The London Labour Party had a big press and TV blitz against Boris Johnson’s fare increases yesterday. Fair enough. Although most rail and Tube travellers are paying the same or less, bus passengers, as I’ve said before, are quite unfairly hammered.
But part of my job is to spot what’s not there as well as what is. And I couldn’t help noticing that one relative absentee from Labour’s media lineup was a certain Ken Livingstone. The BBC London news had the London Assembly member, John Biggs. The Standard was offered Harriet Harman, and carried an article by her. In the Guardian, Westminster North’s MP, Karen Buck, did the honours.
This wasn’t for any lack of trying by Ken, who thinks he can use the fares issue as a key plank of his longed-for 2012 comeback. His fan club, Progressive London, has been sending out harshly worded emails; he’s issued at least four statements in the last four days, some promising to cut the fares if elected (what a shame he raised them by up to 25 per cent a year when actually in power). Perhaps he’s been on some outlets I missed, but on the ones I looked at he was pretty hard to find.
Could Ken’s relative absence from the airwaves, on such a big day for Boris’s enemies, show that Labour has finally twigged that Boris’s No 1 Enemy is not the man to woo centre-ground Londoners? Could they have decided that Ken’s appearance in the public prints would have detracted from the credibility of their message? Could they have realised that his rhetoric about “making the majority pay whilst protecting polluters” is overclaiming, and counterproductive? Could Labour, in short, be trying to establish itself as a serious party of opposition at City Hall? I do hope so, because we need one.