A thorougly dodgy enterprise: Ken Livingstone's 'savings calculator'

Ken has been desperately trying to change the subject away from his tax affairs – a “distraction,” apparently, from the school of “American-style personalised politics”. If that’s the case, Ken, why was it you who first raised the subject of the candidates’ earnings? Clearly, American-style personalised politics is one of those things that only politicians other than Ken practise.

In fact, of course, Ken’s tax affairs are more important than anything in his manifesto, because it shows he says one thing and does another. There’s no point talking about his promise to cut bus fares if he can’t be trusted to deliver it. The only way Ken can end this crisis is to do what he promised on Wednesday – and publish “details of everything I’ve earned in the last four years,” including the vast sums channelled through his personal company. He remains the only major candidate in the race not to have done so. But then he does have a record of broken promises…

Still – in the constructive spirit for which this blog is famous – let us look at Ken’s latest tool to get his message across: a personalised online “savings calculator” to tell lucky voters about the vast cash payola that allegedly awaits them if they only put their cross next to the L-word. What you do is tick whichever of various circumstances apply to you and get back a figure described as “your total saving” from Ken’s benevolence.

Alas, it turns out to be every bit as misleading as everything else about Livingstone. I ticked Yes for “Do you rent from a private landlord,” because I do. Ken’s site then claimed: “Your household can save an average total of £2,496 over four years if Ken wins on 3rd May.” This is made up of four times £624, allegedly my “saving every year… through the all-London not-for-profit lettings agency.”

This idea of Ken’s, to reduce estate agents’ fees charged on tenants when they move, is a perfectly good one. But any saving clearly only applies to people who are moving house, and even then in most cases only in one year. Most commercial lettings agents only charge tenants a one-off fee – mine certainly did. I, and all other tenants who are not moving, the vast majority, “can save” nothing; it is not true to claim we will benefit from any saving, “average” or not.

The same linguistical nonsense occurs when you tick Yes to the question: “Do you pay fares on London’s public transport?” When you do, up comes a little message: “Every fare payer can save an average of £250 a year.” How can “every fare payer” save an average? An average is of course a measure used to compare a wide variety of different savings.

I have already exposed the fantasy nature of the £250-a-year (£1000 over four years) “average saving” figure. In fact, hardly any farepayers – only daily commuters from zones 5 and 6 into central London, travelling by rail in the morning peak – would save this much. In my case, for instance, since I am a cyclist who only spends about £150 a year on public transport, I would save about £50 from Ken’s policies over the whole four-year period.

I also ticked yes to “Do you pay energy bills,” to be informed that I can “save an average £120 a year for four years” through Ken’s bulk energy purchase scheme. This seems unlikely, too: is Ken really going to be able to get whatever he plans up and running the minute he takes office? Won’t it take a couple of years or so?

My total savings over the four years, claims Ken, would add up to £3,976. If you believe this, you are almost certainly Sunny Hundal.

Tax, I think, has a bit to run yet. But move the debate on to any ground you like, Ken, and you still lose.

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