Mehdi Hasan: liar leaves job

The New Statesman has today parted company with Mehdi Hasan as its senior editor, politics.

Mehdi is an effective polemicist, increasingly beloved of BBC discussion programmes – but the job needed more reporting scruples than he possessed, and his temper sometimes get the better of him. My own experience with this came in November 2010. I’d done something to annoy Mehdi – not that hard – so he accused me (in his New Statesman blog) of a long list of crimes including working for the Iranian state-funded broadcaster, Press TV. “Sources at Press TV tell me Gilligan is among the highest-paid, if not the highest-paid, employee at the channel,” wrote Mehdi, asking: “So, Andrew, when will you quit your lucrative job at Press TV?”

The answer to that question was “eleven months before.” Because if Mehdi had actually spoken to any “sources at Press TV” in November 2010, he would have been told that I was not, in fact, “among the highest-paid employees at the channel,” nor indeed in any kind of relationship with them at all. I can only conclude that he had not, in fact, spoken to anyone at Press TV – and that he had made up this quote to further his untruth.

I did present a fortnightly discussion show on Press TV, in which the policies of the Iranian government were often debated and challenged. But I stopped in December 2009. I have not worked for Press TV since, with the exception of two one-off shows in the week of the general election in May 2010, almost six months before Mehdi’s “sources” told him I was its highest paid employee.

The fact that I had left Press TV was also clearly stated on my Wikipedia entry, from which Mehdi quoted elsewhere in his post, and had been reported in the press. Any competent journalist would have checked this. (Fascinatingly, and with slightly Hari-esque overtones, my Wikipedia entry – favoured propaganda battleground for my critics – was changed five days later to put a flattering gloss on Mehdi’s blogpost, including a claim that he had “revealed” new facts about my work for the station.)

I did complain to the New Statesman – they claimed that it was a genuine quote but that Mehdi’s “source” had given him “inaccurate information.” Press TV is a small operation run out of about seven rooms; nobody at the station could have been unaware that I’d left the previous year. They added a note to the bottom of the piece, but continue to publish the made-up quote to this day.

Anyway, best of luck at the Huffington Post, Mehdi – hope they’re paying you!

Housing benefit cuts have not been a 'final solution' for the poor

Very few policies have been condemned in more lurid terms than the Government’s cap on housing benefit. With her characteristic calm moderation, the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee called it a “final solution” for the poor. Even more sensible people than Polly have used language such as “social cleansing.” Indeed, Boris Johnson has used that phrase (though only in the sense of saying that it will not happen on his watch.)

As part of my phased medical readjustment to the post-Ken Livingstone world, I did a piece for yesterday’s paper on how far the prophecies of doom over housing benefit have been realised. As I put it:

The Daily Telegraph decided to get beyond the rhetoric and ask a simple question: 13 months after Ms Toynbee’s “final solution”, how many people have been forced to leave their home areas? The answer, it turns out, is not very many – not yet, at least.

Read the rest here.

And don’t worry, fellow obsessives: there will be a couple more election pieces – one analysing the detailed (ward-by-ward) results once they’re published and another on the dogs that didn’t bark during the campaign.

Boris Johnson v Ken Livingstone: why it was closer than expected

As you can read in my piece for today’s paper, the Tories really did fear that they had lost at one point during the mayoral count on Friday. As Lynton Crosby, Boris Johnson’s campaign supremo, put it at 7.20pm: “I think we could just go down.

I confess I never thought that – and not just because I was with the best number-crunchers and London politics experts in the business, YouGov’s Peter Kellner and the LSE’s Tony Travers. Neither they nor I thought Ken had the numbers – he was getting good enough swings in some of the 14 counting areas, but not enough in most of them. And there were indeed swings towards Boris in four of the 14.

The main reason it was closer than everyone expected is perhaps this. Labour had fewer supporters, but was better at getting those it had to the polls. Compared with 2008, turnout was down everywhere. But it fell by less in the Labour areas than in the Tory ones.

Six of the fourteen counting areas (each covering two or three boroughs) voted for Ken. Turnout in the Ken areas fell by 6.3 per cent on average compared to 2008. In Lambeth & Southwark, it fell by as little as 4.9 per cent and in the North East counting area (Waltham Forest, Hackney and Islington) it fell by 5.5 per cent.

Eight of the 14 counting areas voted for Boris. Turnout in the Boris areas fell by an average of 8.2 per cent compared to 2008. In two Boris areas, West Central and Croydon & Sutton, it fell by 10.6 per cent and in two more, Bexley & Bromley and Havering & Redbridge, it fell by more than 9 per cent. These four areas are Boris’s fortresses, where they weigh the Tory vote – his lead over Ken in Bexley & Bromley was more than 40 percentage points. The bigger-than-average turnout drops in these areas cost Boris tens of thousands of votes.

As the Boris campaign always feared, many Tory voters clearly did believe that Boris was going to win and didn’t bother coming out. The last-week polls giving him leads of up to 12 per cent (four times his actual winning margin) did him no favours.

And whatever the other failings of Ken’s campaign, it managed to deploy lots of door-knockers and phone canvassers and sent out copious direct mail in the final week. Labour had a lot of effective help from the unions. Tory organisation is much patchier – activists in several areas are older and less, well, physically active than Labour’s.

