Ken’s had a bit of a week!
It started well for him. Two-thirds of the London Assembly having voted down his budget the previous week – he ‘bought’ the two Green votes he needs (in addition to Labour) to get his budget, with its tax increase, through. And he had to give away almost nothing to get their votes. Consequently he was smiling very happily at the weekly press conference at City Hall. He obviously now felt safe in the knowledge he would be able to put his hands in Londoners’ pockets once again.
But by the very next day – his old uncontrollable mouth delivered him into unsavoury difficulties. Calling a Jewish reporter, simply doing his job, a “concentration camp guard” was not the action of a sensible person. That the Mayor sullied London’s reputation with this outburst on the eve of a visit to London by a team to assess our Olympics bid made his comments particularly ill-timed – though they would have been offensive at any time.
Why does he do it? It’s not a one-off. Perhaps it is because Ken has got used to believing he walks on water and can say what he likes – and get away with it. Even when the Assembly debated the issue – he didn’t seem to understand what he had done wrong – and refused to apologise.
He is the same in private as he is in public. Not in the same league, but on a recent occasion, Sir John Stevens’ retirement bash to be precise, I was talking to Ken when David Blunkett came up to us. Ken introduced me to Blunkett and we shook hands. Blunkett commented on how warm my hands were. To my horror – and I assume to Blunkett’s too – Ken said something like “careful David – you know what you are like with women.” Ken likes to be risque – and thinks he can get away with it (cheeky chappy stuff), never quite understanding what’s OK and what’s not.
Flashback to Tuesday when he came before the Transport Committee that I chair to answer on his desire to raise the Congestion Charge to 8. Not the same sort of thing exactly – but a good demonstration of saying what he damn well pleases.
Originally, when he was first trying to sell the idea of the Congestion Charge, Ken told London he needed to reduce traffic by 15%. This critical level of reduction would make London work and stop the 2 million per week cost to business that congestion was causing.
He succeeded. Hats off to the Mayor. Traffic was reduced by 15%. But the traffic hasn’t risen back again in the Central Zone since the charge was introduced – so what’s the need the raise the charge now? Ken’s answer to the committee was that he wanted to drive the traffic level down further – by between 17 and 21% – to create a better quality of life.
Sounded plausible so far, but was this the end of it? Would 8 be for the whole of his current term of office? Well – he wriggled, wiggled and tiggled about it. He “couldn’t envisage a situation where it would need to rise further.” He had no “plans” to raise it further. You don’t have to be a lawyer (and I’m not!) to spot the loopholes he’s leaving himself.
“You’re a slippery one,” I said.
“I know! I do it all the time and get away with it,” responded our august Mayor. So true!
Proof of slippery pudding arrived only a day later when I looked at new papers from Transport for London (for their next Board meeting). Lo and behold – the papers clearly stated that traffic in the Congestion Charging zone was running at a 21% reduction from the original level from when the scheme was first introduced.
So with the 21% reduction in traffic the Mayor told the committee he wanted to introduce the charge for already achieved – I assume Mayor Livingstone will immediately drop any idea of raising the charge