The Thick of It


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Boris and bendy buses

Since the GLA's Labour group garnered a pro-bendy bus article in Monday's Evening Standard article, Boris Johnson has remained firm in his desire to get rid of them. I've posted many times about the folly of this and I'm pleased London's Labour assembly members have picked up on this.

BJ has vowed to rid London of bendy buses by 2015 even though his term ends in 2012. BJ is aiming to sign new contracts for new buses running past his term in office. This year I've travelled around Europe a little and have seen the same buses on the streets of Helsinki, Tallin, Hamburg, Berlin and Brussels. In the UK we have them in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.

This whole bus obession is little more than the euqivalent of the vanity projects BJ and his team criticised the previous mayor for. Political Animals provide a great breakdown of these. The Cross River Tram would make a tremendous difference to parts of London like Peckham and Camberwell, which suffer from dreadful transport links at present. The cost of this against the potential costs of a new bus that doesn't yet exist or an airport on an island in the Thames Estuary doesn't compare.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gordon Brown's speech

Now everyone has had time for reflection and I've had time to speak to other people across the Labour Party about Gordon Brown's speech to conference yesterday it is a good time to pass judgement.

He started well and themes of fairness and being on 'your' side worked well. Brown needs to keep on at this as a key differentiator between Labour and Tories. There is a gulf but nobody will know if Labour never make it explicit:

"Just think where our country would be if we'd listened to them. No paternity leave, no New Deal, no Bank of England independence, no Sure Start, no devolution, no civil partnerships, no minimum wage, no new investment in the NHS, no new nurses, no new police, no new schools.

"So let's hear no more from the Conservatives - we did fix the roof while the sun was shining."

Gordon, where have you been? The rabble rousing, tub-thumping, robust policy laden speeches of the past seemed to have disappeared but there were glimpses yesterday of the Prime Minister we all thought we were going to get. Jonathan Freedland writes well about this.

Focusing on himself as the only person to steer Britain through troubled economic times was expected but important. This unique value proposition marks him against Cameron-Osbourne well. Brown took decisive action last week to allow Lloyds TSB to take over HBOS and for me, that was the start of the Brown fight-back.

BBC's John Pienaar, together with The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh on Five Live after the speech yesterday stated today that Brown's speech served it's primary purpose - to get the party back onside. Telling the party that"fairness is in our DNA" was an easy, but important point scorer. So far it appears to have broadly brought the party back onside. This was a stay of execution, Brown has more time now.

According to The Sun:

"This speech won Mr Brown precious breathing space. But his exhausted face revealed the strain this battle for survival is inflicting.

His ‘great clunking fist’ still managed to land a blow on David Cameron. Mr Brown portrayed the Tory leader as a carpet-bagger selling snake oil and patent cure-alls.

Mr Cameron must respond next week by filling the gaping holes in Tory policy — on Europe, taxes, spending and the NHS."

Ruth Kelly's resignation from cabinet shows there are still murmurs of discontent within and was either timed for maximum damage - diverting attention from Brown's speech - or totally misguided. Brown's forthcoming reshuffle is now the next most important challenge. He needs a cabinet to both support him and to promote his agenda - a cabinet with positive policies to improve Britain, not a sniping, critical opposition. Voters don't want to listen to a party tearing itself apart in public, they want a government to govern.

With a stronger team and (hopefully) showing the robustness of yesterday to the country, Brown needs to attack the Tories and to show the country why he said yesterday of the Tories:

"And when salesmen won't tell you what they are selling, it's because they are selling something no-one should buy."

For now, the challenge is with the Tories, but Brown will need to respond.

Yesterday the old Brown was back. I hope he stays.

Boris cuts bus capacity in London

I was pleased to see that the GLA's Labour Assembly members agree with my concerns about Mayor Johnson's decision to start taking bendy buses off London's busiest bus routes. This was picked up by yesterday's Evening Standard.

I'm worried that this gimmicky policy hasnb't been thought through and that the consequences for London are manifold:
  • Longer journey times: buses will take longer to board so will spend longer at stops
  • More blockages at bus stops: spending longer at bus stops means buses will block spaces at busy stops, such as those at Angel, creating more congestion
  • More carbon emssions: using smaller buses than at present means more buses on our streets to keep the same capacity, this means more emissions
  • Higher costs: more buses and more staff will be more expensive
  • More overcrowding: smaller buses on the busiest routes will mean less pleasant journeys. The bendy buses are already full, so replacing them with smaller buses seems a lunacy

MySpace Impact

A version of my last post "Labour = mess" was featured on MySpace UK's Impact page yesterday. Impact promotes networking in the Third Sector, helps fundraising and is a hub for politicians and comment on current affairs. In the USA, the Impact page hosts profiles and updates from all the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

In my opinion, MySpace has the edge over Facebook in hosting content, which should mean it becomes a hub of activity during November's elections.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Labour = mess

Labour has a few problems at the moment:
Under Blair Brown was happy to use junior ministers to stir up trouble and had them writing to the press or resigning to call for Blair to quit. He is now suffering the same treatment from his opponents. While it is easy to say Brown has laid the ground for an ill disciplined party, the party should know better. Further, all these people calling for a "debate" or leadership election were very quiet a little over a year ago when Brown received his coronation. Very few outside the left called for a leadership contest.