A few Tory areas bucked the trend and may have saved Boris’s bacon. The counting areas covering the affluent west and south-west London boroughs of Wandsworth, Richmond and Kingston had both smaller-than-average turnout drops and swings towards Boris. Banker-land, if you want to be unkind.

But the star trend-bucker was heavily-Jewish Barnet and Camden, which recorded the highest turnout in London, one of the lowest turnout drops and a swing to Boris. If Ken ever did regrets, how he should regret insulting those “rich Jews.”

Ken Livingstone blames it all on the media

In 2008 Ken Livingstone could plausibly claim that his defeat was due to the unpopularity of Gordon Brown. This time there really can be no excuses – Labour in London is 19 per cent ahead in the polls – but that didn’t stop Ken making one. Complaining about his “incredible media battering,” he devoted a large part of his concession speech to attacking the press.

I think democracy’s undermined when those who own newspapers fill them with trivia rather than real issues (applause from the Labour ranks). And I wonder if the negativity and the smears that dominated this election played a part in Birmingham and Manchester rejecting the idea of elected mayors for their cities. However, I’d like to thank LBC and BBC London for what I think was very good coverage of these elections. And I think how different the result might have been if the BBC hadn’t cancelled that Question Time debate and stopped candidates being interviewed on the Today programme. But irrespective of bias in the media (laughter) Labour will win the debate on how to build an economy that works for all in a fairer Britain because we must.

One of the “smears” was presumably my story about Livingstone’s tax avoidance – which today’s Guardian describes as “ruinous” for his campaign. It’s not a smear if it’s true, Ken – which was no doubt why you could never produce those tax returns of yours. Nobody ever needs to make anything up about Livingstone; he gives us more than enough material of his own accord.

Walking away from City Hall last night, Ken was heard to sigh: “All I needed was another three per cent.” Less, actually: if 32,000 people out of 2.2 million had voted the other way, Boris would have lost.

Will Ken spend the rest of his life kicking himself that if he’d made just one less stupid remark, one less unforced error, had been just a little less greedy about his finances, he would be mayor again today? Probably not. Bye, Ken.

Ken Livingstone's likely defeat is Labour's best result of the night

Ken Livingstone’s team is privately conceding this afternoon that it is all over – and that he may indeed have lost by more than last time. The two results already published suggest that they may be right.

In the final tally from Merton and Wandsworth, Boris’s lead is 17 points (51-34) compared with 10 points last time (46-36).

The final tally from Bexley and Bromley shows Boris leading Ken by 40 points (62-22), only fractionally down on last time (61-20).

These are solidly Tory areas, but it’s looking very bad for Ken, who would expect to see at least some swings here if he was going to win.

Health warning: there were big differences in how different parts of London swung at the last general election. It is, I suppose, just possible that high turnout in Ken-friendly areas plus a lot of Jones or Benita second preferences could pull it back for him. But it’s looking unlikely. If he does lose, it will, of course, be written up as a disaster for Labour. It would certainly be a catastrophic humiliation for Livingstone. But it could be the best thing that has ever happened for his party.

Ken sums up, in a single beige-suited package, absolutely everything that Labour must ditch if it is to become electable in the country again: sectarian identity politics, pandering to special interests rather than the general interest, wild and uncosted public spending. There can, indeed, be no clearer sign of the intellectual bankruptcy of tax-and-spend than the fact that Livingstone won’t subject himself to the high taxes he seeks for others.

For most of its life, the Labour Party was a coalition between the Mirror and the Guardian, Bevin and Crossman, industrial working class and metropolitan bourgeois. Its problem now is that the Guardian wing has come totally to dominate. More than a fifth of Labour’s members are in London, with its concentration of middle-class public-sector workers, though the capital is home to only a ninth of the country’s population.

Membership figures issued in 2010, the last to be broken down by constituency, show that Labour has substantially more members in Richmond Park — where it took just five per cent of the vote at the last general election — than in the Rhondda. It has five times as many members in Hampstead as in Hartlepool. It has more members in seven London boroughs than in the whole of Wales. Its presence in the suburban, middle-English swing seats it needs to win is skimpy.

The London middle-class left, of which Livingstone is the ultimate expression, has been the single most destructive force in Labour’s entire history, genetically programmed to detect the wishes of ordinary people and then do the opposite. It is substantially responsible for keeping the party out of power for the best part of the 1980s and 90s. The reason Boris Johnson won Dagenham, Redbridge, Croydon and Greenwich in 2008 – and, who knows, may do so again today – was that mainstream voters thought Livingstone was interested in everybody except them.

If Ken loses again this week, in a city where Labour is currently 19 per cent ahead in the polls, Labour will have no option but to face all these realities. There will be no excuses. That’s one of the reasons so many people in Labour wanted him to lose – and such people were, indeed, almost certainly the deciding factor in his likely defeat.

Boris Johnson camp worried at low turnout

The turnout is very low, according to exit polls
The turnout in today's elections is very low, according to the Tories

Turnout in today’s mayor election is extremely low, according to the Tory campaign. They are claiming a turnout at polling stations in Putney – a strong Boris Johnson area last time – of just 16 per cent as of just over an hour ago. Turnout seems to be down in more Ken Livingstone-friendly areas of the city, too.

