On November 23, at a rally in Camden to promote his promised 5 per cent fares cut, Ken Livingstone said: “I wish it could be more. But unlike the Tories, we will not say anything we can’t deliver.”
Just twelve days later, Ken has decided that it can be more after all – 40 per cent more! This morning, surrounded by people dressed as Santa, he bunged up his promised cut from 5 to 7 per cent, including a cut to the Oyster single bus fare from £1.35 to £1.20.
But will Londoners believe in Father Christmas? Even the original 5 per cent, according to TfL, relied on money that is no longer in its coffers, and was totally impossible without massive cuts. So how on earth is Ken going to find a far bigger fare reduction, one that he admitted himself he “can’t deliver?”
The financial position hasn’t changed. The £136 million given to TfL by George Osborne last week is enough to moderate next year’s planned increase slightly – but nowhere near enough to actually cut the fares, let alone by 7 per cent. Indeed it may actually make it more difficult to propose a cut, because it creates a gap in TfL’s planned income in future years, after the Osborne money runs out.
What’s changed, of course, is the politics. With the Osborne money, the hated war criminal regime of Boris Johnson was able to announce at least a softening of the blow on fares. And a poll last week showed that – despite strong public support for fares cuts – Ken’s promise has made no impact at all on voting intentions.
This might be because the public doesn’t know about it. But Ken’s been campaigning on it for more than two months, and has had a great deal of publicity. More likely is that people simply don’t trust him to deliver. As we’ve documented, Ken has promised to hold down fares in every mayoral election he has ever fought – and has, every single time, broken that promise, or secretly planned to. It’s also worth remembering that in 2003 he promised not to raise the congestion charge for ten years. He raised it (by 60%) within two years.
It’s never Ken’s style to concede that something just isn’t working. Instead of accepting his mistakes and quietly dropping them, he hugs them closer, embracing and enlarging them until they finally overwhelm him. Remember “I would trust Lee Jasper with my life?” For all his attempts to present himself as the serious candidate, he has over the last six months shown himself more reckless and less disciplined than Boris, with half-a-dozen crude personal outbursts or wild policy U-turns.
And so, true to form, he has gone for double or quits on fares. But the cynicism of promising something that even he says he cannot deliver is unlikely to close Ken’s credibility gap. Someone needs to play him one of those recorded messages about falling between the train and the (political) platform.