A last, brief plug for my other life…

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This’ll be the last cycling post I ever write on this site but just to let you know that the new “official” City Hall cycling blog in my other life as London cycling commissioner is now up and running.

It started today with an announcement of the launch date for Boris’s new cycling policy document – this Thursday, if anyone’s interested. The blog’s here.

One over-eager London Assembly member, Darren Johnson, has jumped the gun tonight and is claiming that we have published our plan already in the minutes of some obscure Transport for London committee. (Which is, of course, exactly how we do all our major policy launches!) This alleged plan then forms the basis for a searing attack on our alleged lack of ambition. Just to make clear, the document Darren’s seen is not the plan, and is nothing like the plan. I’d have been happy to tell him that, if he’d asked…

Come Thursday, I have a feeling Darren might wish he’d waited before jumping in to comment.

 

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Andrew Gilligan cycling commissioner job: cyclists cautiously pleased, Ken supporters not so much

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There’s been an interesting set of reactions to my job offer as Boris Johnson’s (part-time) cycling commissioner, revealed yesterday. On the one hand, we have the main opinion-formers in the London cycling community, who seem to be cautiously pleased. David Arditti (aka the blogger Vole O’Speed) called my statement yesterday“short but promising… [I] have time for Gilligan and I’m willing to give him a chance. It’s a highly political job and he might just be the right man.”

Danny Williams, of the Cyclists in the City blog, described me as someone with “good things to say” and as a “strong supporter of making cycling something that everyone can do as a normal activity and a real form of transport.” My former colleague, the Standard’s chief news correspondent Ross Lydall, another cyclist, said cyclists “should welcome” my appointment, since I “ride miles and know how to ask awkward questions.” Mark Treasure, from the As Easy As Riding A Bike blog, said I “seem to get it.” None of these people could remotely be described as pro- (or anti) Boris partisans. They will rightly, of course, in the end judge me on what we can deliver.

There was inevitably a second group of reactions. A small number of people who could fairly be described as partisan, such as Labour’s Len Duvall and the Ken Livingstone blogger Sunny Hundal, have damned it as “cronyist.” But as Mayorwatch’s Martin Hoscik – another man who could never be described as a patsy for the mayor – points out, all mayors are entitled to appoint political supporters to political jobs, and do so routinely without controversy. Nobody would or should call, say, the Labour assembly member Val Shawcross a crony because Boris’s predecessor appointed her as chair of the fire authority.

Cronyism, of the kind I exposed in City Hall six years ago, is when the mayor’s advisers channel vast sums of public money, for no clear purpose, to their friends, their business associates and women they secretly want to honey-glaze. I’m fairly sure I won’t be doing that. (And to anyone tempted to diss those Lee Jasper stories of mine, do remember that the only libel action to result from them was brought, successfully, by me.)

As was also pointed out yesterday, I’ve been fairly critical of several of Boris’s policies, including his cycling policies, in the past (though the future we have been discussing at City Hall is starting to look better.) I also, with my then Standard colleague Paul Waugh, broke perhaps the single most damaging “cronyism” story of Boris’s whole first term: the fraudulent use of public money by his deputy, Ian Clement, for meals with his mistress, which led to Clement’s criminal trial and conviction.

I hope, too, that our cycling policies will command cross-party support, and will not be particularly partisan, because in cycling all four of the main parties at last year’s election signed up to essentially the same things. Still, it is of course true that I am a strong supporter of Boris. That, I’d suggest, is an advantage, rather than the reverse: it gives me, and cycling, more influence with the mayor.

Cycling growth in London tails off

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The latest figures for cycling levels on the Transport for London Route Network (TLRN), London’s TfL-controlled main roads, are given in the depths of a paper to the TfL board (page 9 of this PDF). They show that the previously stellar growth of cycling in London under both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson has ended, maybe even gone into reverse. Cycling on TLRN roads is actually forecast to fall this financial year for the first time since 2001/2.

It’s a big change from the enormous growth rates achieved in Boris’s first term – an average of just under 11 per cent a year, and more than 15 per cent in the single year 2010/11 alone, for instance. More new cycle journeys were made on the TLRN in 2011 than in any other year. By the end of 2011, more people were cycling in London than at any previous time since the beginning of mass car ownership. The Boris bikes have introduced hundreds of thousands of new people to cycling.

Not that Johnson is ever given any credit for this, of course: during the election campaign, as I mentioned at the time, the London cycle lobby chose to ignore the figures in favour of claiming that everything was terrible and it was all the mayor’s fault. I predict, however, that various opponents of Boris will be only too quick to blame him now the numbers have turned the wrong way.