The Tories’ worry has always been that with all the polls – including today’s YouGov – showing Boris comfortably ahead, their supporters will think it’s all over and will not turn out to vote.

Lynton Crosby, Boris’s campaign director, said: “The poll leads have led some to think that Boris has won, and this is not the case.”

They may be talking this up to get their supporters out – but if turnout so far is 16 per cent in Putney, that sounds pretty worrying for the Boris vote.

Ken Livingstone's biggest donor was a tax avoider

Here’s a story from our print edition:

The Ken Livingstone campaign’s largest individual donor is a  tax-avoiding property tycoon until recently based in Switzerland and
the British Virgin Islands.

Andrew Rosenfeld gave £90,000 to Mr Livingstone’s mayoral election bid in the first quarter of this year, Labour sources say.  The amount makes him by far Mr Livingstone’s biggest single supporter. Mr Livingstone’s spokesman refused to deny the donation last night.

The sum is in addition to £121,000 donated by Mr Rosenfeld to Labour last October, much of which will also have been spent on the mayoral campaign. The money is partly the proceeds of tax avoidance. Until last year Mr Rosenfeld, who is said to be worth £100 million, lived in Geneva and operated his Air Capital property empire through a series of offshore trusts in the Caribbean to avoid tax. By remaining in Switzerland for five full tax years, he was also able to escape capital gains tax on his property and investments.

Mr Rosenfeld’s huge donation will add to the controversy surrounding Mr Livingstone’s own personal tax arrangements. The Labour candidate’s bid to regain his old job from Boris Johnson has been badly  damaged after it was revealed he channelled his six-figure earnings through a personal company in order to avoid at least £50,000 in tax.

More than four weeks after promising to “publish details of everything I’ve earned over the last four years,” Mr Livingstone has
still not done so, though all the other candidates have published full details of their income and tax paid. Ten days ago he promised that figures certified by his accountant would be produced “shortly,” but none have yet been forthcoming.

Priti Patel, Tory MP for Witham, said: “Mr Livingstone has attacked tax avoiders as ‘rich bastards’ who ‘should not be allowed to vote.’
He clearly believes that doesn’t apply either to him or to people who are willing to give him money.”

Companies House records for Air Capital show that Mr Rosenfeld only changed his country of residence from Switzerland to the UK on 5 December 2011, two months after his first donation to Labour. However, his spokesman said that Mr Rosenfeld had returned to Britain and started paying UK tax in “early 2011” and the company’s status was “entirely separate from his status.”

The records show that all Mr Rosenfeld’s British companies, including Air Capital, are either “dormant” with no money passing through them, or are less than two months old. The spokesman declined to comment on the location of Mr Rosenfeld’s fortune and of the companies he uses to operate his business. However, he said that the British Virgin Islands companies previously used by Mr Rosenfeld were now also dormant. “When he came back to the UK, all those vehicles would then qualify for UK tax if any profits were made out of those companies.”

The spokesman refused to confirm or deny Mr Rosenfeld’s latest donation, saying: “Any donation will be registered with the Electoral Commission.” Mr Livingstone’s spokesman said: “The Labour Party declares all donations received for Ken Livingstone’s election
campaign to the Electoral Commission in line with party funding rules.” Donations for the first quarter of 2012 will only be published
by the Commission in the third week of May, after the elections.

Mr Rosenfeld is a controversial figure who found himself caught up in the “loans-for-honours” scandal when his name appeared on a list of businessmen – all donors to Tony Blair’s 2005 election campaign – who were being considered for peerages. He loaned the party £1 million, which has now been repaid. After Labour’s political fortunes slumped, Mr Rosenfeld switched his support to the Conservatives. Both before and after the last election he made persistent efforts to contact senior Tories with a view to a donation, but they declined to see him. “We did not trust his politics,” said one Tory source. He has since turned back to Labour, promising to donate £1 million to the party.

If elected mayor today, Mr Livingstone will gain enormous planning powers, representing a potential conflict of interest with
his funding from Mr Rosenfeld. Air Capital invests in “distressed property” in London and elsewhere and is closely linked to Goldman
Sachs’ property arm, the Goldman Sachs Whitehall Fund.

During his previous mayoralty Mr Livingstone made a number of decisions which helped Mr Rosenfeld’s then company, the property
developer Minerva. In 2005 he relaxed controls on “protected views” around St Paul’s Cathedral, where Minerva was proposing a massive scheme. Mr Livingstone also approved Minerva’s proposed 50-storey Houndsditch office tower, the tallest in the City, against furious objections from Historic Royal Palaces, which said it would “inexorably ruin” views of the Tower of London. The scheme later fell victim to the credit crunch.

Mr Livingstone had earlier opposed another Minerva development, the £500 million Park Place shopping centre in Croydon, but it was approved by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. Four weeks after the approval, Mr Rosenfeld’s partner in Minerva, Sir David Garrard, loaned £200,000 to the Labour Party.

Ken Livingstone has told 85 different lies during this campaign

British politics' most prolific liar for a generation

In my first instalment of Ken’s lies, earlier this week, I said he and his team had told “at least 79” different lies during the campaign. Mea culpa, fifty lashes – I’ve found a further six I overlooked. His actual total is 85, compared to Boris Johnson’s 12.

