If there is something worse than the Tories applying one rule for them and another for everyone else, it is the governing party punishing us for following said rules. From public sector wages to London’s transport settlement, this Conservative government is making the many pay for a pandemic they did not create.
I told LabourList readers earlier this month that London needed a solution to funding for its transport services, as a deadline approached after deadlock. But instead of meeting its own deadline, the government took London down to the wire over the transport settlement – and has now stalled once again, putting back vital decisions on London’s bus, rail and tube services to February. Londoners voted Labour in the mayoral election because they value their transport system. They want it to be affordable, frequent and reliable. The Tories have different ideas.
As the mayor of London said after the government pulled the rug from a long-term funding settlement just before Christmas: “The Covid pandemic is the only reason TfL is facing a financial crisis.” Transport for London, the mayor’s transport body, saw a steep drop in fares revenue as the pandemic ripped through the country and Londoners followed the government’s advice and stayed away from work. A partial recovery did not restore passenger numbers to their normal levels.
Now we have the Omicron variant, moving even faster than Delta or any of the other strains, and once again passenger numbers are falling fast. But the government persists in trying to make fare-payers and transport workers pay by hammering London through negotiations over financial assistance to get us through the pandemic. Downing Street’s unfair tactics mean that Londoners pay through fares, council tax, reduced transport services and even the possible managed decline of the transport system overall.
Just to be crystal clear, Londoners followed the government advice, and now the government is punishing us by not funding our transport system. In this sense, the pandemic is not even the main reason for the financial squeeze on London’s transport. The real reason is the government’s cold-hearted response to the pandemic. Every week, the government proves that it is no friend of London and that it would rather play pathetic games to attack the London mayor than protect hard-working, law-abiding Londoners.
Omicron ought to mean that the government ends its games over London’s transport. It should be obvious that we are not through this pandemic yet and that, until there is concerted action to resist Covid by rolling out vaccines to the rest of the world, nobody is safe until everyone is safe and Omicron will not be the last variant. We cannot afford to stumble from one funding crisis to another. London needs a long-term deal for public transport that sees us through to the other side and guarantees the capital is able to function.
But do not believe for one moment that this is a problem for London alone. Just as they are making Londoners pay over the transport system, ministers are trying to hold down wages in all parts of the country by arguing for pay settlements that do not keep up with inflation. Treasury submissions over public sector pay argue against pay rises to match or exceed inflation. That is an argument for real-terms pay cuts for public sector workers.
It does not stop with public sector pay. The failure to bring forward a new furlough scheme means workers everywhere are struggling. The measures announced by Rishi Sunak before Christmas do not go anywhere near far enough. As the TUC has argued, we are seeing a massive Christmas wage squeeze after years of stagnating or falling wages. We have seen the Universal Credit cuts and the National Insurance Contribution tax hike. The pattern ought to be obvious: not only have the Tories broken their own Covid rules repeatedly whilst the majority obeyed them, they are also hitting that very same majority by making them pay.
The government must deliver on the common-sense solution of a long-term funding agreement for TfL. That simple demand is not going away, and as chair of the London Labour MPs group I pledge to make sure we will seize every opportunity in parliament in the New Year to pursue the Conservatives on this vital question.
As we head into 2022, we need to step up pressure from across the capital against the government’s mistreatment of London. And we should link it to the wider political battles that will take place around the country as the government squeezes people over their jobs, pay and conditions. Londoners need to make clear to the government that we see what they are doing and we will not stand for it. The lies, the one rule for them and another for us. We will not allow them to take away our transport lifeline.