The Ken and Boris show dominate’s London’s playground politics…

Well, in London the Ken and Boris show had it’s second outing with Ken grabbing the bulk of the news coverage for his emotional response to his own party launch… (the Guardian have even started their own poll to see if you were affected in the same way)…

Well that’s one way to make a video go viral… It features a lot of ordinary people making Ken’s manifesto pledges for him… Hmmm…

For an office that doesn’t have a lot direct power, there’s not a huge amount a London Mayor can actually do one way or the other. Though main claim of each tells you something of the very different audiences they are trying to reach. Both are claiming to save Londoner’s money.

Boris through fiscal tightening and a cut in council tax. Ken’s targeting fares on London Transport promising to bring them down by 1st October this year.

One could have been designed to appeal to the outer doughnut (who as well as having a higher proportion of homeowners, don’t really use London Transport) and the second is targeting the poor of inner city London).

Although, I’d go along with Bagehot’s important caveat here, the battle over the big figures yields some interesting left right variances in perspective. Polly Curtis notes that Ken’s fare cuts will wipe out London’s surplus in its capital spend, and endanger the very capital developments that Ken – with some justification – complains Boris has been dining out on over the last four years:

If this money was diverted to spend on fare decreases it would leave TfL with no surplus whatsoever, and any organisation on the scale of TfL usually keeps a buffer to stop it tipping into deficit within a year. Over the next three years TfL expects to have a surplus of around £700m – 2.7% of its total nearly £26bn expenditure over the same period.

In fact, this argument comes down to what a sensible surplus is for an organisation of this scale, rather than whether it should have one at all. Johnson’s team points out that when Livingstone was mayor he defended TfL surpluses. Livingstone’s team point out that this was largely because the surpluses it ran it was earmarked for capital projects; TfL is essentially saying the same now.

This incredibly narrow ground is one of Ken’s problems. HIs voters care about London Transport, and Boris’s don’t. In most other respects, most of the things Ken started when London had money have been continued by Boris, including the nicely marketed (Ken and) Boris Bikes. He can hardly shoot up his own projects.

The internal balance in TfL has been tilted by the incumbent. Money that appears to be free, will be used by Ken shore up a subsidy to the London Transport user, but at the expense of further investment. If Boris wins, it may not be so much that people didn’t want Ken than the only serious difference may be that it’s Boris’s turn to get a second go.

And as Bagehot notes, such playground politics is all we’re likely to see from London (which unlike the rest of the country is not short of a bob or two), until and unless the London Mayor is made responsible for its own tax raising powers:

London—a cosmopolis with an economy larger than Belgium’s and a population the size of Switzerland’s—should be a fine test-bed for such reforms. The capital is crammed with the ambitious, the restless and those dissatisfied with the circumstances of their birth. Its mayor should be a spokesman, heard around Britain, for economic growth and openness to the world. This will not happen until City Hall raises much more of its own money, perhaps via business taxes or VAT, forcing mayors to make tough trade-offs. Playing trains and buses is not enough. London’s mayoralty turns 12 this year. Time to grow up.

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