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.”


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