Boris Johnson: how he could lose

There’s more good news for Boris today in the latest mayoral opinion poll – the first public one in almost six months – which shows him maintaining his big lead over Ken Livingstone. He is ahead by eight points – 48 per cent to 40 – on first preferences (of those certain to vote) and leads by the same margin – 54-46 – once second preferences are included.

Compared with the previous poll by the same pollster, ComRes, in March (they also did one in September, but not of a representative sample) Ken has dropped by six points on first prefs and Boris is up by four. The March ComRes actually had Ken ahead, by 46-44 in first preferences and 51-49 after second preferences were included.

Since then, of course, Ken has melted down in the riots, compared Boris’s chief of staff to a mass murderer and Boris himself to Hitler, called for Tories to “burn in hell for all eternity” and asked whether George Osborne should be hanged. He has toe-curlingly outed himself as Britain’s most famous sperm donor and the head of the London Labour Party has said that he cannot win. Just like YouGov, which put Boris seven points ahead in June, this latest poll seems to show that the more people see of Ken, the more they dislike him.

Today’s is also the first poll since Livingstone started claiming, in September, that he would cut fares if elected. Ken will be desperately disappointed that what he called “an announcement that is going to shape the election campaign” has in two months made so little impact. This must have something to do with his past record of breaking his promises on fares.

These are really bad numbers for Ken at a time when Labour for Westminster is six or seven points ahead of the Tories nationally and (in the June YouGov) 19 points ahead in London.

Yet there is also a danger for Boris. The two key risks to his re-election are that the economy tanks and that his supporters become complacent. There is also the much smaller risk that Labour could dump Ken. All these dangers are now growing.

Today’s poll shows that transport, as many people including me have been saying for months, is indeed Boris’s Achilles heel. Fares cuts are clearly popular and it’s not impossible that Ken could start to score on this issue, even if he hasn’t yet. Boris still can’t quite seem to eradicate the hangover of Livingstonism that lingers at TfL.

I went to Boris’s book launch earlier this month. It was held on the night of the big student demo. If that demo had turned into a riot, what would it have looked like, I wonder, if at the same time the mayor had been pictured eating canapés to promote something for which he has already been accused of neglecting the day job?

Incumbents lose when they get too wrapped up in the adulatory and administrative aspects of the job and forget the politics.

Boris Johnson: Tube, bus and Travelcard fares will go up by less

TfL value-for-money in action

As was reported yesterday, the Chancellor, George Osborne, will this week announce extra grants from the Treasury to moderate the big transport fare increases proposed for January. About £130 million, it is reported in the Sunday Times, will go to Transport for London.

Fares overall will still increase, and by more than inflation. But the rise is now capped to RPI plus 1 per cent instead of TfL’s previously-announced RPI plus 2 and the railways and Travelcards’ RPI plus 3.

Thus the rise in London will now average about 6 per cent across the board instead of the previously-announced 8 per cent (on Travelcards) or 7 per cent (on Oyster pay-as-you-go and cash singles.)

The actual new prices haven’t been given yet. But it should mean that, for instance, a zones 1-6 Travelcard goes up by about £120 a year instead of £160. A Zones 1-2 Travelcard will go up by about £66 a year instead of £88.

This begs a few questions. Firstly, given TfL’s massive spending on Crossrail and the like, it was intended that fares would continue to rise by RPI +2 until at least 2015. So are we simply we going to create a hole in TfL’s income that will have to be filled with even higher fare rises in 2013?

The answer is that it does look like Osborne’s £130 million (if confirmed) will be enough to last longer than one year. The originally-announced increases were due to raise £202 million next year, of which £92 million was from Travelcards and £110 million from the rest.

If the increases are now being reduced by about a seventh (or a quarter, for Travelcards) that will cost about £38 million next year, leaving another £92 million of the Osborne money to at least make sure that fares do not have to rise by more than planned in 2013 and beyond. It might even be enough to cap them, or some of them, below the planned levels in future years, too.

The second question is how, if at all, this affects the 2012 Mayoral election. Ken Livingstone has recently taken to claiming, rather implausibly, that he will cut fares if returned to City Hall. (Ken has promised to hold down fares at every mayoral election he has ever fought. Every single time, as he admits in his own autobiography, he has “broken my promise” once safely elected, or secretly planned to break his promise.)

