Posts Tagged ‘London’

Boris’ transport nonsense

The most worrying thing about having Boris as mayor isn’t that he´s pretty much inactive, going around the city giving vacuous speeches, being embarrasing in Beijing and managing to lose two deputy mayors in as many months. Crime is on the up and so far Boris’ only decision on that area is to sack Sir Ian Blair and leave the police hierarchy left headless.

But what really worries me the most is that when he finally decides to do something else than just talk Boris simply gets it very wrong. Like this week he has done with his transport budget cuts. Boris is scrapping the Thames Gateway, the cross-river and Oxford St. tram lines and the Croydon Tramlink and DLR Dagenham extensions. Leaving the Gateway aside (local residents and environmentalists are against it), the other projects are good environmentally-friendly projects which will help poorer areas to develop economically. Instead the mayor has decided to push on with his Routemaster plan which seems pretty silly to me. Why would you prioritise this project over others? the Routmaster is replacing an already existing bus network, it isn’t creating new services. Delaying the Routemaster project would not harm London’s bus network, while the money invested in that project could easily go to the DLR or tramlink extensions which would be providing an extra transport service to Londoners. The mayor is pushing for his ‘baby’ which isn’t a priority for London’s transport network right now.

Moreover, Boris has decided to put up transport fares not just by the annual 6% increase but adding a 1% over inflation extra for the next three years, that should really help us all in London with the crunch! Somehow now cancelling the Venezuelan oil deal providing cheaper transport in London doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. May I say I told you so Boris?


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More incompetence from Boris

Boris Johnson seems to be unable to spend a week without making new mistakes. Our new mayor has decided that not only Porsches and other luxury gas guzzlers shouldn’t pay more to enter an already congested city but rather he’s paying them £400,000 of taxpayers’ money for fee costs for a legal challenge they started.

Fair enough, one can agree or disagree on the £25 daily charge on luxury cars, but surely the mayor could have negotiated with Porsche to avoid such a big payment of fees. After all the mayor has dropped out of the battle which is good for their business, moreover they say they are giving the cash to charity. More reason, as they dont seem to need the money, for the mayor to have negotiated to avoid the payment. Is this the kind of economic efficiency the mayor was talking about? taxpayers’ pay-offs to stupidly rich corporations? We might as well have elected Jeremy Clarkson for what is worth.

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It’s customary that the first 100 days of a new administration are relatively opposition-free for the new team to settle in and start the serious work. Boris’ 100 days honeymoon have shrunk to 60 due to his own incompetence. During the campaign he managed to change his popular image of a witty but not very effective politician to that of a dynamic and relatively serious candidate to be London Mayor, he adopted the new Tory brand. He ousted the pretty succesful Ken Livingstone on the ‘too long in power’ card and by presenting a relatively innovative set of proposals in his electoral manifesto. Like Cameron’s ‘Britain to be’ Boris’ London was to be safer, cheaper and overall a more efficient place than under Labour. This turned out to be wrong.

In 60 days Johnson has managed to have his closest advisor and Deputy Mayor forced to resign. The tragic part of this is that Deputy Mayor Ray Lewis could have been a great asset for London. It was Johnson’s decission to have an early PR victory, without properly vetting Lewis, what forced his resignation. Moreover, as Jenny Jones writes in today’s Grauniad, the Mayor’s questioning of the congestion charge means that Londoners relative isolation from the fuel crisis due to the higher use of public transport could end. But that’s not all, as I’ve written in this blog before he’s scrapping the oil deal with Venezuela that provided cheaper bus fares without a very good explanation for it, besides ideology maybe?. And this past Friday he announced that the return to the Routemaster bus, one of his campaign pledges, won’t start until 2012, when the next elections are to be held and in the middle of the transport mayhem that the Olympics will be, if that wasn’t enough Deutsche Bank has warned that the switch will produce a 11% rise on transport fares for Londoners. And crime, the central theme of his candidacy, is still on the raise without any visible eagerness from Johnson’s part to act on the situation, besides the populist but not very effective ‘no drinking on the tube’.

A lot of Londoners disliked Ken and fell for Boris’ siren singing straight out of the new Cameron handbook. Some are already missing Livingstone and he’s certainly still sought by the media for his views on the city’s current affairs. As I’ve said before keep an eye on Boris’ London to get a preview of a potential Cameron’s Britain. Boris like Cameron so far has been all words and no action and like Cameron he’s already had his share of ‘sleaze’ related scandals.

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It’s Crosby wot won it?

It all started a couple of days ago in Vote UK with a London map coloured according to the May 1 Mayoral race results (you can see it below). It followed in Luke’s blog and Guido’s. And finally Tim Watts over at TOK who asked the question of whether Lynton Crosby was to be blamed for putting Boris in charge of London.

I have been playing around a little bit with the numbers to see if the so-called doughnut strategy by Crosby was wot won it for the Tories. The doughnut strategy being to focus resources on mobilising the Tory vote in the outer boroughs leaving the inner city areas, Ken’s stronghold, up for grabs.

According to numbers pulled out from London elects and a Commons report, there are quite clear indications that Crosby’s strategy played a significant role in winning the elections for the Tories. Only problem is that numbers are only broken down in constituencies not wards which is a shame. But still the picture is pretty comprehensive:

Two constituencies changed majorities in 2008, Croydon & Sutton and Barnet & Camden, both are outer areas and both went to Boris from Ken. But most importantly, they had the second (+11,33%) and fifth (+9.5%) highest differentials in turnout from 2004 respectively.

