Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson: the January truth audit

Yet another Ken campaign claim today turned out to be “fiction,” according to Channel 4 News. The “Sack Boris” group, a Livingstone front funded by the Tube unions, has been handing out leaflets claiming that service on the Tube is “plummeting” –a claim also made in the past by the Kenster himself. Actually, Channel 4’s Fact Check blog finds, the Tube has performed “significantly better” on delays and excess journey time under Boris than under Ken, slightly better on station closures, and has seen “striking” reductions in the number of passenger hours lost under Boris.

The pain this has caused Team Ken is touchingly illustrated by the deployment of their usual “I’m not a Labour supporter but you’ve got your facts all wrong” trolls on the Channel 4 blog. I get those too, along with several other much-loved regulars who complain that I am obsessed with the mayoral election. You do know you don’t have to read me, don’t you? But look, I’ll make you a deal – if your guy stops telling lies, I’ll stop writing about them.

Absent that happy event, I will near the end of each month be doing a truth audit – for both the main campaigns. By my count the Tube performance porky is the Ken camp’s eighth major lie since the beginning of January. Ken, or his supporters, have claimed:

– that crime has “sort of flatlined” under Boris (untrue – it has fallen by between 10 and 12 per cent);

– that Tories “make you less safe” (untrue – violent crime has fallen too, and mostly faster than the overall average);

– that police numbers have been in “decline” under Boris (untrue – by May, there will be 1,000 more police than when Ken left office);

– that Tories “make you less well off” (click on “putting Londoners first” when page opens) and that Boris is a transport “pickpocket” (untrue – Boris has put up transport fares only fractionally more than Ken did, and has reduced some. Including his freeze of the council tax, compared with Ken’s large increases in it, voters have been made better off under Boris);

– that he can afford to cut fares by 7% without cutting investment or creating a deficit (untrue by his own admission);

– that he will cap housing rents (untrue – he has no power to do so and it is not even his policy); and

– that he will “improve” the suburban rail service by giving it things which it almost entirely has already.

In the last month Ken has also claimed:

– that he cut bus fares by “9 per cent in real terms” over his eight years in office (untrue – official Department for Transport figures show they rose by just under 7 per cent in real terms);

– that the 9 per cent figure came from an impartial “study” by the Independent newspaper (untrue – the paper was simply reporting Ken’s own claim);

– that he warned voters before the 2004 election of his intention to raise the congestion charge the following year (untrue – no mention was made of it in his manifesto or campaign and he actually said he wouldn’t raise the charge until at least 2013);

– that there is a £729 million “surplus” in TfL’s operating budget to pay for the fares cut which is separate from its “investment” budget (untrue – TfL says there is no separate budget and no surplus); and

– that Boris has been avoiding election debates (untrue – there haven’t been any election debates.)

Team Boris hasn’t been completely truthful either, but it has been significantly less dishonest than Kenworld. I haven’t been able to find any lies by Boris himself this month (I’d welcome anyone who knows different in the comments – but I’m afraid that that decade-old porky about his love life simply won’t cut it.) The Tory campaign and its surrogates did, however, have a little spasm of spin after losing their poll lead:

– A Tory MP, Mike Freer, tweeted that Ken wanted to “scrap” Boris’s Tube alcohol ban (untrue – he merely said that he would not have brought it in and has since said that he would keep it);

– An email from the campaign to Boris supporters claimed that Ken’s running-mate, Val Shawcross, was “promoting an increase in the council tax” (this seems to be untrue, and Ken has in fact claimed at least once that he would freeze his share of the council tax for the whole four years – though God knows how he would fund all his spending promises if he does);

– A press release from the campaign claimed that Boris “delivered” the London Overground while Ken just “talked about” it (untrue; a majority of the money was spent under Boris and it opened on his watch, but the funding was won by Ken and construction started under him.)

As I said earlier this week, the Tory campaign needs to watch itself on this sort of thing– but a tweet from a Tory MP, an email to supporters and a line in a press release do not compare with the central role played by falsehood in Ken’s operation. Interestingly, Ken does appear to recognise his credibility problem – he did a video message today promising to resign if he didn’t cut fares. This probably needs to be viewed in the same light as Ken’s promise in 2000 to serve only one term.