The new Osborne move might however allow Ken to claim, perhaps more plausibly, that the Tories are feeling the heat from his policy. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, could argue that he has won extra money for London in a way which a Labour mayor could not.

When the actual revised prices are announced, I wonder whether it might it be politic for Boris to use some of the Osborne money to freeze some of the more totemic fares? I’m thinking especially of the Oyster bus single fare, which is due to rise from £1.30 to £1.40. Since TfL (for some reason, in the Oyster age, which I can’t quite understand) only prices in 10p units, this fare is unlikely otherwise to benefit from Osborne’s largesse. Just a thought, lads…

Death without dignity: my review of Ken Livingstone's memoirs

Sorry about the delay in bringing you my views on Ken Livingstone’s new book – it really is very hard work. Anyway, here’s how the review  in today’s paper starts:

All four walls of the young Ken Livingstone’s bedroom were, he writes, “lined with three tiers of aquariums and vivariums”. The heated reptile tanks “turned the room subtropical”, with “rich smells wafting through the house”, including the “overpowering stench of alligator poo… Mum would arrive home to be greeted by a huge cloud of bluebottles orbiting the lightbulb”.

This great slab of a book is rather like that bedroom. For 700 gruelling pages, we are trapped in Ken’s political vivarium, breathing the smells, fighting off the circling bluebottles, reliving a lifetime’s struggles for vital centimetres of tank space.

At times, the ecosystem seems much like our own. But then comes the sex, and we realise that we are dealing with a species far stranger than we knew…

Read the rest here.

PS:  The Spectator didn’t like it much either.

Ken Livingstone: 'I broke my promises on fares' (twice)

The excitement’s been building to fever pitch in the run-up to Ken’s rally tonight to promote his promised 5% fares cut. Key opinion formers famous for their finely honed judgment, such as Sally Bercow, have been flown in for the big event. Jarvis Cocker, Benjamin Zephaniah and the usual slightly predictable luminaries have signed the usual round-robin letter to the Guardian. The idea that we should approve of a policy because a singer does so is somehow both profoundly patronising and profoundly Eighties, isn’t it?

Without wishing to put a dampener on proceedings tonight, can I refer Jarvis, Sally et al to Ken’s recently-published autobiography if they want to know, in his own words, the real value of a Livingstone fares promise.

In his 2000 election campaign “I had promised to freeze bus fares and keep Tube fares in line with inflation,” writes Ken (page 491). Alas, by 2003, “the cost of running the buses was increasing with the price of oil, so I decided to increase the fares before the [2004] election and then promise they wouldn’t rise by more than inflation.”

Ah well, one promise broken, but another one made, at least. Alas, this second promise was to be dumped even quicker. Page 497 of the book relates how in August 2004, Ken got a call saying he would be allowed to borrow £2.9 billion for upgrades to the DLR, the East London Line and the North London Line.

“The sting in the tail was that I would have to increase the fares to service the debt,” Ken writes. “This meant breaking my promise not to raise fares faster than inflation, but given my contempt for Wilson and Callaghan – who cut investment rather than raise taxes – I took the deal.” Fares duly rose – by as much as 25 per cent in a single year.

Two explicit admissions, from Ken himself, that he broke his promises to hold down fares two elections running. For good measure, I revealed his secret plans to do the hat-trick before the 2008 election.

Every time Ken has made an election promise to hold down fares, he has broken it, or secretly planned to break it. And 2000, 2004 and 2008, of course, were days of plenty, when there was lots more money coming in from Whitehall.

Oddly enough, the need to maintain investment – and, with Crossrail, rather more of it than £2.9 billion – is Boris Johnson’s justification for raising fares, just as it was Ken’s. Ken has repeatedly described the fare rises as a “stealth tax.” But how convenient that he now seems to have forgotten his “contempt” for politicians who “cut investment rather than raise taxes.”


Investigative journalism: my testimony to the Lords' select committee

There’s been some reporting of my appearance at the House of Lords select committee looking into the state of investigative journalism. Here’s a fuller extract of what I said than the reports had room for. As I made clear at the beginning of my evidence, these are my personal views, and not those of the Telegraph corporately.

