Connoisseurs of the many ways in which Ken Livingstone has made himself look silly since losing his job remember with special pleasure the unofficial, ex-mayors-only “opening ceremony” he performed last year on the Docklands Light Railway’s new Woolwich Arsenal extension, to pre-empt Boris Johnson’s official cutting of the ribbon two days later.
Now, acting under the absurd delusion that he is the “Mayor,” and based on nothing more than the fact that he was elected to that post by the people of London, the hated Johnson has dared to schedule another opening ceremony for a transport project under his control, the East London Line (ELL) extension, next week.
Labour is furious – how dare Boris override Ken’s historic right to be identified as the sole source of all that is good in the Big Smoke? Len Duvall, leader of the Assembly Labour group, storms that Boris is “trying to take credit for a project delivered with £1bn of investment under a Labour government and a Labour mayor.”
Well, it’s perfectly true that Ken deserves credit for getting it kicked off – but actually Boris has been mayor for two years now, and as you can see from this breakdown (page 33 of the PDF) around 60% of the spending on the ELL took place under him. That’s one of the benefits of, you know, winning elections – you get to do things, and claim credit for them. Perhaps Labour should try it sometime?
The ELL event is also, fumes Labour, wholly against GLA guidelines (introduced, incidentally, after the Livingstone regime blatantly abused City Hall resources in its 2004 and 2008 re-election campaigns.) Heavy threats that TfL will “suffer the consequences” have been made and there is talk of a Standards Committee complaint. The guidelines state, however: “The presumption is that the GLA’s normal business will continue during the preelection period. The only exception is where a particular initiative, proposal,consultation or publication in the period could reasonably be regarded as giving a candidate or their supporters/political party an advantage in the election.”
It seems unlikely that the opening of a railway falls within this definition. In any case, it appears that all the party leaders on the London Assembly have been invited to take part in the ELL opening, so it won’t be a party event anyway.
And – oh dear – into my inbox flutters an email to Ian Brown, director of the relevant bit of TfL, from none other than Labour’s deputy assembly leader John Biggs, written a week ago and asking for what Mr Biggs calls an “election related visit to [the] East London Line.” He adds: “How feasible would it be if some Labour candidates (including ministers) were in the area of Shadwell or Wapping Station next Tuesday morning that they might have access to the station for an election visit?”
So it seems that, as far as Labour is concerned, using the ELL for “party political advantage” is perfectly OK – so long as it’s their party – while using it for an all-party event to mark the opening of a major civic amenity is an indefensible outrage and disgrace.
The interesting thing this row shows me is quite how terrified Labour is of voters seeing Boris on TV during the election campaign. Could that mean that he might actually be quite popular?