No political party will ever be successful if it is preoccupied with naval-gazing and in-fighting. The electorate only ever takes notice of political parties that offer solutions to their problems, look disciplined and cohesive. Labour offers none of these at the moment. Laying the blame for this might be fun but is futile. Labour would look even worse to the electorate by triggering a leadership election and engaging in even more naval gazing and blame laying.

In the 1970s and 1980s Labour tore out itself apart and the country wasn't interested. In the 1990s the Tories tore themselves to pieces and the country switched off. Why hasn't the Labour Party remembered this primal lesson?

However, both Labour and the Tories learnt to change their leader to make themselves more popular, but only when an alternative leader was more popular with the public. Labour switched to John Smith in 1992, then chose Blair. The Tories were quick to dump Thatcher when it looked like they would lose.

Conversely, there wouldn't be any of this bickering if people were happy with Brown's performance. He needs to start behaving like the political bruiser he was made out to be. He is meant to be an expert on finance and economics so it would be good to hear Brown offering solutions to the meltdown of our under-regulated financial sector. The economic woes fill the news at the moment but there is very little comment from Brown or Labour about what we are going to do about it.

"At our best when at our boldest" Blair once said. If only Brown would listen.

Mayor's question time

Boris is cutting capacity on London's key bus routes.

Interesting notes from the Boris Johnson's recent Mayor's question time. He is carrying out his pledge to banish bendy buses from our streets. As the contracts expire on each route they will be replaced. First will be the "Red Arrow" 507 and 521 buses between Waterloo & Victoria/London Bridge. There doesn't seem to be any explanation yet as to how the overall capacity on these routes will be made up with running smaller buses.

Routes 38, 29 and 73 are to follow. Whatever replaces them will be slower and carry less people. Has this really been thought through?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tube PPP mess

As has been mooted for several months, London's tube upgrade faces spiralling costs and could run out of money. The PPP was meant to take these sorts of risks away from the public purse, but as we have seen with the collapse of Metronet, if the private contractors can't make money out of a project, the risk ends up in public hands.

In my first post-university job I screened PFI bids. PFI bids were normally deemed "better value" than direct public investment because of the transfer of risk to the private sector. The risk of delay and spiralling costs was with the private, not public sector.

The Guardian quotes tube boss Tim O'Toole as stating that without full funding for the PPP, "The infrastructure is so old and unreliable that we are going to see a contraction in capacity," - London cannot cope and needs more capacity, not less.

Boris Johnson has stated he will go to the Department for Transport to seek additional funding. This represents a test of how the Labour government will work with a Tory mayor - or not. For London's sake I hope that Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly opts in the best interests of Londoners and pays up. I worried political point scoring might win and our tube may crumble.

Read more:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Creative accounting from Gilligan again

According to Andrew Gilligan in yesterday's Evening Standard, Ken Livingstone was responsible for raising London's public transport fares by one third in 2007 (when a zone 1 cash single increased from £2 to £3). Of course, this ignores that cash fares were increased to persuade more people to use Oyster Cards instead. Oyster fares were frozen last year.

By 2005 (three years ago) over 80% of tube and bus journeys were made on Oyster cards, report contractor Transys.

Gilligan has fired a political shot at the former mayor in trying to bolster the current one after Boris Johnson announced large rises in public transport fares.

Update: information on former mayor Ken Livingstone's fare changes for the start of 2008, when cash fares did not increase. Season tickets did rise, though this is because they include payments to the rail operators in London, who are not regulated by the Mayor.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A new bus for London? Why bother?

Is anyone going to design this new "Routemaster" bus for London that was such a hallmark of Boris Johnson's mayoral campaign to the suburbs? TfL recently issued a reminder to budding designers, though I wonder what the hurry is when going from conecept to public service is going to take years anyway. Perhaps nobody is interested?

After seeing BJ hike pulblic transport fares at the first possible opportunity, it is foolhardy to spend £100m on designing a new bus. BJ's specification will result in less capacity on London's busiest bus routes. It could also cause more delays. Bendy buses can stop, load and unload very quickly because there are three sets of doors and a single deck. Double deckers can be very slow. Just compare the 38 (bendy) and 19 (double decker) at Angel.

This is hardly efficient. This is pointless. This is also unfair on people who need public transport most. Less buses, higher fares. Tory all over. It didn't take long.

Ken Livingstone put it succinctly:

"London has a Mayor who transfers millions of pounds from ordinary Londoners who use public transport to drivers of gas guzzlers and residents of Kensington and Chelsea."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Mayor = big picture; London Mayor = no plan

I'm slightly surprised that rumour has it Tory "Central Office" bigwigs agree with me that Boris Johnson's first few months in office have been a disappointment. Again, not because of the resignations and sacking, but because of the total lack of vision presented.

What is Boris in City Hall for? What does he want to do? So far all we have are increases to public transport fares at the expense of every Londoner to curry favour with the Chelsea set and their gas guzzlers. I'm disgusted. I'm not surprised at all.

Transport and environmental projects like the Oxford Street Tram (which he claimed to support in his manifesto), Cross River Tram and instead wasting money on replacing the much needed bendy buses with something smaller and less adequate on our busiest bus routes.

Boris' only plans before he was elected were to sort out crime and make City Hall more efficient. Crime is an almost impossible problem to fix, at least in four short years. Efficiency - he has made cuts, though has also spent heavily on staff and employing a chauffeur for himself.

BJ has plan for London. I'm worried. Central Office should be too.