The coming mayoral election will be important for a number of reasons. But one of the most interesting will be as a test of whether it is possible to be elected to public office on a platform consisting substantially of lies.

Ken Livingstone revives £25 gas-guzzler charge – and refuses to rule out extending the congestion charge

In an interview with the Guardian today, Ken has said that a £25 daily congestion charge for fuel-consuming cars is “definitely an idea we will revisit.” It’s in line with his strategy of re-fighting the 2008 election on the 2008 manifesto – but the gas-guzzler charge was almost certainly a factor in Boris Johnson’s victory.

In 2008 it was clearly intended as a symbolic attack on the hated 4×4 driver – it certainly wouldn’t have raised any money, or noticeably cut pollution (a study for TfL found it might actually have increased it.) But quite a lot of people own a 4×4, or would like to. It would also have hit a lot of non-4×4 owners, such as small businesspeople with older vans, and families with older estate cars.  It contributed to “middle London’s” general impression that Ken was not interested in them. Surprising numbers of people would raise it when you talked to voters.

Ken also said today, however, that “gas-guzzlers are just a small part” of what he plans to do to reduce traffic and pollution. Asked: “Are you interested in extending road pricing at all?” Ken declined to rule it out.

Well done Ken – another finger-on-the-pulse moment!

Ken Livingstone campaign: yet more policy porkies

Every Londoner should have a garden to retire to

On last night’s Question Time, David Lammy MP, the chairman of Ken’s election campaign, said: “What we need, and Ken Livingstone is proposing this in the elections, is rent control.” I like Lammy – Labour would be so much better off if he was their mayoral candidate – but what he said is untrue. Ken is not proposing rent control. He is merely trying to give people the impression that he is.

In October 2010, Ken told the Evening Standard: “I would cap rents. We want to have rent control.” In October 2011, he told Inside Housing magazine: “We should have a cap on rents.”

In a speech last month, however, Ken announced a significant retreat from this policy, presumably in recognition of the fact that he has no power to cap rents. He made no mention of London rent controls. His policy is now merely to “establish a campaign for a London living rent…learning from the success of the London Living Wage in arguing, cajoling, intervening and collaborating.”

Promising to campaign for something is different from promising to do it. And even if it happened, a living rent is very different from rent controls. The parallel Ken draws, the London living wage, is a commitment by employers to pay all their workers more than the statutory minimum. But it is totally voluntary, has no statutory force and has happened in only an enlightened minority of London workplaces.

In rents, it seems impossible that even this level of success can be achieved. City Hall, which under both Ken and Boris has helped drive through the adoption of the living wage, is itself a major employer, setting hundreds of thousands of wage rates across its agencies and subcontractors. By contrast, the mayor does not own a single property or set a single rent.

Yet Lammy was not the only person to give the wrong impression on this policy. The BBC reported last month’s speech under the headline “Ken Livingstone pledges rent control to help Londoners.” Perhaps they were remembering Ken’s previous claims and did not carefully read his actual words. Perhaps they were influenced by Ken’s artful soundbite after the speech, when he said: “Look at the city of New York, centre of world capitalism. They’ve always had rent controls and they’ve got a much better system.” Perhaps they were helped by Boris Johnson’s slightly inept response, reacting to the speech as if it were a pledge of rent controls.

Rents in London are horribly high and controls on them would, I’m sure, be popular. There’s a strong case for saying controls wouldn’t work – landlords would just take their properties off the market, making it even harder for tenants to find somewhere, and would probably try to sell them instead, driving down property prices and hurting owner-occupiers as well. There’s a case for saying that the “living rent” to be campaigned for by Ken wouldn’t make much difference to people who are struggling anyway. If, as Ken is proposing, it was set at a third of the average London wage, the “living” rent would be £240 a week, or more than £1000 a month.

But the strongest case of all is that – as on fares – Ken is engaged in yet another cynical raising of false hopes which he has no means, and no real intention, of fulfilling.

Ken Livingstone v Boris Johnson: will the Guardian embarrass itself again?

Ken's propaganda newspaper - not to be confused with the Guardian

During the last mayoral election, there was a newspaper that lost its journalistic bearings. It ran as many as five knocking pieces a day against one of the candidates, some of them childish, some absurdly vitriolic, several of them transparent propaganda. As the next mayor poll approaches, is The Guardian once again at risk of embarrassment?

