My message to Boris Johnson: stop treating Londoners as a political football

Dawn Butler
© Matthew Troke/

He may have once been the mayor of London, he even represents a London constituency, but Boris Johnson is no friend to London. The Prime Minister is trying to make Londoners pay for the pandemic through their fares and transport services. My message to Boris Johnson: back off – stop trying to make Londoners your political football.

Millions of people rely on London’s transport system. They rely on it being affordable and frequent, and all want it to be accountable to Londoners through the mayor. The Tory government has different ideas. As the pandemic hit the capital, the transport system saw a drastic drop in passenger numbers. That had a knock-on effect: Transport for London’s fares revenue fell sharply, creating a funding gap. As the Evening Standard reported: “TfL lost 95% of its fares income at the outset of the pandemic. Tube passenger numbers have recovered to 65% of normal, and buses about 75%, but TfL has fallen behind budget because many commuters have not returned to a five-day week and is unlikely to do so and there are few international tourists.”

The Tories have cynically treated this situation as an opportunity to impose impossible conditions on our mayor, Sadiq Khan, in return for financial assistance. This has led to fare rises for transport users, amongst other things. Londoners voted Labour in the last two mayoral elections and a key part of the party’s offer in those elections was to hold down fares. The Tories, having lost those elections, have sought to impose their policies on the mayor who defeated them fair and square. Another attempt to try and manipulate the next mayoral election.

The situation is not helped by the actions of the previous mayor, Boris Johnson, who surrendered TfL’s Treasury revenue support grant in 2011. Centre for London chief executive Nick Bowes argued recently: “London is now almost alone amongst major global cities in that its public transport network is not in receipt of a financial subsidy from the national government.” TfL must raise 72% of its income from fares, compared to less than 50% for Paris.

Now the deadline is approaching for another crunch decision on funding for London. The government’s failure to resolve this is leading to serious fears of ‘managed decline’ of London’s transport services. Sadiq Khan has expressed his fear that he may have to shut a tube line, leading to speculation that the Bakerloo line – which serves my constituency of Brent Central – could be closed.

“We will be forced to move into ‘managed decline’, leading to rundown services reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s,” Khan said this week. “This is no exaggeration. Bus services would have to be reduced by almost a fifth. Tube services would need to be cut by nearly 10%. In practice, this could mean over 100 bus routes being withdrawn and the full closure of a whole tube line.” General secretary of transport union TSSA Manuel Cortes warned this week that the government “must step up to the plate before TfL services start grinding to a halt”.

This situation is outrageous and entirely the fault of the government. We have a just a little over a week for this to be resolved, with a deadline of December 11th. Let me be very clear to the Tories: fair fares and good bus, rail and tube services are essential to my constituents – and we will fight to protect them. The government needs to be put under huge pressure to stop playing games. There are London borough elections next year and if the Tories continue to treat London in this way, they deserve to be punished at the ballot box.

I am the chair of the London group of Labour MPs. We are all, unanimously, appalled by the government’s treatment of Londoners and the capital’s democratically-accountable transport system. London has to be able to play its role in the national economic recovery. That means it must work effectively as a city. Transport is central to that. Workers and companies outside London benefit directly from TfL contracts. And, as a huge metropolis, London has to be part of decarbonising our economy. It cannot do so if its transport system goes into managed decline.

In the short term, London needs a resolution in time for the immediate deadline of this month, ensuring that Londoners are not short-changed and that our services are fully protected. But that needs to go hand in hand with a serious dialogue about the medium-to-long-term solution in which the government accepts that London needs the central support, and the appropriate devolved powers, to have stable finances and a successful transport system.

More from LabourList

Donate to fund our journalism


Subscribe to our Daily Email