Ken vs Boris: a bloody and dishonest horror show
By Adam Bienkov
14 March 2011, 08:45
In recent weeks both the main candidates for London Mayor have undergone interviews with Tim Donovan on the BBC’s London edition of the Politics Show.
Boris Johnson was up first for what was his only formal encounter with Donovan since his election almost three years ago.
The reasons for that have been well documented elsewhere and the result of their meeting was something of a cautious encounter, with Donovan understandably pulling his punches.
Compare that with yesterday’s far more aggressive interview with Ken Livingstone, where the challenger is barely able to develop a point before Donovan rushes in:
The reasons for the contrast between the two interviews is obvious. With the incumbent Mayor extremely reluctant to ever appear on the show, Donovan couldn’t afford to put him off returning.
Similarly with Ken’s long record behind him and need to get heard, Donovan could afford to be far more combative.
However, despite the difference in technique, both encounters revealed candidates struggling to square their rhetoric with the reality of what the situation will be in 2012.
First up we had Boris promising to protect police numbers, despite the fact that government cuts means that he will have to cut them if he is re-elected for a second term.
That he is able for the time being to maintain a similar level of officers to 2008 is dependant solely on a planned pre-election raid of reserves built up by the Fire Authority.
As Donovan points out in the interview, “this is money that you can’t use again,” and once it is used Boris will be left with exactly the kind of post-election “black hole” he accused Ken of leaving him in 2008.
Similarly Ken yesterday promised not to raise fares above the level of inflation if re-elected.
He also promised to freeze the Mayoral share of the council tax precept for another four years, something that even Boris hasn’t yet promised.
And yet without higher taxes or fares, Ken could not explain how he would pay for the investment in transport or policing that he is promising.
With reduced central government funding the majority of the Mayor’s budget, it is only through fares, charges and taxes that the Mayor can hope to balance the budget.
So if Livingstone is promising to freeze fares and taxes, he will either have to reduce spending on policing and transport (despite promising to do the opposite) or he needs to find another form of revenue.
And given Livingstone’s record, the obvious source of that revenue would be a big increase in the scale or range of congestion charging.
Now with congestion and fares the main cause of dissatisfaction amongst Londoners, this could prove to be a sensible policy platform.
But if Ken has any hope of winning that argument then he needs to be honest about what needs to be done well in advance.
And no amount of rhetoric about “fighting against the cuts” will square that equation by itself.
Because the reality is that whoever is elected in 2012, they are going to face a disinterested government, a creaking transport network and a police force set to decline.
These are unpalatable truths that neither candidate, yet seems willing to face up to.
Instead we look set for a campaign that concentrates instead on exactly the kind of bitter and off-putting personal attacks that made the 2008 campaign the horror show it turned out to be.
And with both candidates getting their show on the road a year early, the sequel is likely to be even bloodier than the show that preceded it.