That would not be entirely fair, because the quarterly breakdown for 2012 makes clear that the principal culprit was almost certainly the weather. In the first quarter of this calendar year, January to March 2012, TLRN cycling continued to grow, by 6.1 per cent over the same period the previous year . The weather in January to March was OK, or at least not much worse than usual.

But in the second quarter, April-June, TLRN cycling declined sharply – down 10.8 per cent on the previous spring. The spring of 2012 was, of course, the rainiest since records began.

Growth then resumed in the third quarter, July-September. TLRN cycling rose by 3.7 per cent on the previous summer, though this growth rate was well below TfL’s target.

Figures from the last quarter of 2012 are still awaited – but based on the spring and summer, when the majority of journeys are made, TfL is now projecting a 1.1 per cent drop in TLRN cycling for the financial year (April 2012- March 2013) as a whole.

In a funny way, the summer quarter’s figure is the most worrying. Yes, growth returned: but at a much slower rate than in previous years. True, July was pretty wet, too. Then there were the special events – the Jubilee, the Olympics – which disrupted normal travel patterns. But according to a Standard story before Christmas, the two-week period of the Olympics actually saw dramatic rises in the number of people cycling. That must mean that performance in the rest of the summer was even poorer than the overall figure says.

Cycling is a signature policy area of the mayor’s – according to Victory in London, the recent book written by Alex Crowley, political director of his successful 2012 re-election campaign, voter focus groups done during the election identified (again perhaps rather unfairly) the Boris bikes as Johnson’s principal achievement. But the figures underline that in cycling, as in anything else, you have to innovate to keep growing. The numbers show that the two big boosts to London cycling came in 2003, with the congestion charge, and 2010, with the Boris bikes. Apart from an extension of the Boris bikes to Tower Hamlets, there were no significant new developments in London cycling in 2012. TfL needs to deliver the same consistently high levels of innovation and improvement in cycling as it has managed in heavy-metal transport with the congestion charge, the Oyster card, the Overground, the new Routemaster, Crossrail, et al.

As TfL research makes clear, there remain enormous untapped reserves of pent-up demand to cycle in London. There are some good signs that radically pro-bike measures which could tap these reserves are on the way. A big increase in the cycling budget has been secured; an east-west “super corridor”  through central London (which I am told will be fully segregated) has been announced. The mayor has promised to implement three flagship “Dutch-style” cycle schemes with “segregated bike tracks where motor traffic is heaviest;” agreed to complete the cycle superhighway programme and all future junction improvements to “Dutch standards”; and pledged that cycle links through the new Nine Elms development in Vauxhall will be “better than Amsterdam.” Not all TfL’s latest schemes live up to these promises, frankly (though there are some signs of improvement.) But the summer’s anaemic growth figures suggest that such improvements, and others, are very necessary if the success of the past is to be sustained.

I’d say only one other thing. I can’t help wondering if last year’s almost all-consuming political and media emphasis on safety has helped suppress cycling. Most of what Londoners read in the paper or saw on TV about bikes in 2012 was variations, with different degrees of subtlety, on the theme that by mounting a bicycle you took your life in your hands.

Cycling in London is clearly not as safe as it should be. It is not as safe as it could be. But it is, in fact, far safer than it was. Between 2002 and 2010, per journey, the rate of London cyclists killed or seriously injured – the standard measurement –fell by more than a quarter. That was another little fact that tended to get overlooked in the excitement of the election campaign.

In the last twelve months sensible people, like Simon Hughes MP, have used words like “carnage” to describe the cycling death rate. But in 2011, the year Mr Hughes refers to, there were 180 million cycle journeys in London. Of these, 16 ended in death: that is, one journey in every 11.25 million. That is not carnage. I have seen quite enough real carnage in my day job, and I promise you can tell the difference.

An otherwise admirable report by the London Assembly made the headline-grabbing statement that cycle casualties had “increased by 50 per cent” between 2006 and 2010 without making any allowance for the growth in cycling over the period, and without making any distinction between slight casualties (where the rate per journey rose) and serious casualties (where the rate per journey fell).

But a sprained wrist should not count the same as a fractured skull. And indeed, the seriousness of casualties declined over that period. In 2006, 86.7 per cent of London cycle casualties were slight. By 2010, 88.3 per cent were.

There was, I know, a worrying increase in deaths and serious injuries in 2011, both in absolute terms and in rate per journey terms. And the emphasis on safety might end up being beneficial if it creates the political space for radical improvements to the cycling experience in London.

So we should never stop talking about safety. It is and always has been the biggest reason why people do not take up cycling. But perhaps we should think a bit more about how we talk about it.

 

Lynton Crosby: stop kidding yourselves

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In the London mayoral elections of both 2008 and 2012, one of the main reasons Labour lost when it could well have won was that the party and its supporters quite simply refused to engage with reality.

