OK, this is a blog.  It’s a blog written by amateurs, either students or (in my case) full time workers and parents without a lot of free time.  At most I might (as tonight) get a couple of moments spare between the kid going to bed and the missus coming home with her mates from the pub.

All this means that original research and pursuit of stories is middling difficult to impossible to accomplish, and what we’re probably looking at here at best is tying together the strands that the mainstream media report, but don’t always connect.  Here’s an example.

I went into town on Thursday for a corporate function, of which the least said the better.  Fortunately it kicked out early, and as the 435 bendy bus stops outside I decided to catch it to Westminster to see for myself.  It was a perfectly pleasant experience, stops were brief, yet lots of people boarded and alighted.  The interior was bright and reasonably comfortable.  We got stuck occasionally, mostly behind taxis, but the streets, at 4pm, were noticeably short of cars, presumably due to the congestion charge.

With this recent experience in mind, I was interested to find, on the Guardian CiF site one Ian Jack, once editor of Granta, writing on Routemasters.  Fairly uncontroversial article, misses some obvious points about why bendy buses were introduced (it’s the capacity, stupid), confuses Citaro (non-bendy) with Citaro G (bendy) and simultaneously commits a classic association-of-ideas pundit error, thus:

Hendy came from FirstGroup, which had introduced the Mercedes-Benz Citaro (the “bendy”) to Manchester, and it was under Hendy’s stewardship that Transport for London bought their first bendies in 2002.

Hendy’s firm was taken over by First and he did indeed rise to high office there before moving to TfL in 2001.  First Manchester does indeed run Citaros, but non-bendy ones, but it does run two bendy types, a Volvo and a Scania.  Apparently they started doing so in 1998, although the photos I’ve found (yes, I’m sad) suggest Y and 05 registrations, for 2001/2005 respectively.  TfL don’t actually own any buses, they’re leased from private companies (like the new Class 378 London Overground trains), although obviously TfL has a big say in what runs where.  Incidentally, it’s this part-private-part-public ownership that makes it extremely hard for Boris to scrap bendy buses – the owners will have spent the money on the assumption that the lease rentals will be rolling in for years to come, and if they’re in any way competent with their shareholders’ money, this will be backed up by legally binding agreements forcing TfL to pay up for early termination.  Worth noting, I think?

Now, obviously First Group are a large private transport operator benefitting from the deregulation of buses introduced by the Conservative Government in the mid-1980s.  Evidently if Peter Hendy or whoever as an senior executive of that company thinks it’s in the best interests of shareholders in a competitive industry to introduce modern, efficient, high capacity vehicles from whatever manufacturer can best meet the company’s requirement on price and performance that’s surely, from the point of view of a modern Conservative politician, perfectly right and proper and the dead hand of state intervention can go f*ck itself – if he screws up, he’ll get the sack, so he’s incentivised to get it right.  That’s what they spent the 1980s introducing, you’d have thought, and is at least internally consistent.  Hold that thought.

Now, to contrast, and with reference to this passage of Jack’s article, hold in your mind this image of the sainted Routemaster:

It was built by Londoners for Londoners in London factories after a lot of thought by its designers. It represented the highest ideals of a public-spirited transport service.

This might be described as the social or even socialist case for the Routemaster: a bus built by public funds long before the era of privatised city bus services

Got that?  Bendies = the choice of Thatcherite excess, RMs = the result of socialist selfless public service.  Good stuff.

Next we come onto a rather staggering passage that one has to read twice to absorb the personalities and inconsistencies:

How it became a Tory cause is less obvious, but the roots lie in notions of Livingstone’s betrayal and the “nanny state”, encapsulated in another book that appeared in the same year as Elborough’s. Replacing the Routemaster: How to Undo Ken Livingstone’s Destruction of London’s Best Ever Bus was published by rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange and edited by Dean Godson, previously a Daily Telegraph leader writer and Tory activist. The contributors included Simon Jenkins, Andrew Gilligan, Zac Goldsmith and Kate Hoey, all of whom became supporters of Johnson for mayor

This is, or should be, dynamite.  Dean Godson, as anyone who’s been paying attention to the better element of the blogosphere lately, is much more than just a ‘Daily Telegraph leader writer and Tory activist’.  Let’s review the evidence (etc.):

Most notably, he holds the extraordinary distinction of having lost his position at the Daily Telegraph because of his political views. Back in 2004, Martin Newland, former Telegraph editor, explained to the Guardian:

It’s OK to be pro-Israel, but not to be unbelievably pro-Likud Israel, it’s OK to be pro-American but not look as if you’re taking instructions from Washington. Dean Godson and Barbara Amiel were key departures.

