Applying the Brake to Ken
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd May, 2007
The Liberal Democrat spokesman for London, Tom Brake, MP, was the guest speaker last night at Westminster LibDems’ Paella and Politics (they do things differently in Bayswater). His theme was standing up to Ken Livingstone in the GLA and London Mayoral elections next year. Tom cut his political teeth as a councillor in Hackney, where squatters once abseiled into the council chamber in the town hall, and Paddy Ashdown tackled a mob of poll-tax protestors. Tom then headed for a tamer milieu: Sutton, first as a councillor once more, then as MP for Carshalton and Wallington. As the LibDems have been in power in Sutton since 1986, they must be doing something right — not least with the environment, according to pundits.
Would that the same could be said for Mayor Ken. Council tax bills in London have gone up sharply thanks largely to his inflated precept. But what do we have to show for it? Tom highlighted three areas of special concern for LibDems next year: housing, transport and crime. I shall focus on transport. As someone who relies entirely on public transport, I pay over £160 a month (yes, £40 a week), for my Oyster card, to get me round the city. It’s true that there are far more buses than there used to be — sometimes too many in Oxford Street! — but the rest of the network is, frankly, crap. Anyone who commutes to work by rail or by underground will know what I mean.
We have the most expensive and the worst metro system in Europe. Take this evening, for example. To get to La Maya restaurant in Porchester Road from the National Liberal Club should have been a quick and simple ride on the Circle Line from Embankment to Bayswater. But it took nearly an hour. I was stuck for 20 minutes on Embankment station before the tannoy announced that there were no clockwise Circle Line trains running. And that there were serious delays on the District Line, the Metropolitan and City Line, and the Piccadilly Line, necessitating a radical and roundabout change of route. The journey home was even worse. The ‘easy run’ on the Central Line from Queensway to Mile End turned into a one-and-a-half hour odyssey by tube and bus, as all underground trains (when one came, it was packed to the gills) were terminating at Liverpool Street, ‘because of a defective train at Woodford’ (excuse me?). I rant on about this, not because I am having a premature Victor Meldrew moment, but because this is the sort of thing Londoners are meant to put up with, day in day out. And pay through the nose for.
In a comment at the dinner, I suggested that what the LibDems need for 2008 is a narrative, and a clear slogan, such as ‘Giving Londoners a city they can be proud of’. That is something over the past seven years that Ken, for all his flair for personal publicity, has singularly failed to deliver.