Ken Livingstone v Boris Johnson: the February truth audit

For the third time in five weeks, a Ken Livingstone campaign pledge or claim has been pronounced “fiction” by Channel 4 News’ respected, non-partisan Fact Check blog. After dismissing his claim that TfL fares can be cut without reducing investment and his supporters’ claim that service quality on the Tube is “plummeting,” Fact Check has applied copious quantities of red pen to Livingstone’s promise to “reinstate the Educational Maintenance Allowance across the capital.

The problem: Ken is proposing to “reinstate” EMA, which will cost £85 million a year, with other people’s money – money from colleges, the boroughs and central government; money the mayor does not control; money which its owners have not agreed (or have indeed already refused) to give him; money which is in some cases actually ring-fenced for other uses. Even for Livingstone, this is horribly cynical. The hopes of thousands of young people are being raised on a wholly false basis.

The EMA is a useful kick-off for the latest in my monthly series of “truth audits” on the statements and promises of both main mayoral camps.  In the last edition, I found that Ken and his campaign had told 13 separate lies in the month of January alone, and Team Boris 3.  Each lie was only counted once in each month, no matter how often it was repeated.

In the just over a month since my last truth check I count at least 14 new lies from Ken or his team.

Perhaps Livingstone’s most important falsehood, after the EMA con, was to claim at the launch of his “policing pledge” that there is “rising violent crime” in London. (This was accompanied with an emotive, American-style attack video of actors saying how afraid they were.) Some crimes involving violence or the threat of violence, including rape and robbery, have indeed risen in the year to January, the latest available figures. However, according to the Metropolitan Police, total crimes of violence against the person, a category not including robbery, have fallen by 8.4 per cent over the last 12 months. With robbery, the fall is 5.2 per cent. One of the more desperate ways Livingstone has tried to make his politics of fear work is by defining residential burglary as a “violent crime.”

Over perhaps the more relevant period – since Boris Johnson took office – nearly all violent crime, including rape and robbery, has fallen. Livingstone has also claimed that “knife crime has risen every year under Boris Johnson.” This is again untrue. According to the Met figures, knife crime fell in 2009/10. Even one of Livingstone’s biggest online groupies choked on his cornflakes at this particular porky.

This might be an appropriate moment to mention Ken’s claim to the Age UK London hustings on 21 February that “what I don’t do is play with statistics.

Other lies last month included:

– Ken’s claim that his fares cut will “save the average Londoner £1000” over four years (the actual average Londoner, as I explained, would save £149 – in the unlikely event that the promise was ever delivered.)

– Ken’s claim that new TfL budget papers show an “operating surplus of £310 million over the last 9 months” – the “latest document,” he said, “which confirms a fare cut is both affordable and necessary.” Alas, Ken forgot to mention that the same budget papers also show an exceptional charge of £277 million for contract payments on DLR extension works – meaning that the actual “surplus” is, ahem, £33 million, or £61 million in the full year.

– Ken’s claim that in the polls “me and Boris are both running ahead of our parties”  (ITV London, 23 February.) Boris is running ahead of his party, Ken. You’re running behind yours.

– Ken’s claim that his alleged “extra police” can be paid for by charging TfL the full cost of its dedicated transport police teams (they already pay the full cost.)

– Ken’s statement that “I’ve no doubt whatseover, and I’d be prepared to bet money on this, that if [Boris] was elected mayor, he would seek a parliamentary seat for the 2015 election.” (Channel 4 News, 1 March). Six weeks before Ken said this, Boris said: “I really don’t see how I can run for Parliament in 2015. Let’s kill this. I’m ruling myself out.

– Ken’s statement that piling up £320,000 of his earnings in a company he set up with his wife, taxed at 21% rather than 40%, was “not avoiding tax.” In fact, he had earlier described precisely this practice as a “tax avoidance option.”

– Ken’s campaign chair David Lammy’s claim that the “full number” of new Borismaster buses will be just eight, making for “a cost of £1.4 million per bus.” Eight, of course, is only the number of prototypes – which are always expensive. But if the cost of prototypes was a serious argument against developing new products, we would still be travelling by horse and cart. If Boris wins the election, the “full number” of buses will be several hundred, according to TfL, with an average cost of £330,000 per vehicle. The way to ensure that the fleet never goes beyond eight, and that the average cost per bus remains in seven figures, is to vote Livingstone.