Q: Do I detect that you would regard exposes of the private lives of Premier League footballers as not investigative journalism?

A: I’m not even interested in Hugh Grant’s films, let alone his private life…. That’s not a public interest [matter]. I think the danger, I know lots of people will have said this, but the danger is that the behaviour of some [journalists] tarnishes the behaviour of all, and the vast majority of journalists don’t do the kind of revolting things that we’ve heard people at the Leveson inquiry describing this week.

Q: Are the things they did revolting per se, or is it only the objective they were seeking to expose that made them revolting?

A: You can probably justify, I think, some controversial behaviour as a journalist. I myself, as I’ve written in print in the paper at the time the scandal broke, I have for instance deceived people. I’ve used subterfuge. I’ve invaded people’s privacy [by, for instance, the undercover filming of Islamic extremists in East London]. I’ve received leaked emails which Ken Livingstone claimed were stolen goods.

(Interruption for vote of the House)

The difference between me and the News of the World is that those kinds of things are done rarely, they’re done with great consideration at an editorial level, and they’re done on stories of genuine public interest. And the public interest has to be proportionate to the amount of intrusion or whatever being contemplated.

So it’s arguably permissible to for instance deceive, as I have done, an arms manufacturer who is offering to sell illegal landmines. It’s not proportionate to, for instance, send private detectives to follow Richard Madeley around to see if he does anything newsworthy. [Investigative journalists] don’t do fishing expeditions. We don’t do celebrity stories.

Q: And if the law of the land descends on your head, you would obviously claim morally extenuating circumstances, but would you accept that the rigour of the law might be applied?

A: Any journalist who breaks the law must expect to be held to account. But the issue then becomes how you can account for yourself. And of course in some legislation there is explicitly a public interest defence – [for example] section 55 of the Data Protection Act. In others there isn’t, but I think you would hope to convince the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] that your prosecution was not in the public interest or, a la Ponting [civil servant leaker acquitted under the Official Secrets Act], to convince a jury that your conviction was not in the public interest.

But that is what makes a strong public interest justification so important. And obviously the more controversial a practice you’re planning to conduct, the greater the public interest justification has to be….it has to be very rigorously justified in terms of the public interest.

Q: Would you like to tell us what you consider to be the main threats to, and opportunities for, investigative journalism in the foreseeable future?

A: The most important threat is official restraint, by which I mean libel and privacy law, state surveillance, and the potential threat posed by the Leveson inquiry.

Leveson’s principal task [in his terms of reference] is to recommend a “new, more effective…regulatory regime” on the press. The inquiry’s essentially decided, before it even starts work, that the current regime is not effective and needs replacing. In newspaper terms, it’s written the headline before it’s done the reporting.

What happened at the News of the World, however – outrageous as it was – was quite clearly not a failure of regulation. There already is a rather strong regulation against hacking people’s telephones – the law. It was the failure of the police to enforce the law. And the reason this scandal became so consequential is not just because of what it told us about the press, but because of what it told us about the police and politics.

And unfortunately, Leveson’s terms of reference bear much more heavily on the press than on police or politics, and I think that’s unfair. He is to make recommendations as to how we are to be regulated – in other words, how we should be forced to behave – but merely for the “future conduct” of the police and politicians. In other words, how they should merely be asked to behave.

We’ve heard a lot at the inquiry already about the issue of proportionality. I’ve spoken about it, and I think it’s an important principle in deciding how far you do a practice that might be controversial. And my concern is that the Leveson inquiry is not proportional to the problem. I don’t believe that the problems it exposes – although hideous – were the work of more than a fairly small minority of journalists. And I’m concerned that the whole of journalism is being tarnished, and may be subject to some kind of future, more onerous regulation, for the sake of the activities of a comparative few….

The strength of our democracy – and it is a strong democracy – does not lie in our democratic institutions, which are comparatively weak. It lies in our democratic culture, which is NGOs, academia, the law, and quite importantly the press. In probably the most famous story I did, the Iraq dossier story, that was a story in which all the institutions which are supposed to protect us from bad decisions failed us.

