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.

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