Boris Johnson is the bare-faced variety of liar about London. This was baldly demonstrated by his famous Prime Minister’s Questions claim that Sadiq Khan is “entirely to blame” for Transport for London’s financial problems when he knows perfectly well that the pandemic is the culprit.
You can respectably argue that the Mayor’s fares freeze meant the crunch point was reached sooner than it would otherwise have been – perhaps by up to a month – but to assert to the nation that TfL’s need for financial help is wholly the Mayor’s fault is outright lying of the most blatant kind. But, of course, Johnson and his government want to sustain the Blue Wall fiction that London is a Bad City, which must be punished for making northerners poor.
Grant Shapps, Johnson’s transport secretary, is subtler about how he feeds the anti-London fib machine. Unlike his boss, Shapps acknowledged back in May that the “most important” reason TfL has needed support is “the significant fall in revenue caused by Covid-19”.
But he just had to qualify this by claiming that “an important secondary factor was the pre-existing poor condition of TfL’s financial position as a result of decisions made over the last four years.” He hasn’t gone into detail. Presumably, the review of TfL’s finances he asked KPMG to conduct contains lots and lots of it, but for some reason even TfL’s commissioner Andy Byford hasn’t been allowed to see most of the review (let alone the public, who’ve paid for it).
Shapps has also maintained that “significant cost increases and delays to Crossrail” have contributed to TfL’s problems. That is undoubtedly true, but note how this is lumped in with those alleged shortcomings under Khan without mentioning the fact that Shapps’s own department was, until two months ago, Crossrail’s co-sponsor. If, as Tories like to say, TfL under the current Mayor failed to keep a proper eye on what Crossrail Ltd was doing, where was the Tory-headed DfT looking all that time?
We got more Bad London guff from Shapps over Hammersmith Bridge. And when the second TfL bailout was agreed he made the preposterous claim in an Evening Standard column that London would have to find its own way to cover the cost of free travel for under-18s and over-60s because permitting otherwise would be to “force taxpayers in Exeter and Barnsley” to do it. And he has declared the new Crossrail loan “fair to UK taxpayers” because paying it back will require the Mayor raising the money from within the capital as it will be “the main beneficiary”.
Oh, please. Taxes raised in London subsidise taxpayers in Exeter, Barnsley, Mansfield, Stoke, Accrington, Darlington and everywhere north of Oxford and west of Basingstoke to the tune of nearly £40 billion a year. If TfL, part of a devolved authority, wants to tier its tariffs in ways that suit the priorities of its directly-elected Mayors – such as Boris Johnson, who introduced the 60+ concession to keep his grey vote onside – that should be a matter for them.
Part of the deal with Bailout 2 is a built-in political contrivance to give Khan a political headache and Shapps a few more media opportunities to tell Tory voters outside London things he knows aren’t true in order to sustain the pretence of “levelling up”. He’s a slipperier specimen than “Good old Boris” but the forked tongue is the same.
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