I was at the National Transport Awards the other night, finding myself, as usual, rather galled about all the self-congratulation in an industry that is rightly often derided, a feeling that was rather reinforced by seeing Jarvis picking up awards.
Perhaps a positive way of looking at it would be to suggest the company had turned the corner but there is still the sense that there are far too many of these events, especially when it comes to the railways where there are no fewer than three major sets of awards for an industry whose performance since privatisation has been patchy to say the least.Still, trying not to be churlish, the National Transport Awards did reward a lot of hardworking people who are doing their best in a difficult working environment.
The focus on teamwork and frontline staff is to be welcomed, though the Awards lacked a lifetime achievement award, the sort the BAFTAs and Oscars present to some veteran crooner. It’s high time this was remedied. Normally, I think the bigwigs are best left to pocket their overblown salaries but in this case there is a compelling case for an exception to be made.One might think there would be a shortage of candidates for a lifetime award, but actually there is quite a strong field.
One of the best would be Sir Alistair Morton, ensuring the building of the Channel Tunnel, something that is still unclear how he achieved, and for trying so hard at the Strategic Rail Authority, although sadly that would be posthumous. Another would be Derek Turner, for developing and implementing the congestion charge and his other efforts to balance the needs of traffic and people in cities.But in truth, there is one person who would far ahead in any contest, even though he is by no means a transport specialist, It is not so much his achievements, which have been considerable – Fares Fair, the Travelcard, Thameslink, the congestion charge, London bus usage etc – that make Ken Livingstone the obvious candidate but the way he has changed thinking on transport.
Livingstone is no angel – he is a politician who plays hardball and there was much blood shed on his path to success. He is also stubborn and at times gets hung up on ridiculous disputes, such as his argument with an Evening Standard reporter who he said was as bad as a concentration camp guard, but his instincts are generally right.Just take his latest initiative, a promise to charge 4x4s three times the normal congestion charge.
Some years ago that would have gone down in the press like a Range Rover plunging into a ravine (don’t you wish that would happen in those smug car adverts full of oversized vehicles polluting otherwise deserted roads?) but now it was broadly accepted as a good idea.Livingstone did this with the congestion charge. He grasped that generally people would like the idea and backed it, in the face of opposition from his own advisers.
His Tory rival, Steve Norris, looked a mug on that first day standing on deserted roads trying to gen up opposition for a policy that clearly catches the public mood. And attacking the ridiculous habit of using 4x4s in towns also chimes with the zeitgeist. Even if it were not for their gas guzzling planet-destroying tendencies, the sheer size of the things hurtling round London’s undersized roads ensures that most of us hate these monsters.
Livingstone’s move, though token and in truth nothing to do with a congestion charge, helps to create a climate that makes the very ownership of 4x4s less acceptable.If Livingstone, together with rising oil prices ($200 a barrel is now being mentioned as a possibility) manages to see off this growing scourge, then no award on earth would be sufficient. If only Gordon Brown, who has rather more power in these matters, were prepared to be as brave as old Red Ken.