On Tuesday I gave you the first tranche – lies 1 to 23, covering character and behaviour.

Earlier today you had the second tranche – lies 24 to 58, covering transport.

Here’s the final instalment, lies 59 to 85, covering crime, council tax, housing, the environment and all other policy areas not already mentioned.

A reminder of the ground rules – each lie is only counted once, no matter how many times it is repeated. And many of them have been repeated dozens of times. Ken is, I’m quite sure, the most prolific liar to have sought high public office in Britain in at least a generation.


59. Claim: “What I don’t do is play with statistics.” (Age UK hustings, 21 February)

Reality: See below.

Council tax

60. Claim: “Under Boris Johnson’s watch council tax has risen by £90, or 7 per cent.” (Ken press release)

Reality:  Over the last four years the Mayoral council tax has fallen by 1 per cent in absolute terms, from £309 to £306.72, and by 16 per cent in real terms.


61. Claim: “…the latest police figures, March 2012, showing overall crime has risen by 2.3 per cent since last year.” (Ken press release)

Reality: The Met website states that overall crime fell by 1.1 per cent in the year to March 2012.

62. Claim: “It is nonsense to say that crime’s coming down. Everywhere you go, crimes are up here, there and everywhere.”

63. Claim: Crime has “sort of flatlined” under Boris (BBC London, Jan 5).

Reality: It has fallen by about 10 per cent.


64. Claim: “In the last year, there’s been an 8% increase in murders” (BBC London, March 26)

Reality: In the year to February 2012, the latest figures at the time of Ken’s claim, there was a 24.1 per cent fall in homicides, from 136 to 104.

Violent crime

65. Claim: There is “rising violent crime” in London.

Claim: The Tories “make you less safe” (campaign website)

Reality: Some crimes involving violence or the threat of violence, including rape and robbery, have indeed risen in the last year. However, according to the Metropolitan Police, total crimes of violence against the person, a category not including robbery, have fallen by 7.3 per cent over the last 12 months. There have been sharp falls in murder, gun crime, and hate crime and smaller falls in sexual crime other than rape. With robbery, the overall fall is 4.7 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.”

Knife crime

66. Claim: “Knife crime has risen every year under Boris Johnson.”

Reality: This is again untrue. According to the Met figures, knife crime fell in 2009/10.

Anti-semitic attacks

67. Claim: “In each year I was mayor, anti-semitic attacks [in London] declined” (Guardian, March 26; when pressed about his poor relationship with the Jewish community)

Reality: The London figures, from the Community Security  Trust’s annual reports, are as follows (reports before 2003 are not readily available online):

2003: 215    2004: 311   2005: 213    2006: 300    2007: 247    2008: 236

As will be seen, the number of anti-semitic attacks in London rose substantially – by up to 45% – in two of these years.

Police numbers

68. Claim: Police numbers have been in “decline” under Boris.

Claim: There are “1700 less police” under Boris .

Reality: Untrue – there are several hundred more police than when Ken left office.

Funding of extra police

69. Claim: “We’ve identified, you can get it off my website, £60m of savings we can make” (to fund his claimed pledge to provide 1,700 extra police) (BBC London, 26 March)

Reality: Providing 1,700 extra police officers will in fact cost at least £90 million – every year. There is no trace on the website of any explanation of how even £60 million will be found. Ken’s only costed references to funding this pledge which I can trace are a claim that he can raise £20 million by allowing the Met to charge TfL the “full price” of its safer transport teams (TfL already pays on a “full cost recovery” basis – and even if it didn’t, it would just be shuffling money from another part of the GLA budget anyway.)

The only sources of money Ken identified in his BBC interview were removing chauffeur-driven cars from senior officers (this would save £2 million) and stopping “police officers flying first class, particularly internally in Britain. This is nonsense.” Nonsense indeed – there is no first class, or even business, on British domestic flights. And even if there was, stopping a few police officers from flying it would again save small sums.

Educational Maintenance Allowance

70. Claim: I will “reinstate” the EMA.

Reality: As even Ken admits, there is no money in the Mayoral budget for this and it “will require stakeholders in education and local government to fund it.” Some of the money he claims they will give them is ring-fenced for other uses, and other parts of it has already been refused to him. Channel 4’s independent Fact Check blog has pronounced this promise “fiction.”

Air quality

71. Claim: London has “the worst air quality in Europe” (Guardian, 26 April and repeatedly at debates)

Reality: Official EU figures show that numerous cities have worse air quality than London. Even the Livingstone campaign now merely says that London is “ranked among the worst cities in Europe,” which isn’t true either.

72. Claim: The Livingstone front, Sack Boris, claims that London’s air quality has got worse under Boris Johnson.

Reality: Untrue – it has improved. The figures are here.

Only 56 affordable homes built

 73. Claim: “The supply of new affordable housing has all but dried up. In the last six months for which figures are available [April-September 2011], just fifty-six new affordable homes started construction in London.” (Ken manifesto page 35, and on numerous other occasions)

Reality: The actual number of new affordable homes started in London between April and September 2011 was 2,270 – 40 times Ken’s claim. See table 217 here.

As the statistics show, there were a further 2,700 new affordable homes completed in the same period, hardly a “drying up” of supply.