There were plenty of true and serious arguments they could have made against Boris Johnson. Instead, they claimed that he was a racist, an elitist, a member of the “Tory hard right,” “George W.Boris,” “Norman Tebbit in a clown’s uniform,” and so on, themes without any credibility or traction among the vast majority of voters.

Now the architect of those two against-the-odds mayoral victories, Lynton Crosby, has been asked to see if he can pull off a similar trick for the Tory re-election effort in 2015. And in their reactions to the news, the left – along with some Tories – appear to be suffering the same fatal lack of contact with the real world. Crosby, according to this necessarily anonymous crowd, is a fanatic who will bully a helpless Prime Minister into a right-wing, immigration-led “dog-whistle” campaign aimed at the core vote.

There is no doubt that Crosby is personally quite right-wing. Horrors! And God forbid that anyone should talk about immigration – it’s not as if any voter cares about that, is it? But I’ve never heard him say anything even remotely racist. And the caricature of the one-note “dog-whistler” does not survive thirty seconds’ examination of the campaigns Crosby actually ran for Boris.

Boris simply could not have won either of his election victories on the basis of hard-right or core-vote pitches. In lefty, liberal London there isn’t anything like a big enough Tory core vote. Boris’s campaigns – run by Lynton Crosby – were broad and catholic. Johnson won, both times, because he and Lynton Crosby secured the votes of hundreds of thousands of people who would ordinarily vote Labour or Lib Dem.

In 2008, for instance, Johnson’s supposed “dog-whistle” campaign included supporting an amnesty for illegal immigrants – something far to the left of even current Labour policy. It is alleged that in the 2012 election, Boris “lurched to the right on immigration, making it a campaign issue.” It is true that Boris gave one interview in which he urged ministers to “get a grip” on immigration. (How unreasonable!) But he did not make it a campaign issue against Ken Livingstone and immigration barely featured in the campaign.

In his exciting role as the spider at the centre of the web, Crosby is also alleged by one journalist to have been behind the stories that did so much damage to Ken in 2008 and 2012: the scandal at the London Development Agency, and the great man’s tax avoidance. I was the reporter who broke both stories, and I did not get either of them from Lynton Crosby or anyone connected to the campaign. I actually got them both from, you know, investigative journalism, developing sources, Companies House trawls of Ken’s personal company accounts, and so on. It does still happen! My LDA stories kicked off in early December 2007, almost a month before Lynton Crosby even joined the Boris campaign. And in 2012, not until weeks after my tax story, published in February, did Team Johnson decide to go heavy on it. Livingstone was always keener on negative campaigning than Johnson ever was.

In February, indeed, Boris was still barely campaigning at all. Various anonymous ex-City Hall staff have claimed that Johnson would have done better in 2012 had he taken less notice of Crosby and reached out to unsympathetic groups. The fact, however, is that until Lynton Crosby took full control of the campaign, Boris was losing. Polls put him behind, or level with, Ken. As I put it in the Spectator in March:

“Boris’s City Hall staff tried to position him as almost a non-political figure…he spent a lot of time opening things and making jolly, small and medium-sized announcements about subjects that don’t matter to most voters.

“One day last year, as Labour was campaigning hard on violent crime, which had just started to tug faintly in the wrong direction, I looked on the City Hall website and found that Boris had been… er…“meeting Peter Andre to help recruit Reading Ambassadors” and…well… “joining his Street Party Ambassador, Barbara Windsor, at the ‘Big Lunch’ festivities on the South Bank.” The top item on the website’s front page was “London’s bees are in trouble. Find out how you can help them.”

“Incumbents lose when they get too wrapped up in the administrative and adulatory aspects of the job and forget the politics. Livingstone lost [in 2008] when he majored on what, for voters, are second-order issues like the environment, while having nothing to say about transport or crime. That’s not a mistake he’s making now. But throughout January, as Ken made headway with a simple, populist – if totally fraudulent – pledge to cut Tube fares, Team Boris allowed its opponent the pitch.”

As soon as Crosby took full control of the campaign, Boris started campaigning – and winning. The real secret of Livingstone’s failure was not the baroque conspiracies his supporters always try to weave around Crosby, the Evening Standard, negative campaigning and various other excuses: it was that Ken was unfit to be elected. And the real secret of Crosby’s success is not his supposed blowing of the dog-whistle. (How revealing that phrase is of some liberals’ contempt for ordinary voters, by the way, seeing them as animals who can be whistled to heel.)

Crosby’s most valuable skill, as even his opponents agree, is the ability to instil direction and confidence. And God knows, the Tories need some of that.

 

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.