Brian Paddick Interview

Election 2008, Interviews, LondonUnlockedEditor1 Comment

With his reputation forged from a lifetime serving the police, Brian Paddick was always going to struggle to prove himself more than a single issue candidate. I was therefore very pleased when Mr Paddick invited me to Liberal Democrat HQ to have a substantive discussion of his transport policies earlier this week.

Sitting in the oak-lined conference room, surrounded by banners bearing the Lib Dem logo, Mr Paddick seemed comfortable in his new role as a politician and insurgent candidate, speaking with a candor rare in senior political figures about the problems which London faces and the “private agendas” of the current Mayor.

From his time in charge of Territorial Policing of all 32 London boroughs, Mr Paddick’s knowledge of London is considerable, and this shows when he discusses the possibilities of writing a fresh transport plan, creating “an integrated strategy… looking at radical solutions” which would benefit the entirety of London.

What became most clear throughout the interview however was Mr Paddick’s insistence that despite running as a Lib Dem, he would govern for London as a whole, fighting for policies with “universal appeal, advantageous for whomever is in office rather than adopting a party political position.” This was a theme which he returned to repeatedly.

Essentially, for a credible contender for the top job, Mr Paddick understands the importance of London to the UK in general, and went to efforts to put clear yellow water between his pragmatic approach and that of Ken Livingstone, whom he sees as weighed down with “political and ideological baggage.”

Mr Paddick’s pragmatism extends to the organisations which have day-to-day control of London’s transport network. He wants to change the structures, as well as the decisions made.

Asked about the TfL board, Mr Paddick takes a breath before starting with his answer, which is typically forthright: “I’ve met some of the people on the board, some of the academics. Call me old-fashioned or anti-intellectual, but you can see why London is in the mess that it's in. These people may be experts on economic models or statistics but in terms of practical delivery, actually getting London moving, having an overall strategic approach…” He stops, shaking his head and burying a smile.

This same belief in not simply carrying on with the status quo extends to his running of the underground. In conversation he is scathing about the failures not just of Metronet, but also of TfL in defining the contracts on which their work was based. His plans to run the Underground on a concession model, similar to that of the DLR, have been widely trailed and he finds great hypocrisy in Ken Livingstone’s attitude to his position:

“Ken's people have accused me of attempting to privatize the Tube, but that's exactly what he's done with the buses and London Overground. We need to get London moving and be it public sector, private sector, or a combination of the two I'm prepared to employ that solution.”

In his opinion, the collapse of Metronet gives London a fresh start, which he feels is being squandered at present by TfL’s “slow drift into ownership.” His model could be extended to the rest of the network over time.

His view of the Olympic transport plan is one which is based on the same critiques: “TfL seem to simply look at [the Olympics] as something they can take in their stride… therefore not doing anything in particular.” It is clear that if given the chance he would have acted differently, speaking with passion about the opportunity missed in “not having a visionary, future look for what transport might be like and getting Central Government to pay in circumstances which won’t be replicated again.”

On air travel, Mr Paddick strikes a delicate balance between the economic management of the capital and environmental concerns, stressing his policy of forming a high speed rail hub at Heathrow as being the best of both worlds. His aim is to cut down on the number of near continent flights by making rail a convenient and cheap alternative. The flight slots which he believes would be created with this switch could then be used to maintain Heathrow’s status, welcoming greater numbers of international flights.

Whilst lukewarm on Boris Johnson’s proposals to increase usage of the Thames, citing his belief that any such scheme would not be commercially viable, he understands well why the current services offered are expensive and under-subscribed, bemoaning the lack of integration between different modes of transport.

He uses the same example to explain why in the outer boroughs of London people drive the average less-than-a-mile to their local train station, causing “the greatest amount of pollution, and the greatest amount of damage to the car.” Buses tied to the train schedule, he states, would give people confidence to leave their cars at home.

Mr Paddick’s biography is replete with examples of his willingness to innovate and not follow the orthodoxy in tackling crime and disorder. It is quite clear that he would wish to extend this attitude into his tenure as Mayor.

Paddick’s London would be one untamed by the planners, whom he states are responsible for the “path of least resistance” approach to big projects, citing Ken Livingstone’s ‘cycle superhighways’ and CrossRail as examples.

CrossRail, he believes, was only announced as “the curtain raiser to Gordon Brown calling the election which never happened.” He is unsure as to whether the plan would have been signed off with such speed if not for that political pressure.

Environmental concerns play a large role in Mr Paddick’s transport strategy. From congestion charging to the role of airports in London’s economic future, everything is balanced with the need to promote London in a sustainable, green, and preferably carbon neutral way.

Refreshingly, new transport sits high on Mr Paddick’s agenda. He recognizes that despite the billions being poured into the tube network “because of platform length and carriage size you can only have marginal improvements. You need a parallel above ground system to run over the heavily overused [tube routes]”.

This openness to ideas extends to the possibility of monorails, and to Mr Paddick’s admitted “love affair” with trams. Trams in particular he sees as an option which can be quickly and cheaply implemented following the example of Croydon.

Again and again however, the conversation turns back to Ken Livingstone. It is impossible for it to not, as in many ways the current Mayor offers the polar opposite to Mr Paddick’s pragmatic approach. This comes across clearest perhaps when he brings up the delays in getting CrossRail approved:

“ have a mayor with such ideological baggage, seeing business as the enemy, rather than sitting down and planning the best for London. Not just from a social welfare point of view but in terms of business and the public sector working together to bring benefits for everybody.”

This is the crux of Mr Paddick’s argument, that the old ways haven’t worked, and that now isn’t the time for dogma to further gum up the process of getting London moving. He is refreshingly bold and open for a serious candidate vying for such high office.

The path to power for Mr Paddick is a difficult one, though recent poling has him up by 5 points in the polls against Ken Livingstone, which is surely the constituency of voters which he must aim to convert for a Lib Dem victory.

Asked what he would want to see from a London under its eighth year of Mayor Paddick, he gives a typically straightforward, yet achievable, answer:

“For anybody in London, no matter where they live, seeing safe, comfortable and reliable public transport as an attractive alternative to using their car.”

That surely is a sentiment which we can all get behind.

Our thanks to Brian Paddick for taking the time to share his views with us.

Simon Fell, LondonUnlocked, 28th February 2008