“Rent controls”

74. Claim: “What we need, and Ken Livingstone is proposing this in the elections, is rent control.” (David Lammy, Ken campaign chair, BBC Question Time, Jan 26)

Claim: “I would cap rents. We want to have rent control.” (Ken, Evening Standard, 4 October 2010)

Reality: The mayor has no power to cap rents and Ken is in fact merely promising to “campaign for a London living rent…learning from the success of the London Living Wage in arguing, cajoling, intervening and collaborating.”

Rent levels

75. Claim: “Under Boris Johnson’s watch the average London rent has risen by 42%.” (Press release)

Reality: Johnson has no responsibility or control over rents and the figures are in any case hugely exaggerated. Over the last four years the average social rent has risen by 16% and the average private rent has risen by 27%.

Energy bills

76. Claim: “Under Boris Johnson’s watch the average energy bill has gone up by 36% and the average water bill by 22%.” (Press release)

Reality: Johnson has no responsibility or control over the prices set by the private water and energy companies.

Standard of living

77. Claim: Tories “make you less well off” (website)

Reality: 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, most voters have been made better off under Boris.

Savings from “free home insulation”

78. Claim: Anyone spending more than a tenth of their income on energy bills “can save an average of £150 on your energy bills every year for four years after receiving free home insulation.” (“How much you will be better off with Ken” calculator, campaign website.)

Reality: The scheme depends on funding which has already been allocated elsewhere and which expires in December anyway, meaning that the number of people who could benefit, if any, is far fewer than Ken claims.

Savings from “not-for-profit lettings agency”

79. Claim: Everyone who rents “can save an average of £624 every year for four years through the all-London not for profit lettings agency.” (“How much you will be better off with Ken” calculator, campaign website.)

Reality: It is not clear how the figure of £624 has been calculated. Any saving would in any case apply only to those tenants moving house and only in one year, the year they moved. No landlord would be obliged to use Ken’s letting agency and the vast majority almost certainly would not do so.

“Childcare grant”

80. Claim: Anyone eligible for full tax credits, in need of childcare and returning to work “will receive a £700 one-off payment to be spent on childcare for one year.” (“How much you will be better off with Ken” calculator, campaign website.)

Reality: Only the first 1200 applicants will receive this payment, as Ken’s campaign confirms.

Savings from “bulk energy purchase” scheme

81. Claim: “You can save an average of £120 every year for four years through the all-London bulk energy purchase scheme.” (“How much you will be better off with Ken” calculator,campaign website.)

Reality: It is unclear whether this scheme could be established – it would depend on the agreement of the energy companies, who would probably resist the loss of their customers – or how much it would actually save, which would depend on energy prices at the time. It certainly could not be established the instant that Ken takes office, meaning that a saving “every year for four years” could not be attained.

Total savings from all Ken’s plans

82. Claim: “My plans to cut fares, drive down energy bills, restore EMA and improve childcare will save families as much as £10,000 over four years.” (Press release)

Reality: Even if all Ken’s claimed savings were correct, it would be almost impossible for any family to save this much.

GLA budget

83. Claim: The Mayor’s budget is “£14 billion a year” (State of the Race speech, 22 April)

Reality: The Mayor’s budget this year is in fact £16.4 billion.

Hosting extremist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi

84. Claim: “All I knew about Qaradawi when he came was that the Sun had praised him as a true voice of Islam.” (Newsnight 4 April)

Reality: Livingstone had actually been furiously lobbied by liberal, Jewish and gay groups not to host Qaradawi. A Labour Home Office minister, Fiona McTaggart, pulled out of the City Hall event with the hate preacher, urging Ken not to meet him and saying that “a perfectly good cause had been hijacked” by Qaradawi and his supporters. The shadow home secretary, David Davis, asked Ken not to give Qaradawi “the oxygen of publicity.” When Qaradawi touched down in the UK, the Sun in fact proclaimed: “The evil has landed.”

“Fatal  consequences” of global capitalism

85. Claim: Defending his 2000 comment that “every year the international financial system kills more people than World War Two,” Ken claimed: “When you actually look at the impact that the financial system has on the poorest societies… the infant mortality rate is absolutely shocking. Those are not my figures. They’re UNESCO’s figures, actually.”  (Newsnight 4 April)

Reality: Never have so many poorer countries grown so fast as in the last 15 years – not just the well-known ones like India and China, but also dozens of others such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and a huge range of African countries. UNESCO is the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and publishes no figures on infant mortality. It is best known for its list of World Heritage sites.

Ken Livingstone: is this the sneakiest election leaflet ever?

Ken's latest ethical campaigning tactic

On the eve of polling, a reader, Enza Ferreri, sends me something that looks like a personal note which was posted through her door. It appears to be handwritten, in blue ink on cream paper, and carries no headings or logo.

“Dear friend,” it says. “For years I was a Conservative. I voted Tory, I volunteered at election time and I even worked for the party. But this year I won’t even be voting for them…

“Don’t get me wrong. I like Boris, but he’s let us down. I used to work for the Metropolitan Police. I believed his promises about cutting crime…

“This year I’m sending a message to the Tory government that they can’t take people for granted. I won’t be voting Tory and I won’t be voting Boris.

“Yours faithfully,

Brett Harrison.”

