Today’s Plenary Session on transport with Boris and Peter Hendy in the chairs was entertaining if not particularly enlightening. In no particular order:
1. Legacy and congestion charge
Val Shawcross asked what transport legacy Boris would leave. We got a long rah-rah speech about a number of rebranded Livingstone initiatives followed by the old bendy bus stump speech. When this was pointed out Boris went off on one of his pained face ratty rants and claimed that Livingstone’s only transport legacy was the congestion charge, which was a tax and anyway was Alan Greensomeone’s idea, (an assertion I can’t stand up, normally he says it’s Milton Friedman’s idea, so it could be Alan Greenspan he’s got in mind, I suppose). The problem here, as the Lib Dems have quickly latched onto, is that the congestion charge isn’t a tax as far as TfL and the GLA are concerned, because if it *were* a tax, it would exempt all diplomatic missions from paying it, thus justifying not only the millions of pounds not paid by the US Embassy, but also every other embassy stopping paying it overnight. After all, if the Mayor said it’s a tax in public session in front of the London Assembly, he can hardly turn round and claim it’s not without severe embarrassment. The fact that he was making a purple faced finger wagging political point that might well cost TfL millions in lost charge revenue rather shows that he should perhaps lay off the Ken bashing for the next couple of years. Doubt he will though. He might have to tell us what his real legacy.
2. Bus km travelled.
Here’s a fun one. Boris is desperate not to be seen as cutting bus services, even though his policies result in a reduction in bus kilometrage (and he used ‘km’, too, which must have had Victoria Borwick clutching her pearls – I remember her complaining that evil Euroweenie-loving TfL used nasty metric measurements). However, the previous plan had bus km increasing about 3.3%, while Boris is aiming at a reduction of 1.5% while simultaneously debendifying, which (at about a 40% increase in PVR) massively increases bus km travelled, concentrated on the busiest routes. This perhaps explains the tantalising suggestion that the 149 debendification will result in a reduction in PVR and thus km travelled and capacity, but also yet again begs the question as to why Boris is simultaneously following policies that increase bus km travelled while committing to saving money by cutting bus km travelled. No one in the plenary picked up on that, and it’s only just occurred to me.
3. Discord in the Ranks
It’s now obvious that the LA Tories are seriously pissed off with Boris for not being a big enough Tory bastard. This manifests itself in a number of ways – the response to the bus debate was to complain that suburban voters (who voted for Boris, as Brian Coleman took delight in reminding him) aren’t listened to when they whinge about bus stops and new bus routes. Ironically this makes it easier for Boris to slash suburban bus routes where he’ll be quite safe from complaints, but sits rather uneasily with his outer London commitment to orbital buses, greater focus on the outer areas etc. There was a remarkable passage where Red Boris railed against ‘bourgeois NIMBYs’, sounding like Citizen Smith, before realising that the massed blue ranks were looking at him as if he’d just shat on the Queen’s portrait. At this point he backtracked inelegantly, praising bourgeois NIMBYism for opposing Heathrow (a common Boris theme is to try and pretend London’s Labour politicians uniformly support the Third Runway, when this is a weird national obsession certainly not shared by all). Again, we didn’t get the impression he was doing a great job for the blue faithful, nor in presenting himself to the rest of us as a man of purpose with a clear vision.
Boris is obviously and sensibly 100% committed to Crossrail and made the perfectly good point that cancelling it in the early 90s was a bad mistake. However, he’s again at odds with the blue contingent here, particularly Tony Arbour and Steve O’Connell who, representing outer areas not served by Crossrail, are pulling the old Bromley selfish outer borough trick of ‘what has Crossrail ever done for us?’. Well, duh. It has a massively positive cost/benefit comparison, that’s what. The other point they tried to make was that since it serves areas outside London they should pay too. Well, it serves 8 stations outside the London fare zones, none of which need much expensive work done to them, merely a few miles of new electrification on a line (Airport Junciton -> Maidenhead) which the DfT has already announced will be electrified anyway. Indeed, it’s not clear that O’Connell really understands Crossrail, he appeared to claim it extended from Reading to Maidstone rather than Maidenhead to Shenfield. Need to check that recollection when the webcast goes up, really.
5. 10:10, Comedy Nazis and Climate Change
Much has been made in recent days of whether Boris has really signed the GLA up to the 10:10 carbon reduction campaign or not, with claims that he’s reannounced it, not really signed up and whatever. Gareth Bacon made a decent point that it’s harder for some organisations (e.g. TfL) to cut 10% quickly because they are large energy users with large fixed investments in high energy use infrastructure such as tubes and buses. Boris, when asked directly, whether he’d signed up said ‘I think so’ and attempted to make a show of remembering the name of someone he’d talked to (‘Franny?’). This does leave things slightly unclear, surely he knows what he’s signed?
Finally, in a vote on 10:10, the right arm of the BNP’s Richard Barnbrook went up (an easy, natural motion for him, of course) to demonstrate his opposition to what he called a ‘Government Stealth Tax’ and his stated view that climate change wasn’t really anything to do with us because it was happening on Mars too, and similar Jeremy Clarksonesque denialist waffle. Since his only previous contribution was to invent a new transport expert called ‘Christine Wolman’ (Christian Wolmar, presumably, who’s as a left-wing climate change campaigner of Russian immigrant descent is not normally the first person the BNP turn to for support) this didn’t have much traction. Still, he’s dyslexic, I suppose, and I’m sure if he asked nicely he could have some help from a GLA diversity officer in overcoming his disability and executing his democratic rights. It was something of a relief when the tone and erudition was improved by a discussion of the environmental benefits of strangling your cats.
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