The countdown begins

You may be stuffed on Christmas excess but start planning for some hard work – today we start the countdown to one of Labour’s most important campaigns.

It is just days until Boris Johnson whacks Londoners hard with an above-inflation fare rise right in the middle of one of the toughest periods Londoners have faced in decades.

It is the fourth time he has done it – at a time when the economy has been rocked first by a global economic crisis and then by Tory economic policies that have added thousands of Londoners to the dole queue and put the chances of economic recovery in the doldrums.

In such tough times Londoners needed a little help from the mayor, not the cash sucked from their wallets and purses. There was no chance of that with Boris Johnson at the helm – a Conservative who is so out of touch that while he’s raising transport fares and cutting police numbers he thinks it’s fine to have a second job paying £250,000 a year – an amount he calls ‘chicken feed’.

So under Boris Johnson fares are rising another 5.6 per cent this January overall. A single bus journey by Oyster is now up fifty per cent under the period of Tory Boris Johnson’s administration. Don’t expect much respite if you life in outer London. A weekly zone 1-6 Travelcard is up one fifth under Boris Johnson – it was £44.60 in 2008 and will cost £53.40 in 2012, adding £457.60 to commuters’ bills under this mayor.

Not only that but Boris Johnson’s business plan proposes further above inflation rises for years to come. Labour’s campaign in London is about the alternative and we are now in the countdown to putting that progressive choice to millions in the first few weeks of January, starting on the first working day in January when many Londoners will find out what has hit them.

If elected Ken Livingstone will wipe out the January fare rise altogether with an emergency fares package in October, cutting fares overall by seven per cent. He will cut the price of a single bus journey by eleven per cent back down to 2010 prices, to £1.20. He will freeze fares throughout 2013. He will then ensure that the overall fares package rises by no more than the rate of inflation.

Ken will pay for this by simply raising less of an excess in his budget every year than Boris Johnson, who consistently absorbs more money from Londoners year-in year-out than his own budgets and business plans predict. That ‘Fare Deal’ plan is already shaking up the mayoral race.

On December 5th 2011 the Evening Standard said “The election for London Mayor happens next year but the battle is under way. Ken Livingstone has chosen his ground well by focusing his campaign on the issue of public transport costs,” adding: “Mr Livingstone has really hit the campaign running.” Fares and the cost of travel in London have become the central issue of the Mayoral election campaign.

Since Ken announced his plans to cut bus, tube and train fares at Labour Party conference in September there have been unprecedented level of campaigning. In November hundreds of Labour members took part in the ‘Fare Ride’ campaign day. Over 400 Londoners attended a fares rally in Camden.

And that campaigning has meant that the pollsters have started to take note, with Ken Livingstone way ahead of Boris Johnson on this issue, and indications that when voters hear the policy they say it more likely to make them vote for Ken.

The Conservatives are on the back foot:

Boris Johnson has tried at least three different arguments against a fares cut, arguing that a fares cut would lead to cuts in existing services, or cuts in future investment, or that it has to be used on debt repayments.

None of these is true – this is the excess operating surplus. He’s ducked Ken’s challenge to a debate on the issue saying ‘the Mayor sees no merit in engaging with him on this,’ – a pattern repeated in wider demands for a debate.

When it became clear there was public appetite for a fares cut Boris Johnson and his taxpayer-funded advisers resorted to abuse labelling Ken as ‘schizophrenic’. At the same time the Conservative Prime Minister has done the Tory Mayor no good at all by letting slip that Johnson’s re-election campaign is his number one priority – in one fell swoop denting Johnson’s carefully cultivated above-party image.

Now it’s time to build on the work that has been done.

In 127 days time Londoners will elect a new Mayor on May 3rd. We’ll be out in force across London next week starting on January 3rd talking to Londoners about Ken’s plan to cut the fares and we’ll be continuing throughout this week for weeks to come – including a few surprises.

Join us, and help make a concrete, real and serious improvement in the quality of life for millions of Londoners.

Len Duvall AM is Chair of the London Labour Party

If you want to get involved click here.

More from LabourList