Let Ken be Ken and cut fares more

December 4, 2011 5:12 pm

It’s time for Ken Livingstone to really go for the jugular over Boris Johnson’s Tory fares rises. We should let Ken be Ken – and Ken should unleash a more radical fares policy. Here’s why.

In the last few weeks we have seen the signs that Ken is starting to shift the narrative of the election onto his terms.

That’s both because of Ken’s fares policy but also the work of Labour activists to drive that story into the public consciousness. Labour mobilised at over one hundred tube and train stations on the morning of the launch of the Fare Deal campaign last month. Five hundred people turned up to his Fare Deal rally in Camden. Thousands have signed up to support the Fare Deal online and by text.

The effect of the fares policy is that people are starting to view the mayoral election on the basis of a real political choice. The Evening Standard judged that “On this issue at least, Ken has his finger on the capital’s pulse.”

Total Politics reported one Conservative source saying Ken’s Fare Deal election ad is “the best ad Labour have done in ages by far”. Henry G Manson on Political Betting concluded that with the Fare Deal “Ken Livingstone has well and truly got himself back in contention”.

Inserting fares into the campaign has made it worthy of the pollsters’ attention. The ComRes poll of last week shows that when people hear what Ken says on fares, they agree. Polled on Ken’s plan for a 5% fares cut versus Boris Johnson’s argument that a cut would not be possible without halting transport improvements Comres found 38% of Londoners more likely to vote for Ken, including 13% of Boris Johnson’s own supporters. That underlines that if Labour succeeds in getting its message over, people are very likely to move in Ken’s direction.

So strongly do Londoners want their fares held down that they are prepared to forego transport upgrades to obtain lower fares. Asked their view on the statement ‘in the current economic climate, tube fares should be kept as low as possible even if this means stopping upgrade works,’ six out of ten Londoners agree. That is not what Labour proposes – transport upgrades are required. But it is an indication of how serious this issue is for people.

Tory jitters are palpable. Hence George Osborne’s move in the autumn statement to bung £130m to Boris Johnson to help lessen the scale of his January fares rise. That still means a big fares rise when people are being squeezed. It backfired – instead of announcing one fares rise this year, Boris Johnson has now twice announced fares are going up. The second merely reinforces the message of the first – Boris Johnson is the high fares candidate in this race.

Nor has Johnson succeeded in blunting Labour’s message in outer London. A weekly zone 1-6 Travelcard is up 6% this January to £53.40, making customers £457.60 a year worse off since Boris Johnson was elected.

In the process of all this Osborne and Johnson have tied themselves together over fares. Johnson’s right wing campaign chief Lynton Crosby must be dismayed.

But there is space for Ken to go further on fares. The figures Labour has published from Boris Johnson’s own transport budgets show that in the first six months of this year the operating surpluses reached £206million. This is the pattern of Johnson’s fare rises – excess revenues being hoovered out of Londoners’ pockets and purses annually.

Ken’s policy of a 5% cut for the autumn of 2012, a freeze in 2013 and no more above-inflation packages after that is very prudently calculated, based on conservative assumptions about ridership levels and average surpluses. Taking into account what is happening to the operating surplus, and factoring in that passenger numbers are continuing to rise, then there is a strong basis for Ken going further.

For a start bus users are being ripped off by this mayor, bearing the brunt of four years of attacks on their quality of life even as their mayor rolls around in his cash from his £250,000 a year Telegraph salary. Ken should give bus users the clearest possible signal that they are going to be given a much fairer deal.

On BBC London last Friday Ken Livingstone’s answer to the Boris Johnson fares rise was very interesting. He said it should be zero. That is a big signal that he may want to go further than 5%.

Johnson has nowhere to run to now. Ken must seize the opening.

Tom Copley is a Labour candidate for the London Assembly list

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