This week alone, as the campaign gathers speed, The Guardian has published at least two stories about Boris Johnson that – to put it kindly – lack visible means of support. On Tuesday it claimed that Boris had been “lined up” as the Tory candidate for the safe seat of Reigate at the 2015 general election – a hugely damaging allegation, if true, since it would suggest that Boris does not intend to serve a full term if re-elected mayor and that he has priorities other than London.

Sadly, the article contains no source whatever – not even an anonymous quote – for this incendiary claim. What it does contain, however, is a flat, on-the-record denial from Boris that he will run for any parliamentary seat at all. “I really don’t see how I can run for Parliament in 2015,” he says. “Let’s kill this. I’m ruling myself out.” He also specifically stated that he would serve a full term if re-elected. The quotes weren’t even a response to the Guardian’s “story” about Reigate – they appeared in Boris’s Sun interview on Friday. It is hard to see how the Guardian felt able to run a story about something which Boris had so explicitly precluded three days before.

Today, The Guardian published on its website a video which it entitled “Chicken chases Boris Johnson at City Hall”and which one of its senior executives described on Twitter as a “Boris encounter with chicken.” It shows a Boris-like figure on a bike, fleeing from a man dressed as a chicken, but only from the rear. Judging by the reactions online, most people believe it to be what the paper claims – a genuine “encounter” or “chase.”

In fact, the video is a spoof (or, if you want to be harsh, a fake) produced by the Ken Livingstone campaign. As Boris puts it, “this is a chicken that is itself so chicken that it did not have the gumption to find me in person. It is poultry poltroonery on an epic scale.” Team Ken passed the video to its chief media representative on earth, the Guardian’s Dave Hill, who published it without any mention of its provenance.

(Update: In a touching sign of how closely he follows this blog, Dave within the hour changed his page to remove the claim that the video was of Boris – but don’t worry, I’ve got a screengrab. If only I could work out how to put it up…)

Ken’s typically original and intelligent use of a guy in a chicken suit was to highlight Boris’s alleged “failure” to attend election debates. It seems perhaps unkind to mention that there haven’t actually been any debates to attend so far, and that the semiotics seem confused – surely Boris should be the chicken?

This week’s misrepresentations are not serious – but they are interesting as a sign of how the Guardian may intend to play this. It’s an outstanding newspaper  – but there has always been something about Boris which drives it completely off its rocker. During the 2008 campaign, it described him as a “sociopath,” a “moneyed creep… from postcode Posh,” a “bigot,” a “snob,” “loathsome,” a “moron” and of course a (gasp) “public schoolboy,” quite unlike anyone at The Guardian, of course.

News stories claimed that Boris was “shunning the hustings” (when he had in fact attended every day that week, except the day the story appeared) and that a “resurgent Mayor [Livingstone]” had “narrow[ed] the gap” in the polls (that day, the polls had gone from a dead heat to Ken six points behind). They even ran a front-page story alerting the public to Boris’s “potential conflict of interest” in taking a donation from a developer – without declaring their own actual conflict of interest (one of the journalists who wrote the story had received money from Ken’s City Hall!)

Perhaps the highlight was when one of their columnists tastefully compared the editor of my then newspaper, the Evening Standard, to Goebbels. No one could have been in any doubt who we supported, of course – but our news investigations about Ken were scrupulously accurate, which is no doubt why they won the top award in the profession, and nothing we actually wrote (as opposed to Team Livingstone’s misrepresentations of it) has ever been denied. Our comment pieces were strongly anti-Ken, but they too used facts and arguments, not playground insults and stunts. Maybe the Guardian might like to take note.

Ken Livingstone: only 30 per cent believe him on fares

That well-known pillar of the Tory lie machine – Channel 4 News – has joined me in pronouncing as “fiction” Ken’s election claim that he can cut fares by 7 per cent without having to axe services or reduce investment. Ken claims the money can be found from a supposed £729 million “surplus” in TfL’s operating budget, which is “separate” from its capital spending pot.

But Channel 4 says: “Mr Livingstone is wrong to claim there’s a £729m surplus, and there is no separate budget for investment projects. If he cuts fares, TfL expects to lose £1.12bn in income from fares – and that’s a hole he wouldn’t be able to plug without hitting the day-to-day funding for London’s transport or taking money from investment projects.”