The civil service, in the person of John Scarlett, became Alastair Campbell’s co-conspirator. Parliament, in the foreign affairs select committee, became a method by which the Government hounded David Kelly and me. The judiciary, in the person of Lord Hutton, I think – and I think a lot of people agree with me – got it completely wrong. And the only estate of the realm which actually worked, the only estate of the realm which actually did its job, if belatedly and imperfectly, was the fourth estate, was journalism. It’s very, very important that nothing happens in the next few months, in a time when journalism is going to be under a great deal of scrutiny and attack, to challenge that. And I’m afraid, as I said to you before, that the forces of anti-journalism are growing, as much as the forces of journalism.


Ken Livingstone promises to bring back something that never went away

Ken Livingstone yesterday announced that he would bring back the zone 2-6 Travelcard. “Thousands of outer London commuters were stunned to find the zone 2-6 Travelcard was abolished by the Conservative Mayor earlier this year,” stormed Ken in his press release. This meant that “passengers who wanted to use a Travelcard were forced to buy a Zone 1-6 Travelcard… paying £128 a month more.”

There’s only one problem with this ringing pledge, but it’s a biggie: the zone 2-6 Travelcard has not been abolished. There is no need to bring it back because it still exists. There it is, Ken, look, on the TfL website – did you really not check? Or did you just not care?

“Thousands of commuters” have not been “stunned” or “forced to buy a zone 1-6 Travelcard…paying £128 a month more.” They have actually found themselves paying – ahem – £7.60 a month more. Last year the monthly Zones 2-6 card cost £124.50. This year it went up to £132.10. Ken’s claimed increase is only £4 less than the card’s entire price!

I think Ken must mean the zones 2-6 one-day Travelcard, which (as first revealed by me) has indeed been abolished, hitting the people who used to buy it with rises of up to 74 per cent, from £8.60 to £15, if they travelled in the peak. This certainly was bad news if you are one of the handful of people who bought one to travel occasionally from zones 2 to 6 in the peak. But no regular traveller would be affected by this. And, alas, the vital qualifying words “one day” never appear in front of the word “Travelcard” in Ken’s press release, deliberately misleading people about the true position.

Ken’s claim of a £128 a month rise for commuters is based on something that I don’t imagine a single person, let alone “thousands,” has ever done – queue up each morning to buy twenty £15 day tickets, one each weekday for a month, rather than buy one monthly ticket.

It is the second time in a fortnight that Ken’s figures on fares have been exposed as fraudulent. Two weeks ago he promised that his fares policy would save the “average Londoner” £800 or the “average transport user” over £800 in the next four years. Neither of these claims is true. I note that in yesterday’s press release, he’d already scaled the claim back, saying that the “average commuter” will save £800. That’s not true either, by the way.

I suppose I should be flattered that on the One Day Travelcard Ken is proposing to fix a problem I spotted. But once again, his chronic lack of honesty (and message discipline) lets him down.

Ken Livingstone: I didn't vote Labour at three general elections

My colleague Dan Hodges has a tape of the latest Ken outburst – they’re coming thick and fast now – in which the great statesman suggests that Tony Blair should be prosecuted for war crimes. Ken “opposed the war in Iraq,” you see. More on that later.

Equally interesting, however, was the following: “The gentleman asked what’s wrong with 13 years of New Labour? I never voted for New Labour. I never voted for Tony Blair and I stood against his awful government.”

Ken appears to be saying that he did not vote Labour in the 1997, 2001 or 2005 general elections, when New Labour was firmly what was on offer and Tony Blair was firmly the party leader. That’s pretty remarkable, given that in 1997 Ken was a Labour MP and that in 2005 he was the Labour mayor of London. I’m fairly sure I voted for Blair in 1997 and 2001 – so over the course of the last government, I may have voted Labour more than Ken did!

It wouldn’t, of course, be the only time that Ken has let the Labour Party down. Last year, without even the excuse of Blair, he helped sabotage Labour’s mayoral election campaign in Tower Hamlets, campaigning against the official Labour candidate and for the independent, Lutfur Rahman, expelled from Labour for his links with Islamic extremism.

Part of the reason Ken’s campaign to be re-elected mayor is doing so badly is that many Labour members won’t work for him, hating the way he demands loyalty but fails to give loyalty in return.