Mr Harrison is apparently a real person – he worked for three months as a civilian receptionist at the Met – though it is hard to see how he could have worked for both the Tory Party and the police. But the real authors of the “letter” become clear when you look at the tiny (also handwritten!) writing at the side of the missive. You’ll need pretty strong glasses, mind. “Promoted by Patrick Heneghan on behalf of London Labour,” it says.

As Ms Ferreri says, the letter is so sly that it will probably have the opposite effect to that intended. “The few doubts that I still had about voting [against] Ken have gone after receiving this letter: its counterproductiveness made my choice easier,” she said.

Labour’s already resorted to removing its candidate’s name from its leaflets. It is now clearly so desperate that it is removing all mention of itself.


Ken Livingstone: 35 separate lies on transport

Here’s my second instalment of Ken’s and Boris’s campaign lies – this time on transport. Ken’s groupies often claim that policy and delivery are his strong suits. See if you still believe that after reading through the catalogue of fabrications that is his transport policy.

Remember the ground rules – each lie is only counted once, no matter how many times it is repeated. On this tally Ken or his team have told 79 separate lies in the election campaign – four a week – and Boris or his team 12.

Thirty-five of Ken’s lies and four of Boris’s were about transport and are detailed below.

For Ken’s first 23 lies of the list, on issues of character and personal behaviour, see yesterday’s entry.


Ken on Boris’s fares record in office

24.Claim: Boris Johnson is a transport “pickpocket” who has increased fares far more than Livingstone (Ken advertising campaign).

Reality: Boris put up Travelcard prices only fractionally more than Ken did, and has reduced some fares.

Ken on his own fares record in office

25. Claim: “My fares pledge in the past was to freeze fares in real terms…in fact what happened was that they fell in real terms on the tube and very substantially on buses.” (Guardian, March 26)

Reality: After promising to freeze fares in real terms at the May 2000 election, Livingstone raised bus fares by 43% in January 2004. Inflation was 2.6% at the time. He admits in his own memoirs (page 491): “I decided to increase the fares before the [2004] election.”

After again promising a real-terms freeze at the 2004 election, Livingstone raised fares by up to 25% in early 2005. Inflation was 3.2% at the time. He again now admits in his memoirs (page 497) that he “increase[d] the fares [after the 2004 election]…this meant breaking my promise not to raise fares faster than inflation.”

Government statistics show substantial real-terms rises in fares under Livingstone.

26.Claim: “An independent audit did an analysis of [my record on fares] – and the fares when I left office showed, in real terms after inflation, bus fares were down 9%, and tube fares had gone up, in real terms, 1.4%.” (Ken, Guardian 26 April, BBC Vanessa Feltz show 12 Jan)

Reality: This was not an “independent audit” but figures produced by Mr Livingstone’s transport agency, TfL. Official Department for Transport figures not produced by City Hall show bus fares rose across his eight years by just under 7 per cent in real terms.

27.Claim: “I cut bus fares by 20%

Reality: The single bus fare went up by 43 per cent under Livingstone, from 70p to £1. Shortly before the 2008 election he reduced the fare to 90p, still a rise of 29 per cent.

28. Claim: “I went in to the [2004] election saying I will increase the congestion charge.” (Ken, BBC London, 5 Jan and in some of the debates)

Reality: Mr Livingstone’s 2004 manifesto made no mention of increasing the charge. Nor did he mention it at any point during the campaign. He had previously said that the charge would remain at £5 until at least 2013. However, shortly after being re-elected in 2004, he raised it by 60% – to £8.

Creation of the Freedom Pass

29.Claim: “I brought in the Freedom Pass… it’s the best thing I ever did.” (Ken, BBC London 26 March)

“I have used the mayoralty in the past to deliver things that people said I could not… This is exactly the approach I took with the Freedom Pass – which is not paid for by the mayoral budget, but which I won for older Londoners so that they could travel free on the network.” (Ken, Guardian 26 March) 

This claim has been repeated on many other occasions, including in Ken’s party election broadcast and some of the debates. 

Reality: The GLC introduced London-wide free bus travel for pensioners in 1973, eight years before Livingstone became leader and 27 years before he became mayor. Ken, then a new backbencher, had no involvement with pensioners’ free travel, apart from voting for it with the rest of the Labour group.

The Tory GLC administration of Horace Cutler extended the concession to the Tube (with a 20p flat fare) in 1977. Livingstone’s GLC abolished the afternoon peak restriction and the 20p flat fare on the Tube in 1981/2. The pass was taken over by the boroughs in 1986, after the GLC’s abolition, and rebranded by them as the “Freedom Pass” in the 1990s, before the mayoralty began. Wikipedia’s claim that the Freedom Pass was created in 1984 is wrong.

Affordability of Ken’s fares cut

30.Claim: “We will carry out this ‘Fare Deal’ [fares cut] without cutting future investment or hitting services.” (Ken campaign, Making the Case for the Fare Deal.)

Reality: Channel 4 News’ independent Fact Check blog described this claim as “fiction.” Fact Check quoted TfL’s chief financial officer, Stephen Critchley, who said: “Lower fares revenues in the operating budget mean there will be less operating surplus available to fund capital expenditure that appears in the capital budget.” A TfL board member under Livingstone, Prof Stephen Glaister, said: “They’re right about that. The simple point is that a pound spent on reducing fares is a pound not spent elsewhere. This isn’t magic money.”

