Understanding the Mayor

Articles, Election 2008, LondonUnlockedEditor

The Mayor laid out his transport plans in typically forthright fashion yesterday, attacking Boris Johnson - his closest rival in the polls - as showing "complete incoherence".

The Mayor's record, he says, speaks for itself - fighting against PPP, turning around the Tube, improving the buses and implementing the Congestion Charge.

However, it is a disappointing facet of the debate between the candidates that little has been said about Metronet and its legacy.

Brian Paddick, in his interview with this site, stated that he would like to look at running those lines previously under Metronet's control by a concession system - similar to that employed on the buses and DLR. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has argued for stronger contracts and a better deal for London on the basis of the rival contractor TubeLines.

In the debates about London's transport future, there has been a disappointingly narrow view taken by the candidates about what the public would like to hear about. After stating their positions on Metronet, the candidates have largely gone back to talking about buses and trams.

However against all this Ken Livingstone has made clear that, if re-elected, he intends to take Metronet under TfL control. Today the news has come through that this could happen "within weeks". Transport Briefing, as ever, has an excellent write-up of the implications of this take-over which I advise any interested reader to look at.

The implications of this take-over are enormous, and it is shockingly that so little has been made of it. During his tenure, Ken Livingstone has:

  • expanded the concession model on the buses,
  • taken over failing train lines and turned them into London Overground,
  • is in the process of bidding for other (connected) train lines to turn about in the same manner
  • approved the expansion of the East London Line and will rebrand it as London Overground
  • bought out the existing Tramlink services in London and brought them under TfL control.

Many of these moves are nothing short of re-nationalising London's transport network. If TfL takes over the Metronet lines then 2/3 of the Underground will also be under Mr Livingstone's control. This is a simply massive power-grab.

So far it must be said that these activities appear to largely be working for the better, though it is amazing that in a race for London there have been no ideological debates about the direction which London should be taking. Boris Johnson favours continuing along a PPP route, removing the cost from the taxpayer. Brian Paddick favours private companies running services under public control. Ken Livingstone continues to accumulate power, operating a hodge-podge of publicly and privately run services from the centre.

Currently the debate is basic and derogatory. The Mayor enjoys bashing both Mr Paddick and Mr Johnson for favouring privatisation, even when their schemes are no such thing, and certainly no different from his in the large part.

We deserve a better debate, and Londoners to be better informed about the choices which they actually have at the ballot box.