It's rare that we reprint complete articles on the LondonUnlocked blog, but every word in today's Guardian editorial is worth reading:
From Caracas to CrossRail - The Guardian, Tuesday May 27th 2008
Both Labour and the Conservatives would do well to avoid fighting the next general election by proxy on the streets of London. There has been a surprising swagger to Boris Johnson's rule so far, guided by people close to David Cameron. The sense of a new order taking over from the old is strong. The risk that his administration will come to be seen as a test-bed for a Conservative-run Britain. A Labour government fearing national defeat may be tempted to respond by doing its best to trip up a Conservative mayor, laying traps to show that the opposition is not really ready to rule.
The fear was that Mr Johnson would treat the job as a joke at best and a platform for a reactionary agenda at worst, undoing the clearly good things that Mr Livingstone did achieve in office - on transport, congestion, the environment and planning. The reality may be something else again. Elections have consequences and London under a Conservative mayor is going to be different. Mr Johnson did the right thing at the weekend when he confirmed that he is to drop his predecessor's deal to get £15m-worth of cheap oil for London buses from Venezuela. The benefits for Venezuela were limited - chiefly some advice from London's transport chief, Peter Hendy, which does not seem to have been followed - while the country earned less for its fuel than it should have done. In effect, Venezuela was subsidising a discount travel scheme for Londoners. But that will not be much comfort to the 250,000 people on income support who were offered cheap travel in London and who will, from August, be made to pay full fares. Nor was it brave of Mr Johnson to break the news over a bank holiday weekend.
Mr Livingstone responded angrily: but dismantling the more obvious of his follies - such as his self-promoting free London newspaper - will be the easiest part of Mr Johnson's new job. The hard part will be to put something else in their place. The mayor's most important power is over transport. The problem is that here Mr Johnson has got his priorities wrong. His love of the capital's old double-decker Routemasters is widely shared, but his plan to reinstate them is as economically illogical as Mr Livingstone's discount oil. For better or worse, the city has invested heavily in a new fleet of bendy buses and is likely to be stuck with them. He would do better to pay attention to the economics of refurbishing the underground and building Crossrail, neither of which are healthy.
In a letter to the Guardian last Saturday, the old mayor heaped blame for this on Mr Johnson's head. But it is silly to claim that things have only begun to go wrong since Mr Livingstone lost his job. Responsibility for the tube's woes lies with Gordon Brown, who inflicted a disastrous form of public-private partnership on the city. The problem is that the solution - and the cash for Crossrail - is also in Mr Brown's hands. There is no sign yet that he intends to make trouble for Mr Johnson. But the Tories will have to tread carefully if the city's transport system is not to end up in crisis. Mr Johnson has added to the risks by picking Tim Parker as chair of Transport for London and first deputy mayor. A private equity millionaire, he knows how to cut costs, as he did running the AA, Boots, Clarks and Kwik-Fit. But by appointing him, Mr Johnson is not just waving a red flag at London's transport unions but hoisting it from a mile-high mast. At the AA, Mr Parker cut 2,800 jobs before selling up, and earning an estimated £40m personal profit.
Public service is not the same as private equity, where managers can focus on cutting costs without scrutiny. Mr Parker may find himself locked in a battle with the unions - already appalled by talk of a no-strike deal. Meanwhile Mr Brown may make life hard over tube funding and Crossrail. That could make the mayor's first few years very difficult. But the losers would be the people of London.