Like this blog, Channel 4 have also noticed the passage in Ken’s own recent autobiography in which he admits, when mayor, to “breaking my promise not to raise fares faster than inflation.” The reason he gave for breaking his promise?  To avoid having to “cut investment.”

On Monday a ComRes poll for the Evening Standard became the second in four days to show Ken in a narrow, 2 per cent lead – on the surface, highly encouraging for him, and due no doubt to his campaigning on fares. But dig deeper and the electoral frailty of Ken’s flagship policy is clear.

The detailed findings of the poll (page 21 of this PDF) show that only 30 per cent of voters believe that Ken can deliver his fares cut. Thirty-nine per cent say he cannot; the rest do not know. And that polling was taken when Livingstone had the airwaves almost entirely to himself on fares. It was done almost entirely before anyone (except me and the odd BBC interviewer) had pointed out the numerous times Ken has broken promises on the subject before. It was done before anyone had pointed out that Ken himself has said twice that he cannot deliver a 7 per cent fares cut. As the Tories start to make that case in earnest – Boris Johnson today called the 7 per cent promise “fraudulent” – you can expect the numbers of doubters to grow.

Yet if the Tories do intend to tap the fruitful seam of Ken’s dishonesty and unscrupulousness, they need to be totally scrupulous themselves. As Martin Hoscik of Mayorwatch pointed out, they haven’t been. In a press release on Friday, the Boris campaign claimed that “the London Overground [the extension of the East London Line to Highbury in the north and Croydon in the south, and the upgrade of the North London Line] was talked about under Ken Livingstone, but delivered under Boris Johnson. He fought for and won the funding to extend the East London line thus creating an orbital railway connecting the outer London Boroughs.”

That might just stand up in court – the weblink in the press release suggests it might refer to the second phase extension of the East London Line, from Surrey Quays to Clapham Junction, which is a Boris scheme. But it is at best loosely-worded, at worst intentionally misleading. Boris did not “fight for and win the funding” for the “London Overground,” the core project. It was secured in 2005 – three years before he became mayor. Ken did more than “talk about” the London Overground – he actually did get it funded.

It is true that the core East London Line project opened under Boris, in 2010. It is also true that the most important upgrades to the North London Line, refurbished stations and new trains, came in under Boris, though the Overground brand itself was launched in 2007. It is even true that most of the money on the project has been spent under Boris, not Ken. But to say he won the funding in the first place is like saying that his bike hire scheme was really Ken’s doing.

Honesty is one of Boris’s key advantages in this contest, and it’s generally deserved. He hasn’t been completely pine-fresh and spin-free, but compared with Ken his deceits have been less brazen, less frequent, less calculated – and less central to his strategy. It is a valuable advantage which he needs to guard more carefully.

Ken Livingstone promises to create something that already exists

Attentive readers of the blog will remember how Ken Livingstone recently promised to “bring back” the zones 2-6 Travelcard – something which never went away. On Friday, Ken tried a new variant on this exciting techique, promising to create several things which already exist.

He unveiled an “eight-point plan” for “world-class rail services” promising that each London station would be given: at least four trains an hour; customer help points; real-time train information displays; and cycle parking to the standards of that available on the Underground.

There are 633 stations in Greater London (including the Croydon Tramlink, which replaced former railway lines.) Do you know how many of those stations already have at least four trains an hour? 579.

Most of the remaining 54 stations – just eight per cent of the total – either have three trains an hour, or are close enough to other stations to offer a combined service of more than four trains – Catford and Catford Bridge, Bowes Park and Bounds Green, Sudbury Hill Harrow and Sudbury Hill, Sanderstead and Purley Oaks, and so on. On frequencies, in other words, Ken is “offering” all but a handful of passengers something they already have.

Do you know how many of London’s 633 stations have real-time train information displays? According to the rail operators, they all do. How many have help points? They all have those, too. There may, perhaps, be a handful of exceptions, but no more.

How about cycle parking at rail stations? Well, Ken’s promise to bring this to the standard of the Underground would actually mean taking bike parking away. Nearly all rail stations have bike parking, but relatively few sub-surface Underground stations do, as you might imagine.

