Boris is a Tory!

Boris Johnson is scrapping the congestion charge in the western zone despite clearly having doubts over the policy after his election victory.  He is bowing to the pressure from his cheer leaders in the Tory party and the Evening Standard, despite the thinness of the evidence suggesting that the charge was doing any harm.

The Standard yesterday reported that retailers had reported a two per cent decrease in sales during the week and a one per cent increase at the weekend. This is neither economically nor statistically significant.  The whinges of a few retailers should not be allowed to override a policy which was environmentally positive and which showed London was leading the way in thinking about how to reduce the problem of congestion in cities. Moreover, even Boris’s greatest fan, Andrew Gilligan, had to admit that traffic in the area is down ‘albeit less than expected’ and that local opposition had fallen.

Indeed, the campaign by the affluent residents of Kensington & Chelsea against the western zone extension demonstrates that there is a pretty random relationship between brains and money. These knuckleheads, who got a 90 per cent reduction as residents in the zone, will now find that they have to pay £8 to cross the border at Park Lane.

As well as being implemented on little evidence, the real damage of Johnson’s move is that it sends out all the wrong signals. For all his faults, Ken Livngstone had a long term strategy of trying to move people out of cars and onto public transport, or cycling and walking.  Everything Johnson does seems to encourage the opposite, whether it is scrapping long term investment plans, allowing motorcyclists into bus lanes or abandoning pedestrianisation plans for London’s major squares. It is great the he is pressing ahead with his cycle hire scheme, but he will not encourage new cyclists to take their first wobbly trips if he does not create better conditions for them.  All his policies so far are doing the opposite.

The main point is that while Johnson presented himself as a young, environmentally-friendly and maverick fresh thinker, he is just an old-fashioned Tory, trying to cut back on services to keep the council tax low. Those who voted for him because they thought he would be a breath of fresh air must be sorely disappointed.

  • Dan

    “demonstrates that there is a pretty random relationship between brains and money” – and of course the banking crisis already helped this analysis – sadly I doubt many people will make the link – however clear.

    Anyone foolish enough to think Boris was anything but an old fashioned Tory was probably as politically astutue as those people who thought Blair was some kind of socialist!

    “trying to cut back on services to keep the council tax low” – indeed – and this is the Tories ‘USP’ as the marketing people would say – you can’t expect them to do anything else – and they would be conning their long term supporters if they were anything else (mind you Blair probably conned his long term supporters!)

  • Peter

    I don’t know what’s more depressing – what the moron mayor is doing, or the apparent fact that most people seem to think he’s doing a great job.

    I really don’t think there’s any hope for this country – people have become too selfish and expect uninhibited use of their cars however good the public transport alternative is, yet will constantly whinge about poor public services while not wishing to contribute a penny towards any imrovements.

  • Nigel Frampton

    One politician (Boris Johnson) has no policy for tackling traffic congestion, while another (Ken Livingstone) had the wrong policy.

    It is not really surprising that the Congestion Charge is unpopular. As a flat charge, it inevitably impacts harder on less well-off payers – presumably, not something that the Labour party really wants to do, although it isn’t the only instance of Labour policy that seems to shoot their principles ‘in the foot’!. Also, since (as I understand it) somebody who only drives 100 yards into the zone will pay the same as another who drives around for 100 miles (assuming that is possible in a day!), it is also unfair in that respect.

    Then of course there is the question of whether it works. Your quoted comment from Andrew Gilligan suggests that the western extension is hardly an outstanding success, in terms of reducing traffic congestion. I understand also that traffic in the original London C-Charge zone has risen over the years since its introduction, and some reports suggest that it is now almost at the same level as immediately prior to the introduction of the charge. Certainly, during my recent visit to London, I seemed to spend a lot of time in buses moving just as slowly as they had in my last previous visit 8 years ago.

    Your point about the “random relationship between brains and money” is also valid, but highlights another weakness of charging for congestion – many motorists do not properly consider the full costs of driving when deciding where and when to use their cars – they probably only think of the cost of fuel. Plus of course, for those with plenty of money the C-Charge is probably a ‘drop in the ocean’ – which naturally renders useless any deterrent effect that it might have.

    But it does really all depend on whether the C-Charge was intended to reduce traffic, or to raise revenue for politicians to spend on the projects that they favoured. By the latter measure, it is no doubt an outstanding success. Except that the public can see through this sort of thing, and the motoring element think (rightly or wrongly) that they already pay enough in taxes, and that the C-Charge is one (inequitable) tax too many. That truth may be unpalatable, but it has to be faced.

    I am not an advocate for the motoring lobby, and it is obvious that traffic congestion needs to be tackled and reduced, but congestion is a physical problem that needs a physical solution. Congestion is caused by too many vehicles seeking to use too little road space – so the answer has to be physical restrictions to the access to the congested roadspace; or it is caused by obstructions such as badly parked vehicles, which should be removed and the drivers should be made to pay hefty, deterrent type fines to recover their vehicles, possibly even points on their licences. There are plenty of other methods which could be implemented.

    Politics has to be the art of the practical, and even if Ken Livingstone’s objective was ‘a long term strategy of trying to move people out of cars and onto public transport, or cycling and walking’, the C-Charge is clearly not the way to go about it. Particularly now, with the prospect of poorer economic conditions, unpopular taxes will become even more unpopular and unpalatable. In that respect, Boris Johnson clearly has his ‘ear closer to the ground’ than Livingstone – but it is certainly regrettable that he has no other policy in place to tackle the congestion.

  • Exile

    “Clearly” the C charge did have an effect and a positive one – but it diminished over the years as drivers adjusted to the extra cost. Which suggests it should perhaps be increased not abolished! “There are plenty of other methods” – OK – but none of them will be popular with motorists either. A substantial proportion of motorists consider they have a right to drive where they like, when they like, as fast as they like and park within a couple of metres of their destination. And the larger the car the better – hence the “Chelsea Tractor”.

    And Boris didn’t win because of the C charge but because the government is so unpopular a strategically shaved monkey might well have beaten Livingstone. Nevertheless as the winner he has a right to implement his policy – let’s see what happens will we?

    As it happens the recession itself might well make congestion self-limiting for the next couple of years. And we might be able to get a seat on the train as well. Not much of a sliver lining though.

  • MickeyMouser

    Boris shows his true colours. This is nothing more than a straightforward transfer of millions from public transport users to private motorists, sitting comfortably in their air conditioned vehicles whilst clogging up the arteries of the city. Myopic and backward thinking, driven by ideology above sense and the needs of the users and the city. The same deluded thinking, by a privileged and out of touch elite, that brought us rail privatisation.