PS: For the true depth of Ken’s “opposition” to the war in Iraq, I recommend a read of his memoirs – which I’m struggling slowly through at the moment. He opposed the war and Blair so firmly that in late June or early July 2003, at the exact moment when the sexed-up dossier scandal and David Kelly affair were breaking, he privately agreed with Blair’s political secretary, Sally Morgan, to rejoin the Labour Party. (See page 486 of the book.)

He actually rejoined in January 2004, at the precise moment that Iraq was falling apart and the Hutton inquiry brought Blair and Labour to their lowest ebbs. At a time when virtually everyone else in the party was thinking about leaving – and thousands did leave – Ken, probably alone in Britain, was going the other way and ensuring that Labour would win at least one election that year. “Standing against Blair’s awful government?” I think not.

Ken Livingstone: should we hang George Osborne?

As the election nears, Ken’s potty-mouth moments appear to be increasing in frequency. On Monday this week, at a public meeting in the borough of Lewisham, the chair, Val Shawcross, asked the audience for their views about housing policy. Ken came in: “Ask how many people think we should hang George Osborne.” Shawcross: “Well, I’m deliberately not asking questions like that because you never know when there is going to be a journalist in the room.”

I enjoyed the implication that it would be all right to demand the killing of the Chancellor if no journalist were present. But perhaps the most interesting thing is that this particular example of trash-talking comes only about two weeks after the last one, when Ken said that all 31 Tory councillors in Hammersmith should “burn in hell and your flesh will be flayed by demons for all eternity.” In June, Ken called Boris’s chief of staff a mass murderer. In August, he likened Boris to Hitler. Mere hanging is disappointingly lame by comparison. But given the ever-shortening intervals between outbursts, it is perhaps understandable that there will be some fall-off in creativity.

How do we explain this behaviour? How can Ken imagine that it will advance his claim to be taken seriously, or help him to reach beyond his core support? Is it a cry for attention? Is it the pressure of a flatlining campaign? Or does Ken think he’s being funny?

If so, here’s a piece of free advice which Ken will certainly ignore: it’s not a joke if nobody’s laughing.

Boris Johnson: the bendy bus is now just days from death

Ken Livingstone's chariots of fire

Just three weeks to go now until the bendy buses block their last streets, cut up their last cyclists, and make their longed-for final exit from London. Their rather more popular predecessor, the Routemaster, lasted 51 years. The bendy has managed nine. There are now only three bendy routes left – get your fare-dodging in soon – and with poetic symmetry, I’m told that the final day, on route 207, is expected to be Friday 9 December, precisely six years since the last Routemaster left normal service.

Boris’s new RM will enter passenger service in February – on, I can reveal, the 38 route from Victoria to Clapton. Entirely by coincidence, I’m sure, this route terminates virtually on the doorstep of Ken’s most devoted media groupie and diehard bendy-bus fan, the Guardian’s Dave Hill – so he’ll have to pass this symbol of Boris’s London every time he leaves his house!

The demise of the bendies has meant more buses, vastly more seats and increased, often dramatically increased, frequencies for passengers. Understandably, therefore, despite the predictions (hopes?) of Dave and other axe-grinders, the change has worked well. Even in the heritage artefact that is Ken Livingstone’s 2012 election campaign, a pledge to reintroduce bendies has been conspicuously absent. The arrival of the bendy and the demise of the Routemaster was, in retrospect, the beginning of the end for Ken: an early sign that the great rebel had lost his old popular touch.

According to TfL, getting rid of the bendies – including the dramatic frequency increases – has cost, overall, an extra £302,000, an increase of less than 0.3% (there has also been a one-off cost of £2.2 million for the last two routes, the 29 and 207, to break the contracts early.) These extra costs are, says TfL, comfortably outweighed by what they expect to be an annual saving of £7.4 million from reduced fare-dodging.

At the Evening Standard party last week I teased Peter Hendy, the London transport commissioner who is the true father of the bendy bus, about this historic end of an error. Would there be a special ceremony on the 9th, I asked? A sinking, rather than a launch? Hendy thought there would – though he was, alas, not keen on a proposal by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson to ceremonially blow a bendy up.

Some things about the day we can be fairly sure of. Mourning crowds will not gather for the historic event. Tickets for the last run will not change hands for large sums on eBay. A special bendy heritage service will not be operated for tourists. And given the buses’ history of spontaneous combustion, if Clarkson is willing to pay real money for one, what could be a more fitting end?