Pity those on Ken Livingstone's campaign trying to get across his campaign message on the Congestion Charge Extension. Only in December he denounced Boris for lifting it. Now Livingstone says he would not bring it back in.
Thus a willingness to adopt Orwellian Doublethink is required. In 1984 the world was divided into three giant nations that would perpetually switch from being allies to being at war: “Oceania was at war with Eurasia; therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia,” would be the message one day. Then it would switch: "Oceania has never been at war with Eurasia, we have always been at war with Eastasia; anyone who says otherwise is spreading Eastasian propaganda and must be reported to authorities."
The attempt to justify the u-turn is that restoring the Congestion Charge Extension would cost " a hundred to a hundred and fifty million quid to do it." Those figures are a gross exaggeration even allowing for staggering inefficiency of TfL. But if that cost was prohibitive how could he justify having introduced it in the first place? Logically that cost would have been higher starting from scratch. Dave Hill asks:
Transport for London estimates that it is losing £55 million in revenue a year as a result of Boris axing the WEZ. So if Ken brought it back at the sort of price he mentions, wouldn't it pay for itself in a mere two or three years and then generate much-needed extra income to help "hold down" fares (to use Ken's own careful words)?
Andrew Gilligan adds:
But this U-turn does raise more serious questions about Ken’s sums – which are shaping up to be a huge new problem for him in addition to all his existing problems. Three weeks ago, in interviews with BBC London and Mayorwatch, Ken pledged to stop Boris’s planned cuts in GLA services and preserve all existing capital spending (such as Crossrail) – while at the same time freezing public transport fares in real terms and freezing his element of the council tax for four years. When asked how he could possibly square this remarkable circle, given that the GLA’s Whitehall grant is being cut by 20%, he replied: “I’ll tell you the day after the election.”
The Mayor of London only has four sources of income: Whitehall grant, council tax, public transport fares and the congestion charge. The first is falling dramatically. Ken has now, in effect, promised to freeze the other three, or at least very heavily limit how much he can raise from the C-charge (unless his pledge on the western extension is because he is secretly planning a far wider extension of the congestion charge, something I’ll be looking at in a future post.)
Of course this is not a genuine change of heart but about political expediency. The C-Charge Extension was hugely unpopular not just in Kensington and Chelsea but also in my borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and other parts of west London. But any voters who feel they can now safely vote for Livingstone without having the Congestion Charge brought back would have to wonder whether Livingstone can be trusted. He would just brazenly come out with some line about how thankfully the cost of reintroducing it was lower than he had understood it would be so he could go ahead after all.
Those looking to him to reverse spending cuts without raising revenues would also be destined for disappointment. As Fred Astaire used to put it: "Something's gotta give."