Boris Johnson: time for some campaigning?

Ken Livingstone has taken a 2 per cent lead over Boris Johnson in a new YouGov mayoral poll, effectively “neck and neck,” according to YouGov’s Peter Kellner. Ken remains far behind the Labour party – which is 15 per cent ahead of the Tories in London – and Boris remains far ahead of the Tory party. But the gap is closing. Particularly interesting is that Ken’s standing appears to have risen at a time when the standing of Labour as a whole, beset with leadership speculation, has fallen slightly.

YouGov has tended, on average, to show the City Hall race closer than other pollsters. But it has a record of reliability in mayoral elections – it predicted the outcome of the last one almost exactly right.

The poll was taken in a period when Ken has been highly visible, campaigning on his claim that he will cut fares by 7 per cent – a pledge which even he has twice said that he cannot afford. But as I wrote after the last poll (from a different pollster) which showed Ken 8 points behind, “fares cuts are clearly popular and it is not impossible that Ken could start to score on this issue.”

I feel fairly sure, however, that the fares pledge can be used against Ken to illustrate what this poll shows is still his key weakness: his dishonesty.  At every mayoral election he has ever fought, Ken has promised to hold down fares, but has done (or secretly planned to do) the opposite once safely elected. Despite calling Boris, with characteristic charm, a “pickpocket,” Ken’s record shows he increased fares by almost exactly the same amounts – and without even the excuse of falling government grants and a big investment programme to fund.

It’s a strong case. But to make it, you need to be in the market – and both Boris and the Tories have been conspicuously absent from it in recent weeks. Their rebuttal operation is, as I’ve also written, useless. Readers of this blog aside, the only thing most voters have been hearing recently is Ken’s lies.

From Boris’s point of view, the only benefit of this poll is that it will reduce the biggest danger to his re-election: complacency among his supporters. As the New Statesman’s Rafael Behr wrote two weeks ago, it was “hard to overstate how firm the consensus in Westminster is that Boris will prevail.” On both sides of the political divide, it was believed that the election was over. Before Christmas, one top Boris person claimed that they wanted a few polls like this to ginger up the support. Whether they actually feel the same way this afternoon, though, is a moot point. Meanwhile, the excitement of the various Ken groupies at their water in the desert is touching to behold.


Ken Livingstone is 'divisive', says Labour MP

Rushanara Ali, the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, has accused Ken Livingstone of “coming into my constituency and playing divisive politics” and told him that she will withdraw her support for his re-election “if he behaves the way he did previously.”

It is a pitch-perfect slapdown of Ken for his astonishing decision to campaign against the official Labour candidate in the October 2010 election for the mayor of Tower Hamlets, and lend his support instead to Lutfur Rahman, a man sacked as the Labour candidate because of his close links with Islamic extremism.

Ken’s action caused real fury in the local Labour Party, particularly since Lutfur’s mayoralty has now turned into a bit of a meltdown. For a list of all his controversies to October last year, see here. Since then, the toll has continued to mount: one of Lutfur’s key councillor supporters has acquired her second criminal conviction for fraud (Lutfur has so far refused to demand her resignation) and a Lutfur cabinet member – in charge of £70 million of taxpayers’ money – has been exposed as a tax-avoider (no resignation there, either.)

Speaking to the Huffington Post, Ms Ali said Ken’s behaviour was “completely unacceptable,” adding: “The entire national executive and the Labour Party, nobody was happy about his behaviour. He should know better. He is a leading member of the Labour Party with a high profile, and coming into my constituency and the borough of Tower Hamlets and playing divisive politics, essentially not backing-up your party at a very difficult time, was a low point in his recent political activity.”

She said that while she was currently campaigning for Livingstone, “that support is of course conditional. If he behaves the way he did previously, in the last executive mayoral election where he couldn’t even support his own party’s candidate, then there will be plenty of people on the ground that will not feel motivated to campaign for him. And it’s very difficult for us, however much we may try, to mobilise and activate our activists and constituents if that kind of confusion is created again.”

As I reported last year, dislike of Ken in Tower Hamlets Labour runs so deep that one of his senior campaign staff, Paul Harrington, had to convene a special meeting to beg Labour’s own councillors to support him. But Ms Ali speaks for a much wider Labour family than Tower Hamlets. Critics like me are regularly denounced by the Ken groupies for attacking the great man. But the fact is that really significant numbers of Labour’s own London MPs, council leaders and thinking party members cannot stand him either. Indeed, of the 44 London Labour MPs I know of only five, possibly six, who sincerely support Ken. I also know at least three who will not even vote for him at the forthcoming election.  It’s partly personal – he does have a habit of making unnecessary enemies – but it’s partly also because they oppose the fossilised politics he represents.

