THE BLOG

Sadiq Khan's Spin Is Derailing Devolution

06/01/2017 11:49

This morning Sadiq Khan issued a press release in which he made five pledges to suburban Londoners listing improvements that he claims would happen if the Government devolves control of suburban rail to Transport for London.

The London Assembly has long supported rail devolution so it should have been easy for the Mayor to put together a statement that would gain cross-party support. However, instead the press release almost perfectly encapsulated the flaws and failings of Sadiq Khan, which those of us at City Hall have now seen up close for eight months. This is a Mayor who is already into double figures of broken promises, and who prefers bluster and misguided bravado when humility and a willingness to apologise would strike the right note.

For example this week, almost exactly a year ago the Mayor wrote an article in the Evening Standard in which he made a promise to Londoners that "You won't pay a penny more in 2020 than you do now.", yet Londoners have seen the cost of their Travelcards rise. Rather than apologise for misleading Londoners, the Mayor has railed at the Government and brazenly claimed that he has met his pledge. He has pretended that the power to freeze all fares is outside his control, despite correspondence proving that TfL had put together plans for the full freeze that the Mayor had promised.

Perhaps then it should be unsurprising that the first pledge the Mayor makes is to claim that he would freeze fares on any suburban rail lines devolved to him. His partial fares freeze of Tube, bus and tram fares will cost TfL £640 million over four years and his recent TfL Business Plan makes frankly heroic assumptions on cost savings within TfL, whilst radically increasing borrowing and slashing reserves. The reality is that adhering to this partial fares freeze means running a huge risk with London's transport.

Just when the Mayor should be doing everything in his power to prove to the Government that he can be trusted with control of mainline rail, he is doing the opposite. Londoners deserve much better than this.

The Mayor's release goes on to repeat sensible and realistic promises that Boris Johnson was also able to make to the Government. These include: more trains, a guarantee on manned stations and a better overall service. However if Sadiq Khan really intended to freeze fares, the Government would be well within its right to question how these would be delivered. Once again the Mayor manages to obscure the possibility of real progress behind his own misbegotten spin.

Finally, the Mayor promises fewer strikes and disruption. Readers might well respond that there could hardly be more and it is undeniable that there has been mismanagement from Southern rail in particular. However, once again the Mayor's spin and broken promises undermine his point. Londoners could be forgiven for forgetting that, as a candidate, Sadiq Khan promised "zero days of strikes" If he became Mayor. This pledge has already been broken in his Mayoralty with strikes on the Underground, and more looming in the future. Certainly the Mayor appears to have forgotten his promise, and he is unwilling to explain how he would stop strikes if he took over suburban rail services.

Rail devolution could be a huge step forward for Londoners, but to make it happen the Mayor needs to persuade the Government that he can be trusted. Instead his outrageous spin and broken promises are poisoning a case that Boris Johnson spent eight years building and that still has cross-party support.

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