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.

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