Dean Godson was too pro-Likud and too subservient to the US government for the Telegraph. Given the writers they happily still employ, you’ve got to wonder just how extreme his own views must be.

Garry Smith, December 2007

Garry (who really needs to start blogging again, BSSC is one of my all-time greats) goes on to point out that Godson is an advocate and indeed something of an expert in Cold War propaganda techniques, invariably designed to push a pro-US, pro-Israel (or Republican/Likudist, I should say) line.  That he’s popped up in the context of pushing a 1950s bus design with rather socialist origins is fairly surprising until you realise that a key target for these Cold War techniques were left-wing European politicians who might otherwise do unpleasant things like run public services successfully using techniques wholly at odds with neo-liberalism.  Remind you of anybody?

Oh, and the highly estimable Tom Griffin, commenting on Liberal Conspiracy’s version of Garry’s post, fills in a few more of the blanks:

Another interesting angle is Godson’s family connections. His father Joe was a US Labour attache who helped Hugh Gaitskell plan the expulsion of Aneurin Bevan from the Labour Party in the 1950s.

His elder brother Roy is a pretty central figure in the neo-conservative movement, and the author of a book on covert action which includes a very full discussion of disinformation techniques.

The rest of the crew aren’t much better.

Simon Jenkins has come out with some good stuff on civil liberties and New Labour (but who hasn’t, apart from the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers?  Give me Shami Chakrabarti any day).

Andrew Gilligan is so obviously a propagandist rather than a journalist that it requires conscious effort to remember that he’s actually supposed to be the latter.  Enough said.

Zac Goldsmith is a Tory from a long line of Tories, old (expelled) Etonian, euro-sceptic, extremely wealthy, yet fervently green.  Perhaps he’s another example of what Jamie Kenny gleaned from George Monbiot – a green Tory who searches for ecological nirvana in individual action open to the wealthy few (bikes, microturbines, compost heaps) and a return to old-style rural self-sufficiency.  Boris certainly comes from the same quarter – Eton, rich, Tory, loves bikes…

Kate Hoey, London’s answer to Joe Lieberman, has hated Livingstone for years.

If you’re getting the impression the design of the ruddy bus was the last thing anyone was interested in, you might be getting close.  If you’re thinking the idea was to use all the propaganda techniques going to get rid of a tiresome leftie, I think you might be there.

There’s a lot more to be said on the subject of Boris and Policy Exchange, suffice it to say that if you’re enraged by the thought of a Mayor surrounded by a clique from Socialist Action and not one surrounded by people from Policy Exchange, you’re a hypocritical moron.

Boring Appendix:

The Policy Exchange report [PDF] on buses came out in October 2005, which is really quite a long time ago, and suggests that this campaign has been planned for a while.  Evidence for this is that most of the common bus myths (such as ‘Ken replaced the Routemaster with the bendy bus’ or ‘it’s all because of the over-powerful PC disabled lobby’ or ‘Routemasters symbolise freedom’) emerge after this date in the Standard and Telegraph (and the Boris campaign, of course), and seem to have direct sources in the document, particularly Godson’s forward.

Apart from those mentioned above, the other writers were:

  • Andrew Morgan – chairman of the Routemaster Association
  • Dominic Walley – a ‘managing economist’ at an outfit called CEBR, and apparently knows something about transport economics, having worked at Steer Davies Gleave and South West Trains, which are both quite smart operations.  He stands out in this company for that alone.
  • Colin Cramphorn – at the time Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, but tragically died the following year, aged only 50.  Possibly got together with PX due to the London bombings, which obviously involved West Yorkshire police in the investigation, and his obituary mentions an interest in terrorist activity prior to this.  Also a supporter of the 90 day detention limit, of course.
  • Kate Bernard – features editor of Tatler.  It’s unclear to me what Tatler’s contribution to the formulation of transport policy is.  Dressing for Ascot seems about their level of expertise.
  • Also mentioned – Nick Boles, now Boris Johnson’s Chief of Staff, and Jesse Norman, both now Conservative candidates, both from Policy Exchange and both likely to be MPs come the next election.

What’s noticeable about this piece of drivel is how little space it devotes to any technocratic considerations of how to run a public transport service, yet how much of Boris Johnson’s election campaign was seemingly lifted from it.  Not surprising he ended up with egg on his face, really, if this gem from Gilligan’s section is anything to go by:

Passengers in central London are no longer allowed to pay their fares on the bus, because without a conductor it slows things down too much. Instead, 1,000 ticket machines have been installed at bus stops across town, at a cost of more than £3 million.

Given that Boris’ own (incorrect) figure for conductors on bendies was £8m per year while the real figure is many times higher, this is ludicrous nonsense.  By gum, if we’re to have four years of a transport policy run along Policy Exchange lines we really are in for hell on wheels.

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