There is only one meaningful pledge in Ken’s eight-point plan – to staff all stations whenever trains are running. This would require perhaps a thousand extra staff at a cost of around £40 million a year. But it is yet another promise that Ken cannot explain how he is going to pay for, breezily claiming that “not a single fare will rise.”

Ken’s latest fantasy policy concludes with his claim that “under the Tory mayor, London’s long-suffering rail passengers have been ignored as fares have risen and services have declined.” Travelcard prices have indeed risen – by almost exactly as much as they went up under Ken  – but most other fares from most London rail stations have in fact fallen under Boris, often dramatically.

In 2009, the single fare from a zone 3 station to London was £3.10. In 2012, it is £2.10, or £3 in the peak hours. From zone 2 stations it has fallen from £2.40 then to £1.80 now (£2.10 peak.) That is a reduction of up to a third – more in real terms – for millions of rail users and it is thanks to perhaps the most helpful improvement in years – the introduction, in January 2010, of the Oyster card, a project driven through and delivered by London’s wicked, commuter-ignoring “Tory mayor.”

Ken, of course, will claim that he “wanted” to introduce Oyster onto suburban rail. As with several other things he “wanted” to do (such as the bike hire scheme) that were actually achieved by Boris, I take the view that if he hadn’t got round to it in eight years he can’t have wanted it all that hard.

Ken Livingstone: new health concerns as multiple personality disorder detected

Which Ken should we believe?

Ken had one of his angry moments yesterday – watch that blood pressure! – over Boris Johnson’s interview in the Sun. “Look at Pret a Manger. If you’ve been to one recently, how many Londoners served you?” asked Boris. “Why are young [Londoners] not taking up those jobs? How can we help them? That is the key problem for our economy. Let’s talk about the work ethic. I don’t want to stigmatise young people because many of them do have the aptitude. But we need to face up to these issues. In some cases it can come down to the fact that the jobs are there and people need to have the energy to go out and get them.”

Livingstone seized on this rather gently-worded statement as a contemptible betrayal of London’s abandoned youth. Boris was “calling Londoners workshy and lazy,” stormed the Kenster. He was “out of touch about how hard it is to find work.”

But what’s this I see, from the Evening Standard of 14 May 2007? “In seven years I have only been served coffee once by a born and bred Londoner,” complained one prominent London politician. “People [from London] have been left so far behind that they get sacked from jobs because they turn up late in the morning. They have grown up their entire life in a house where nobody gets up before midday.” (Hat-tip to Lib Dem Voice’s Mark Pack.)

The person responsible for this rather more direct attack on London’s workshy and lazy was called Ken Livingstone. Could they by any chance be related?

I sympathise, of course, (takes out onion) with Ken’s own experience of how hard it is to find employment, in a particularly tough job market for embittered old lefties. But if I were his careers adviser, I’d stress the importance of presenting a consistent work history.

For instance, if you’re going to apply for your next job by attacking evil bankers for destroying the world, it doesn’t look good if pesky journalists can turn up pieces you wrote while you were mayor praising the “light regulation” of the City as the “cornerstone of London’s success” and promising to defend the bankers “against any challenges.” (For those without the Sunday Times paywall, it was from their issue of 17 December 2006.)

If you’re applying for that same job by branding your rival a “pickpocket” for raising Travelcard prices by 20.7%, you’d better make sure that you didn’t raise Travelcard prices by almost exactly the same amount.

And if you’re after the crusty vote, it might be as well not to take diametrically opposed positions on the Occupy London protest within a fortnight. On 20 October, Ken told the Camden New Journal: “I wouldn’t occupy the streets. It’s just not something I would do and I’m not going to tell people to do something I wouldn’t do myself.” By 31 October, however, the temptation of another shot at the mayor had overcome him: he was attacking Boris’s call for the protestors not to, er, occupy the streets as “wildly misjudged” and telling City Hall that it had “a duty to accommodate” them.

For Livingstone, there are clearly two kinds of fare rises, encomia for the City, condemnations of the workshy, etc: his (good) and Boris’s (very, very bad.) And there are two kinds of Ken: the mayor grappling with the real problems of running London and the candidate prepared to say anything to anybody, or indeed different things to different people, if he thinks it’ll win him votes.