The Guardian scored a bit of a coup this week, with three candidates for Mayor – including me - getting out their laptops over the weekend to take part in what can only be described as a stonking row on the Comment is Free website.
It all started when Ken Livingstone published a piece pointing out the uncanny similarities between Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick in the area of transport policy, and denouncing Paddick for announcing a policy to privatise the tube, something he called a “sharp change in Liberal Democrat policy in London”.
Brian is not one to take criticism lightly, and is also often to be found commenting on blogs in the small hours. (I’m almost positive the BrianPaddickDelivers who commented on my blog here is the candidate himself). So, it was no surprise to find one ‘BrianforMayor’ posting a long comment in response,standing up for himself and his transport plans.
Unfortunately, as I have written about here before (Porsche, Bozza and Paddick, 22/02/08, Ken’s accusations are spot on. However much he denies it, the fact is Brian IS in favour of privatising the tube. To be precise, taking it out of Transport for London’s control and running it on a ‘concession model’, the same way as the privatised buses, Docklands Light Railway and - until Livingstone bought it out recently - the Croydon Tram. Brian is proposing putting more of London’s transport systems out to tender, while Ken Livingstone is bringing more of them in-house, and this is a clear difference of policy, as well as a difference from LibDem views expressed in the past, and so is well worth pointing out in the course of an election.
Brian also stood up for his policy of opposing the new emissions-related congestion charge, in very similar vein toBrianPaddickDelivers on this site before. On Comment is Free, however, he was even less convincing, asking "why not graduate the charge like road tax?" despite this being precisely the plan: a zero rate at the bottom, with a large hike at the band G threshold of carbon emissions at 225 g/km. After many paragraphs of blog comments and several hustings, I still can honestly say I have no idea why he thinks the CO2 Charge is a bad idea.
But the most damaging accusation is that he is not pursuing the policies one might expect of a LibDem candidate leading an election campaign in London. It’s also the one where BrianforMayor has the flimsiest defence. His argument that "unlike the other two main candidates neither I or my partner have a car" is no kind of evidence of being a true LibDem on this issue.
Although I rarely dish out praise for people from other parties, the truth is that, on the £25 congestion charge, LibDem politicians were some of my 4x4 campaign’s earliest supporters, and LibDems along with Greens in local councils have been pioneering the same approach to parking charges around the country as well. With BrianforMayor calling these kinds of measures ‘playing politics with the planet’, there must be very many LibDem supporters out there - not to mention councillors and Assembly Members - wondering what happened to their candidate.
The to-and-fro of comments between Paddick and Livingstone continued for several very entertaining posts and that’s why I now owe newstatesman.com an apology. Because, I confess, I did succumb to temptation and get involved in the debate as well. In the end, I simply had to point out my own disappointment in Brian Paddick’s distinctly un-LibDem performance, and eventually took to my keyboard on Easter Sunday; what would otherwise have been a welcome day off (or at least a day spent reading the papers and generally catching up). I’m quite far down the page at 14.26 on March 23 if you’d like to have a read.
I do have a new development to report here as well. Today, while I was at a breakfast hustings with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones (our two Green London Assembly Members) delivered an open letter to LibDem leader Nick Clegg, lamenting Brian Paddick’s desertion of LibDem positions on the environment. Without a move from Brian to change his mind on the Low Emission Zone, tubeprivatisation or the CO2 charge, environmentally concernedLibDem supporters may find themselves with no option but to vote for me, they argue.
I’m very far from being a LibDem candidate (although I was described by the Daily Mail as a ‘chain-smoking libertarian who supports licensed brothels’, so my liberal credentials are pretty strong) but, with Brian Paddick moving increasingly far from his party in a different direction, I do think they have a point.