In the rest of outer constituencies, results were as followed:

– Enfield and Haringey: turnout went up by 10%, Boris vote by 10%.

– Havering and Redbridge: turnout went up by 6.55%, Boris vote by 17%.

– Bexley and Bromley: turnout went up by 8.43%, Boris vote by 23%.

– South West: turnout went up by 6%, Boris vote by 17%.

– Brent and Harrow: turnout went up by 5.18%, Boris vote by 9%.

What these numbers seem to indicate is that the Tories managed to not just mobilise their vote in the outer boroughs but also to win over some voters from other parties. This it seems to me has a lot to do with Crosby identifying key electoral issues (Western extension ‘referendum’ for Tory voters and public safety for everyone) but especially changing Boris buffoon image to one of an electable candidate.

(On a different note, Guido’s ‘Labour siege’ comment has an explanation. London simply is evolving, as most Anglosaxon big cities, into a classic outer suburbs-inner city electoral dichotomy scenario. This is the case in New York as well as, apparently, Brisbane. By contrast demographics in big cities in continental Europe tend to be all the way around with working class people living in the outskirts and better-off people in the inner cities as in Paris, Madrid or Berlin.)

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Adapting Frank Luntz’s ultimate quote, ‘It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear’, to Saturday’s night boozing on the tube party and the first victory for Mayor Boris in winning the hearts and minds of the London electorate.

As many will know Boris Johnson’s first act as Mayor was to ban alcohol consumption in public transport in London. The key aim of this policy is obviously to reduce public disorder by drunk people and protect other passengers. No problem with the end, but I do have a problem with the means.

First of all, I don’t know anyone who decides to go get drunk on the tube. One either has a drink on the tube on its way to somewhere, no time to get drunk, or gets into the tube drunk already, so whatever drink he might have later on doesn’t change anything. However there is the risk under the ban, as Bob Crowe from RMT rail union has warned, that transport workers could be assaulted by drunk people when trying to stop them from having a drink that won’t change anything. Moreover, I find intriguing what liberal conservatives, of the like of Iain Dale, have to say of the ban? isn’t it a clear example of what they call the nanny state?.

But back to Frank Luntz’s proposition. All very well so far, Londoners could have understood the argument I made above and see through Boris’ ban as what it is, outright populism. But then last Saturday night boozing trip happened. An estimated 2,000 people attended the party. Most got very drunk and the party ended up scaring the hell out of passengers that weren’t there for the party, transport workers being assaulted and 17 people getting arrested. But most importantly it got reported in the press as if the ban is essential because the party proved it right. It’s not what you do, it’s what people see.

Those who were in the tube party that night have given Boris its first victory as Mayor. The ban is still wrong because is bad policy, but that doesn’t matter because people have in their minds the image of drunk people on the tube from Saturday’s party. Well, wasn’t that stupid on their part.

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Maintaining Labour’s levels of funding for public services while cutting down costs through greater admnistrative efficiency that will have a positive impact in living costs for the citizens. These words represent Cameron’s Tories. All Tory candidates are using them in their campaigning across the country. Boris Johnson did too in London. And as he’s the first Tory to be elected to a prominent position since 1992…is Boris’ London a preview of what Cameron’s Britain would be like? If the same principles drive them then similar outcomes will be probable.

Boris has entered into a policy-overturn frenzy in his first month as Mayor. But I would like to focus on two policy changes which logic I fear is a preview of what Cameron could do at a national level. Firstly, Boris has announced that he won’t be renewing the oil deal with Venezuela that provides for cheap oil for the London bus network. The deal provided for 250,000 half-priced bus fares for Londoners, Boris argues he will keep the discount on bus fares despite the fact that there would be no more oil from Venezuela. Secondly, Boris has announced the probable closure of ‘London embassies’ across the world that have helped to promote the city as a world-class financial centre. The London Brussels office, that monitors and influences EU policy affecting London, could be one of those to be close for the sake of cutting costs.

These two decissions by the new Mayor are pefectly in line with Cameron’s new Tory policy. But what’s the underlying negative effects they will have. Firstly, there’s no reason to end the deal with Venezuela that allows the Mayor’s office to provide cheap public transport without any cost to Londoners. Without the deal, how’s the new Mayor going to pay for those 250,000 fares? I fail to understand how the deal with Venezuela was disadvantageous to London, the only reason I can see for it being struck down is that the Tories don’t like Hugo Chavez, if that’s the case it would be outrageous that ideology should overtake the welfare of Londoners. And secondly, ‘London embassies’ are essential for the city to promote itself as a world business centre, they help the long term promotion of London abroad in the US, China, India (they helped a great deal to bring the Olympics to London)… closing the offices might help us save a bit of money today, but will hurt London’s business prospects in the future. Anyways, whatever money we save from closing offices the new Mayor will have to use to fund those 250,000 discounted bus fares, so really we are just paying the same while hurting London’s ability to attract new business in the future.

What Boris is doing in London follows Cameron’s policy logic. Boris short-sighted policies are rooted on Cameron’s, so keep an eye open for London to get a preview of what lies ahead if Cameron wins a general election. Today is London, tomorrow it could be Britain.

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