– Ken’s claim to be running a “very positive campaign” (he has launched two adverts depicting Boris as a criminal, along with American-style attack websites and videos mocking his salary, describing him as a “part-time mayor” and blaming him for the riots.)

– Ken’s claim that his is a “fresh team for London.” (His principal evidence for this appears to be the presence of his running-mate, Val Shawcross, who was in fact his fire authority chair for the entire eight years of his mayoralty. The man running Ken’s campaign, Simon Fletcher, was the great man’s chief of staff for the whole eight years and Livingstone himself has been a full-time politician since 1971.)

I should stress that my total is extremely conservative. Not only am I only counting each lie once, no matter how many times it was repeated, I am generously not including lies told in previous months but which remain prominently displayed on Ken’s website this month (for instance, the claims that “Tories make you less well off and less safe,” that Boris has “cut police numbers” and that the “pickpocket” Boris has increased transport fares by significantly more than Ken.)

Oh yes, there was one more new thing. On February 18, Ken claimed that “I have gone through my entire public career never telling a lie.

How about going through, say, an entire week?


Boris and his team also left the straight and narrow last month, but significantly less often than Ken (five times, by my count) and in a less frontal way. They tell fewer direct, blatant lies; their speciality is dodgy projections, resting on questionable assumptions. The most serious one was Boris’s claim about “putting £445 back in your pocket by freezing the mayoral share of council tax.”

Earlier in February, this was presented as the amount Boris had already saved us by winning the 2008 election, based on what the Tories imagined Ken would have done over the last four years had he kept the City Hall keys. In fact, after a taxation mega-whammy between 2000 and 2004, Livingstone “only” raised council tax by 28% in his second term, which would have cost us significantly less than £445. And it’s also possible, I suppose, that Ken could have moderated his taxing tendencies further in a third term.

In Boris’s “nine-point plan” at the weekend, the £445 popped up as something different: an apparent claim of what the blond bombshell will save us over the coming four years, compared with the Council Tax Armageddon of a Ken victory this May. Livingstone has in fact claimed that if he is elected, he too will freeze the council tax from 2012 to 2016. Team Boris is almost certainly right to disbelieve that, given the ever-growing list of new spending pledges Ken is spraying around. But whichever four years the figure is meant to refer to, the key deceit is this: since the sum of £445 does not exist, it cannot be put “back” in anyone’s pocket.

Other falsehoods:

– That violent crime “rose by 11.2%” under Ken Livingstone between 2000/1 and 2007/8.   (I make the rise 6.6% myself, from these Met figures.)

– That robberies are “down by 16.7%” under Boris. According to Met figures, robberies have in fact risen from 37,000 in 2007/8 to 39,132 in the last 12 months – not a perfectly comparable period, but certainly comparable enough to disprove claims of a 16.7 per cent fall. (Here’s how the Boris camp makes its 16.7 per cent claim.)

– That Boris’s proposal to put the suburban rail service under TfL “would mean lower fares.” I don’t think so. Obviously, travelcard prices are the same whichever service you use. And single fares are nearly always the same, too, sometimes even cheaper (the Oyster peak single from Richmond to Victoria, for instance, is £3.60 on the Tube but only £3.50 on suburban rail.)

– That Bob Crow would be “handed the keys” to the transport network under Livingstone because Ms Shawcross, his candidate for TfL chair, was an RMT “proxy” who had “stood shoulder-to-shoulder” with the union. That is a  bit of a stretch – Shawcross actually joined one RMT demonstration, more than a year ago. There’s no doubt that Bob Crow is firmly backing Ken. And there’s no doubt too that his greedy members will keep more of their power under Livingstone, rather than (as in Boris’s plan) being turned into DLR-style train attendants with much less ability to disrupt the service. But “handed the keys to the system” is an exaggeration.

Total lie count since January: Team Boris 8, Team Ken 27.

As ever, I would welcome any lies I may have missed in the comments.