31. Claim: A seven per cent fares cut is “a costed and affordable plan.” (Ken, I’ll wipe out January’s fare rise)

Reality: Less than three months previously, Ken had said that a 7 per cent cut was not affordable. “[If] we’d gone for 7% we might have found in that final year there would be a deficit and I’m not prepared to take that risk,” he said.

32.Claim: The 7 per cent fares cut can be financed by “massive profits” being “stockpiled” at TfL (Ken, transport manifesto, p5)

Reality: As Ken himself said when mayor, “we [at TfL] do not make a profit; we are not allowed to make a profit.” (Mayor’s Question Time, 25 Jan 2006.) TfL is of course not a commercial undertaking but is subsidised to the tune of billions of pounds a year by the taxpayer.

33. Claim: The fares cut can be financed by a “huge surplus” being built up in TfL’s operating budget, which is “a completely separate budget to capital budgets which fund investment.” (Ken, campaign website)

Reality: TfL says there is no surplus and no such separation. As Mr Livingstone put it himself when mayor: “There has been some fascinating speculation in the press that I have a £500 million slush fund that I can spend between now and the election. You know me; if I had it I would, but I do not. There is the small matter of the need for TfL to balance its budget in law, and the balances we carry are all allocated against the range of projects coming forward.”  (Mayor’s Question Time, 20 June 2007)

In 2004 Ken made clear that “capital investment will be funded from grant provided by government grant and revenue surpluses.” (press release 12 Oct 2004).

34. Claim: The “surplus” is £206 million (£412 million in a full year).

Reality: TfL says the surplus is in fact £0.

35. Claim: The “surplus” is £338 million.

Reality: TfL says the surplus is in fact £0.

36. Claim: The “surplus” is £729 million.

Reality: TfL says the surplus is in fact £0.

37. Claim: The “surplus” is £830 million.

Reality: TfL says the surplus is in fact £0.

Savings to Londoners from Ken’s fares cut

38.Claim: “My fares cut…will save the average Londoner £1000 [over the four-year mayoral term]” (Ken, press release)

Reality: Livingstone claims, and TfL accepts, that his cut will cost it £269 million a year in revenue, about £1.1 billion over four years. Divided by 7.5 million Londoners this is an average saving of £149 over the four years, or £37 a year, little more than a tenth of that claimed.

39.Claim: “The average public transport fare-payer will be £1000 better off at the end of my mayoral term.”
(Transport manifesto)

Reality: Ken has now taken to making this narrower claim. However it too is untrue. Only a small minority of farepayers – those who commute every day by Tube or rail in the morning peak hour from zones 5 and 6 to central London – will save as much as £1000, as these calculations show. To make his claimed savings look better, Mr Livingstone is calculating them well beyond the end of his mayoral term and is taking the annual saving as the price of 52 weekly Travelcards (p36 of PDF). In fact, an annual Travelcard costs the same as 40 weekly tickets, not 52.

40.Claim: “The average farepayer in zone 2 will save £1000 over the four years.” (BBC London debate, 22 April)

Reality: Even a Zone 2 farepayer making the most expensive journey every day, a daily commute by rail in the peak hour, will only save £613, even assuming Ken delivers his promise. Most farepayers in zone 2 are not, of course, daily peak-hour commuters and will save far less than this.

41. Claim: “The average farepayer in zone 6 will save £1700.” (Ken, BBC London debate, 22 April)

Reality: The saving for a Zone 6 daily peak-hour commuter to zone 1, even if Ken’s promise was implemented, will be £1250. Most farepayers in zone 6 are not daily peak hour commuters and will save far less than this.

42. Claim: “My fare cut alone will make  the average farepayer in Croydon £1,457.70 better off over the next four years, putting £7.15 in their pockets every week.” (Press release)

Reality: Croydon is in zone 5. The actual saving for a daily peak-hour commuter from Ken’s “Fare Deal” would be £1043, assuming it was ever implemented, and most Croydon farepayers would save far less.

Can Ken in any case cut Travelcard prices, which are set jointly with the train companies?

43.Claim: “The Mayor sets the increase [in Travelcard prices] and the train operating companies have to follow that.” (BBC interview, 22 April)

Reality: As Livingstone himself said when Mayor: “Unfortunately, by law I have to increase Travelcards by 1% above the rate of inflation, because they are virtually jointly locked in to the train operating companies. I would need the agreement of the train operating companies to avoid increasing those fares.” (Livingstone, Mayor’s Question Time 20 June 2007)

Boris Johnson’s record

44. Claim: “Boris Johnson has cut a huge number of bus services across London.” (‘Londoners getting more for less,’ p6)

Reality: Bus mileage has in fact increased by 3.5 per cent under Boris, from 289 to 299 million miles a year. Far more routes have increased in frequency than have been reduced.

Ken’s document gives 32 alleged examples of “bus services cut,” of which by its own admission 7 were actually frequency increases, 4 were replaced by other routes, 3 were diversions with no loss of frequency, and 4 were cuts of just one or two journeys a day (two of which were on special once-daily routes used only by schoolchildren.) Every single one of the remaining cuts was minor – for instance, the E3 route was cut from one bus every 6 minutes to one every 6.5 minutes.

