Cllr Kevin Davis is the Leader of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
In that first Global City of Rome, Nero fiddled while the city burnt. In the current Global city of London you can’t help thinking that were Sadiq Khan a violinist he would be standing in City Hall plucking at his instrument whilst 40,000 former Uber drivers clogged London streets trying to pick up fares from 3.5m Londoners working out how to get home after the last train of the night.
There are so many reasons why banning Uber is a bad decision for London and why we need to be cynical about some of Khan’s motivations.
Let’s start with the decision’s relationship to the internal machinations of the Labour Party.
Mayor Khan put himself at odds with the increasingly rabid rise of the hard left in London by criticising Comrade Corbyn at the 2016 Labour Conference. In banning Uber he has made himself a fellow traveller with the Momentum brothers, asserted his opposition to innovation, business, and free markets and become a Luvvy to his new found friends. All this, at a time when he wants to speak at a 2017 party conference he has till now been excluded from, because of his supposedly too Blairite, anti-Corbyn view of the world. Maybe connecting the two issues is cynical, but, for Khan, it is quite convenient to suddenly have Union friends.
Put it in another context. His single biggest pledge at last year’s London Mayoral elections (yes, it was only last year) was that he would build more homes than Boris. That has not been going very well and yet, he is faced with the rise of a ‘new socialist’ faction in his party that has turned its face against providing more homes on some crazy altar of “better build no homes than let business make a profit doing it”. Like Uber it seems that political expediency is the deciding factor for Mayor Khan, not the needs of the people who live in this City.
Such are the multiple failures of the Mayor I am getting distracted from Uber.
So why is banning Uber a mistake?
Uber is about the only hope London has for maintaining its night time economy. Uber stopped the circling nightclub mini cab drivers who were probably less regulated and less safe than any vehicle driven by an Uber driver. Uber is about the only way you can get back to the borough I lead once the trains stop and given the small number of intermittent night buses. Only a very inebriated Londoner would risk the phenomenal cost of a black cab from the centre to the suburbs of this great city.
Uber is about the only hope for cleaning up the road transport environment in London. Its mainly hybrid vehicles are a welcome relief from the grunging fumes of a black cab.
Yes, black cabs are a London icon, but in recent years we have had scandals involving black cab drivers and yet banning the entire industry was not an option when those crimes were discovered. Yes, black cabs are cleaning up their emissions. Yes, they now accept credit cards. Yes, they now have a black cab app. But you can’t help thinking that the only reason they changed was because of the disruptive influence of Uber. That is the nature of disruptive innovations. They change the industry, change the discussions, and force market change.
Uber is the cab of choice for the young, the old and a whole range of users who want access to as many transport opportunities as the city and Mayor can provide. This is why the actions of Mayor Khan are a betrayal of all Londoners and a surrender to the forces of the London Labour movement, their unions, and the rising Momentum tide. I have written before on this site about Mayor Khan and his disgraceful politicisation of the Grenfell Tower disaster with his preference to blame rather than lead the City. This is yet another example – of which there are a growing list – of the Mayor’s Uber ego where the choices he makes are for short term political advantage rather than the long-term advance of the city. The Mayor should be working with Uber, finding solutions that mean Uber works in a way that gives us all confidence and helps support London’s complicated transport network.
Conservatives should be standing up for all those who will be feeling excluded by this decision. But we should also be standing against a Mayoralty that seems set to pander to the Labour momentum movement and powerless to stop the defenestration of moderate Labour Councils and their replacement with hard left councils. Momentum Councils will destroy our transport network, smash free enterprise, crush the hopes of young homeowners, and reduce London’s competitive ability just as Brexit demands we are at our best.
This decision by Khan signals the top of the slide by London into a new Labour Socialist experiment. But it also indicates that next year’s London Borough elections are not just a red/blue fight but a struggle to save London from something more threatening than the Corbyn advance at the June General Election.
Leading this City, like leading a London borough, requires the Mayor to bring people together around objectives and projects, not throw stones and ban things. London won’t work if we don’t work together and Brexit is going to be a tough period for London. It can emerge stronger and more successful but not if it is led by a Mayor who does not stride the international stage on behalf of all Londoners, but instead sends signals to the world that London does not embrace innovation, can’t work with the world’s best businesses and can’t stand by 3.5 million Uber users who live in London. Under Mayor Khan, not only is London “closed for business” but it now runs the risk of being “closed for Londoners”.