Ken Livingstone: 'a hypocrite worthy of Swift or Dickens'

Only one of these men is a tax avoider

A magnificent piece from Nick Cohen on KenCo’s £50,000 tax avoidance in today’s Observer. Many people on the left, including lots of the party’s London MPs and council leaders, privately admit what the polls also tell us – that Livingstone is a blight on the progressive, liberal and Labour cause. But only a few of them, including Cohen and a handful of London MPs and journalists (step forward, among others, Rushanara Ali and Martin Bright) have the courage to say it in public.

It’s wet, we don’t feel like going out on our bikes, so I’ve spent part of the afternoon laughing quite hard at the desperation of Ken Ltd’s defenders in the comments thread under Nick’s piece. “Pernod” posts: “This article is a hatchet job… £50,000!  That wouldn’t buy you a broom cupboard in London. What a storm in a teacup.”

“Natascha” is of the view that “the Tories, and their apologists, like Nick Cohen, are suddenly worried that his policies such as reducing transport costs, and bringing back EMAs are both popular and costed. They can’t attack the policies, so they are trying to attack the man.” Defending KenCo’s earnings (£232k in 2009 alone) “The Murdoch Tendency 2” avers that working for Iran’s Press TV was merely how KenCo “kept himself in the public eye in spite of a deliberate institutional effort to kill his career” by, er, the Guardian and the BBC. There is an even-larger-than-normal amount of what the pyschologists call “deflection,” of the “Nick Cohen supported the Iraq war” or “this story should be in the Telegraph/Mail/Evening Standard” type.

But what is notable is the absence of a single serious argument defending Livingstone’s practice of channelling his earnings through a personal company, paying 21% corporation tax rather than 40% income tax, while at the same calling for “everyone to pay the same rate of tax on what they earn.” And what’s most telling of all is the almost total silence of Ken’s usual supporters and media groupies on this issue and this story. I demand one of those Dave Hill pieces where he pleads with us to see the latest gaffe in context!

The comments I liked best were from “prolierthanthou,” who noted in response to one anti-Standard jeremiad: “Let’s not forget [Ken’s] principled stand against the Daily Mail / Evening Standard was best evidenced by being their restaurant critic. Now what’s what I call taking it to the man and bringing down the system from the inside.” And then there was “mickGJ,” who wrote:  “Ken has done nothing illegal: the tax authorities cannot punish him for this. That pleasant duty falls to the people of London.”

PS Interviewed by Andrew Marr in his normal rapier-like fashion  today, Boris Johnson said: “I want a crackdown on tax dodgers and tax avoiders of all kinds.” Whoever can he have had in mind?

Ken Livingstone 'no friend of the Jews,' says George Osborne

In 1982, according to his biographer, Livingstone insisted this cartoon depicting Menachem Begin as a Nazi-like figure be published

Quite an interesting attack on Ken from the Chancellor, who told the annual dinner of the Community Security Trust that London needed a leader “who respects all its citizens,” describing Livingstone as “no friend of the Jewish community.”

Osborne is right, of course. Ken’s “respect” for British minorities, and for other nationalities, can be selective. British Muslims, along with India, China, and Venezuela, are in the good camp; British Jews are with Japan and America in the groups that Ken has insulted.

Slightly chillingly, Ken blames his election defeat in 2008 on the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who he says collaborated with the Evening Standard to “get rid” of him. (I was the main reporter in the Standard’s 2008 investigations of Ken and I have never, to the best of my recollection, spoken to anyone at the Board in my life.)

Livingstone also has a long record of deeply offending many of London’s Jews. His biographer, Andy Hosken, says that as far back as 1982, when leader of the GLC, Ken insisted that the left-wing newspaper he controlled, Labour Herald, publish a cartoon (above) showing the Israeli prime minister as a Nazi. In 1984, Ken said the Board was “organising paramilitary groups which resemble fascist organisations.”

In 2005, there was the extraordinary outburst against the Jewish Evening Standard journalist who he compared to a “concentration camp guard. There’s his close alliance with various varieties of Islamic extremism. And there is of course the Third Reich thread which seems to run through so many of his public utterances.

Still, I can’t work out quite how this attack will play. It might go unnoticed; it might be pretty big.