only the most lucrative routes have to pay premiums – others receive subsidies): simply that the profit margins will be a bit less comfortable than their holders bargained for. Given this, my advice to Hoon would be to wave an offer back at the franchisees – if you don’t want to pay up, hand in the keys and a new National Rail will run the services, keeping all the profit for re-investment in the railways.

But this is all as an aside. What really caught my eye was the footnote to the article, headed:

Go further in Serbia

What could this possibly have to do with the UK’s railways, wondered the Animal? Well, reading on… (more…)

October 31, 2008

Short hiatus and some updates

I am away this weekend (the picture should be a clue as to where) and today looks busy, so probably no posting this side of Monday. Don’t cry too much, please.

However, I thought it might be worth providing some updates on a few of my earlier posts, just so they don’t feel forgotten (and so in some cases the Animal can say “told you so”).

October 28th Is the Game Afoot? The Animal speculated that a prolonged period of single figure Conservative poll leads over the next couple of months would suggest that the narrative about the next election would change, with a hung parliament maybe becoming a stronger possibility than a stonking Tory majority. We’re a long way off a prolonged period yet, and the latest Yougov poll does show Labour moving out a smidgin, but the Tory lead remains (just) within the psychologically important single figure zone. 

October 27th European Left Watch: Out of Office in Lithuania The Animal reported on the defeat for the parties that formed the Social Democrat-led government in Lithuania by a mixture of (more…)

October 8, 2008

Should Transport fear its new Adonis?

One of the little surprises hidden under the big surprise of last week’s Cabinet reshuffle was the musical chairs amongst the lower ranks in the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for Children Schools & Families (DCSF). In particular, mildly controversial blogging MP Tom Harris lost the railways brief (and indeed, all ministerial position), with Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Schools Lord Adonis taking his place.

Adonis is, to put it mildly, an odd creature within the Labour Party. I should, briefly declare a prejudicial interest here – Adonis was the author of the most dry and uninspiring text book (now available for an inflation-busting £1.70+£2.75 P&P) on my A-level Government & Politics reading list and ten years on I’m still not quite ready to forgive.

Formerly of the SDP, Adonis, like many other such traitors turncoats Jenkinsites late developers late joiners of the Labour movement, he relied heavily on the patronage of Tony Blair on his climb of the greasy poll, with his ability to articulate and promote the most anti-progressive education policies (more…)

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