PS: Ken himself has been telling the people of Barking and Dagenham that Jeffrey Archer should never have been jailed for perjury. No need to explain why Ken’s against tough punishment for liars…

Ken Livingstone: another meltdown and another lie

Ken and Vanessa in happier times

Ken lost his temper on the BBC’s Vanessa Feltz show this morning after being challenged about calling Boris Johnson a “pickpocket” on fares.

He spent the first several minutes of the interview angrily attacking me for pointing out the inconvenient fact that he had raised Travelcard prices by almost exactly the same amounts as the “pickpocket” Johnson.  The BBC shouldn’t be quoting me, he said, because I killed Dr David Kelly. A winning argument, I feel sure…

The figures I used aren’t my own, Ken: they are from official sources. The 2004 prices are here (p221 of the PDF), the 2008 prices are here and the 2012 prices are here. They show that, for instance, the zones 1-2 Travelcard went up by 20.7 per cent in four years under Boris – and 19.8 per cent over the same period under Ken. Check them out some time!

When he finally got round to producing an argument of his own in defence of his record, Ken claimed : “The Independent, who did a study of this at the end of my mayoralty…said that in real terms in my eight years, bus fares went down by 9 per cent and Tube fares went up by 1.4 per cent. Those are the facts…

“The Independent’s position was absolutely clear. Fares cut by 9 per cent on the bus in real terms and only up by one and a quarter per cent on the Tube. That’s the simple fact of the matter.”

No such “study” or newspaper article comes up in the Factiva cuttings database, on a Google search, or on a search of the Independent’s archive. But I think I have finally found what Ken means: a January 2008 article by the paper’s political correspondent, Andy McSmith.

With this article there is a graphic which does indeed say that bus fares fell by 9 per cent in real terms over Ken’s eight years. Alas, however, this is not a “study by the Independent” or a statement of “the Independent’s position.” In tiny type at the bottom of the graphic, the source of the claim is given as, ahem, “TfL and London Mayor’s Office.”

The Independent’s own actual position is indeed made “absolutely clear” in the body of the article. McSmith writes that “bus and Underground fares have gone up.” That’s the opposite of what Ken claims the paper said. It is also the truth – as the official figures, from the Department for Transport, show (tab B of the Excel file.)

It is, of course, an occupational hazard of my job to be attacked as a liar by liars. But when is Ken going to learn that lies aren’t working for him any more?

Ken Livingstone: beware, fraudster operating on public transport

Ken is terribly proud of his new newspaper ad calling Boris Johnson a “pickpocket” for raising fares. Once again the poor man has, I fear, scored an own goal: one of the key reasons he’s flopping so badly is that people see him as negative and nasty.

There’s another reason why the latest attack may backfire. On your behalf, I’ve been browsing through the fares vaults. And guess what? When Ken was mayor, London’s self-proclaimed Champion Of The Commuter in fact picked commuters’ pockets to – ahem – almost exactly the same extent as the blond Fount Of All Tory Evil.

Under Boris, between 2008 and 2012, the Zones 1-2 Travelcard – London’s most bought commuter ticket – has gone up by 20.7 per cent.  Under Ken, between 2004 and 2008, the same ticket went up by (drum roll) 19.8 per cent.

There may be very little difference in the fare increases they imposed, but there are of course three other important differences between Boris and Ken over fares. First, Johnson has Crossrail to pay for. Second, he has £2 billion a year less in government grant to spend. Third, he does not make a habit of lying to people about his intentions and record.

Travelcard prices 2004- 2008- 2012 

Zones 1-2  £20.20- £24.20- £29.20

Increase under Boris: 20.7%.  Increase under Ken: 19.8%

Zones 1-3  £23.80- £28.40- £34.20

Increase under Boris: 20.4%. Increase under Ken: 19.3%

Zones 1-4  £29.20- £34.60- £41.80

Increase under Boris: 20.8%. Increase under Ken: 18.5%

Zones 1-5  £35.10- £41.40- £49.80

Increase under Boris: 20.3%. Increase under Ken: 17.9%

Zones 1-6  £38.30- £44.60- £53.40

Increase under Boris: 19.8%. Increase under Ken: 16.4%

Lutfur Rahman councillor convicted of second benefit fraud

Lutfur Rahman: criminal links

A key supporter of Tower Hamlets’ extremist-linked mayor, Lutfur Rahman, today pleaded guilty to three counts of dishonestly claiming housing and council tax benefits – the second time she has been convicted of such offences.

Councillor Shelina Akhtar failed to turn up in court at the start of the case today, claiming that she was unwell and unfit to stand trial, but the judge dismissed her claim and issued a warrant for her arrest. When she finally appeared this afternoon, Judge Platt told her: “I make you no promises today. This is the second time you have committed fraud against the state regarding benefits to which you are not entitled. The court needs to know more before deciding on the appropriate sentence.” Akhtar cheated the taxpayer of just over £1100 in benefits. She will be sentenced next month.

The prosecutor, Michelle Fawcett, said: “She is a local councillor and the case, therefore, was more serious. This defendant has previous convictions for identical matters.”