45. Claim: The “Sack Boris” group, a Livingstone front funded by the Tube unions, has clamed that service on the Tube under Boris is “plummeting.”

Reality: As 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.

46. Claim: “Sack Boris” also claims that Johnson has been “bad for cycling.”

Reality: Johnson has invested more than £100 million in cycling, with his bike hire scheme introducing entirely new groups to the bicycle. Cycling on the Transport for London route network has increased by roughly double the rate it did under Livingstone – 15 per cent last year alone. The rate of cyclists killed and seriously injured has fallen since he was elected.

47. Claim: “Tory Boris Johnson took an axe to £3.5 billion of transport infrastructure investment.” (‘More for less, p9)

Reality: Three of the four “infrastructure investment” projects Ken cites – the Cross River Tram, the DLR extension to Dagenham Dock, the tram extension to Crystal Palace, and the Oxford Street tram – were not, and never had been, funded and existed only on paper. The fourth, the Thames Gateway four-lane road bridge, was funded but was cancelled after it was rejected by a public inquiry and after strong local opposition to destructive new roads and traffic. The true figure is thus £450 million (for the bridge), not £3.5 bn.

48. Claim: The new Borismaster bus “is more than ten times the cost of a regular double-decker bus.”(Ibid, p10)

Reality: Ken’s claimed cost of £2.2 million per bus is 45% more than even he was claiming just two weeks ago, about 70% more than the actual cost (£1.3 million) and is in any case just for the first eight prototypes. If the cost of prototypes were an argument against developing new vehicles, we would still be travelling by horse and cart.  TfL says the actual production cost of the new bus will be £315,000 per vehicle, comparable with existing conventional hybrid buses.

49. Claim: Ken’s campaign chair David Lammy claimed that the “full number” of new Borismaster buses will be just eight, hence the high cost per unit.

Reality: TfL says there will be “hundreds.”

50. Claim: The Boris bikes scheme is “costing Londoners over £200 million.” (Ken, More for less, p10)

Reality: The set-up cost of the scheme, including its recent extensions, was £119.8 million of which up to £50 million is met by commercial sponsorship and at least £2 million by individual boroughs, leaving an actual “cost to Londoners” of £67.8 million. The taxpayer is also currently subsidising the running cost to the tune of about £8 million a year, though this is supposed to end within four years. The total liability to taxpayers over Boris’s first term is thus £83.8 million, less than half Ken’s claim.

51. Claim: “Londoners will pay an estimated £60m towards the cable car” (‘More for less,‘ p10)

Reality: The cable car is, as I’ve written, an absurd use of public money – but as always Ken spoils his case by exaggeration. The scheme is costing up to £60 million to build, including contingency, but has secured £36 million of commercial sponsorship and is also bidding for a further £18 million of EU funding. If fares which cover its operating costs are charged, it could end up costing the London taxpayer as little as £6 million. It is in practice likely to be more than that – but nowhere near £60m.

52. Claim: Boris is to blame for delays to the upgrade of Thameslink.

Reality: The Thameslink project is in fact entirely the responsibility of Network Rail and has nothing to do with him.

53. Staffing cuts on the Tube mean there is “no one on the platform, no one at the barrier” (Ken, Sky debate 19.4)

Reality: Ticket office opening hours have been reduced but there is still always a member of staff at every barrier or on the station.

54. Claim: “[Boris Johnson] promised to get the power to fine utility companies who cause delay through badly planned roadworks. Four years later he is still promising.” (Manifesto)

Reality: Untrue; after a great deal of delay by Government, Johnson now has this power.

Future projects

55. Claim: “I will develop [the] DLR extension to Dagenham Dock.” (Press release)

Reality: This would cost £750 million which Ken does not have. Close scrutiny of the small print reveals that he would in fact merely  “put pressure on the Tory government” to fund the scheme from its budget.

56. Claim: I will extend the Croydon Tramlink to Crystal Palace, a project which “has already been assessed as feasible at very modest cost.” (Press release)

Reality: It will cost £170 million at 2009 prices, perhaps £200m today. The link Ken gives to the “feasibility assessment” leads to an enthusiast site run by a tram-spotter.

57. Claim: I will “improve” the suburban rail service by giving all stations help points, passenger information displays and at least four trains an hour.

Reality: Every suburban station already has help points and passenger information displays. 92 per cent of them already have four or more trains an hour.

58. Claim: I will “bring back the zones 2-6 Travelcard.”

Reality: The Zones 2-6 Travelcard never went away.


1.Claim: A Tory MP, Mike Freer, tweeted that Ken wanted to “scrap” Boris’s Tube alcohol ban.

Reality: Untrue – he merely said that he would not have brought it in and has since said that he would keep it.

2.Claim: Boris “delivered” the London Overground while Ken just “talked about” it.

Reality: 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.

3.Claim: Boris’s proposal to put the suburban rail service under TfL “would mean lower fares.”

Reality: 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.)

4.Claim: Bob Crow would be “handed the keys” to the transport network under Livingstone because Val Shawcross, his candidate for TfL chair, was an RMT “proxy” who had “stood shoulder-to-shoulder” with the union.

Reality: Shawcross joined one RMT demonstration, more than a year ago.

Next instalment: crime, housing, council tax.