In 2010 Akhtar, of Blackwall Way, was handed 100 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £250 costs after being found guilty of dishonestly claiming jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit during a case at Thames Magistrates’ Court.

Akhtar is one of eight Tower Hamlets councillors who were expelled from the Labour Party after deciding to support Lutfur, who was sacked as Labour’s candidate for mayor for his close links to an extremist Muslim group, the Islamic Forum of Europe.  Lutfur took the Telegraph to the Press Complaints Commission – and lost – after we described Akhtar as a “Lutfur Rahman councillor.” He tried to claim that she was not connected to him. (He has also tried to claim that he is not linked to extremism – he lost that complaint, too.)

Interestingly, Ted Jeory has discovered that even after her first conviction and her arrest on this second set of charges, Akhtar claims in her official council engagement log to have attended 34 hours of “group meetings” of the Rahman-supporters and 38 hours of “mayoral engagements” with Mr Extremist Links himself.


Ken Livingstone's 'shallow populism'

Thinking people in the Labour Party – in which group I include the leadership – know that Labour is not profiting from the Tories’ failures in government because it does not offer a credible alternative. Last week, the shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy attacked the “shallow and temporary” populism of promising no spending cuts. This morning, Gavin Kelly, a former Downing Street adviser, said that Labour must “unlearn” the old model of politics as a competition about who could shower the most goodies on people.

In September, Ed Balls said: “No matter how much we dislike particular Tory spending cuts or tax rises, we cannot make promises now to reverse them…We will never have credibility unless we have the discipline and the strength to take tough decisions.”

All these comments could have been directed at the one key figure in Labour who appears to believe that politics can be conducted as if it was still 2008, or indeed 1978. In his campaign, Ken Livingstone has so far promised to:

–         cut transport fares by 7 per cent, then freeze them in real terms;

–         reverse cuts to the police;

–         “freeze the council tax for four years;”

–         consider further subsidies for student travel;

–         maintain all capital spending projects, including Crossrail;

–         start work on major new capital projects, including:

–         second and third Crossrail lines;

–         a tramline from Brixton to Camden Town;

–         a second Thames Barrier;

–         a tram network from Wembley and Ealing to Wood Green;

–         a tram extension from Beckenham to Crystal Palace.

All this at a time when the GLA’s Whitehall grant is being reduced by 20 per cent.

On October 27, claiming to be “in favour of balanced budgets,” Ken specifically rejected a 7 per cent fares cut, saying: “When we plough through the budget and we’d gone for 7 per cent we might have found in that final year there would be a deficit and I’m not prepared to take that risk.”

Just five weeks later, he announced a 7 per cent fares cut.

Earlier last year – at a time when he was still promising that fares would be increased in line with the rate of inflation – Ken was asked how he was going to pay for his promises. He replied: “The morning after the election, I’ll let you know.”

Ken Livingstone: new lies on crime, fares and congestion charge

Ken Livingstone was interviewed on the BBC’s London news last night. In an interview lasting less than four minutes, he managed to tell at least three direct lies.

He claimed that after falling sharply during his mayoralty, crime had “sort of flatlined” since he left office. In fact, crime has fallen by 12.6 per cent since Ken left office.

In Ken’s last year, to April 2008, there were 862,032 crimes in London. (Click on the 2007/8 Excel spreadsheet and go to the “grand total” in the far bottom right corner.) In the year to April 2011, the most recent full reporting year, there were 753,821 crimes.  (Click on “text view” when you get to the page; the figure is shown at the bottom right.) Crime has continued to fall in 2011, by just under 2 per cent in the year to November.

Ken was also pressed about promising in 2003 to hold the congestion charge at £5 for at least ten years, then increasing it to £8 – a rise of 60% – within two years. He replied: “I went into the election in 2004 saying I would increase the congestion charge.”

He didn’t: his 2004 election manifesto made no mention of increasing the congestion charge (though it did promise to extend the charging area to the west). Nor can I find any reference to any increase in the press coverage before the 2004 election.

Ken’s first public reference that I can trace to increasing the charge was in a radio interview on 2 September 2004, three months after he was safely re-elected, when he stated that it would “almost certainly increase” but “how much or when, I still don’t know.” On 1 November 2004, he said: “I have always said it would be in the region of £6 in this [mayoral] term.” On 30 November, he announced that the charge would in fact rise to £8.

I have asked the Livingstone campaign to point me towards any statement before the 2004 election that I may have missed where Ken promised to increase the charge. I have so far received no reply.

In his interview yesterday Ken also claimed that bus fares “went down in real terms by 9 per cent” over his eight years. I have been unable to find any trace of the analysis he cites. The official figures, from the Department for Transport, state that London bus fares between 2000 and 2008 went up in real terms by about 7 per cent. (See table B on the Excel spreadsheet.)

Ken’s biggest handicap is that people simply do not trust him. He did nothing to repair that failing last night.