Boris's tube and bus fares "freeze" isn't a freeze

All prices will still rise by at least 3.1% at a time when wages are rising by just 0.8%. But this remains a significant concession to Labour.

After his defence of untrammelled capitalism last week, is Boris Johnson now taking inspiration from Ed Miliband? At first sight, this morning's Evening Standard headline, "Boris Johnson announces London Underground and bus fares freeze", suggests so. But read on and it transpires that this "freeze" is actually an inflation-linked rise. Most fares will now merely rise by 3.1%, rather than the expected 4.1% (although travelcards will still rise by the larger figure). For passengers, whose pay rose by an average of just 0.8% in the most recent quarter and who are already paying the highest fares in the world (up by 60% since Boris became mayor), that remains a steep increase.

But given his initial reluctance to act, this is still a significant concession by the mayor to his political opponents. In September, 24 Labour MPs signed a Commons motion demanding that fares rise by no more than inflation. It stated: "Transport for London has reported unbudgeted operational surpluses for the previous three years and is showing evidence of regularly under-anticipating fares income and overestimating other expenditures (We) call on the mayor of London to use his discretion to freeze fares at RPI (retail price index) for 2014, easing the pressure on ordinary Londoners during the current cost of living crisis."

In his recent speech on "the great Tory train robbery", Sadiq Khan, the shadow London minister and a potential mayoral candidate, said: "Boris Johnson has an abysmal record of hiking fares year on year that has contributed massively to the cost-of-living crisis in London. Since he became Mayor the cost of a single bus journey has increased by 56 percent. In 2008 a single pay-as-you-go journey on a bus or tram cost just 90 pence. The same journey today will cost you £1.40. The price of a travel card from zones 1-6 has increased by £440 a year. That’s a bigger hike than even gas and electricity bills.

"In a few weeks’ time, the Mayor will be announcing the rate of fares for next year. Londoners simply cannot afford another inflation busting increase to the cost of travel. The Mayor must recognise that Londoners are struggling more than ever before and that their budgets can’t keep stretching forever. He must take action to ease the pressure for ordinary Londoners by freezing fares at least at the rate of inflation for 2014."

Boris has now done just that. But after having their expectations raised by Labour's promised freeze in energy prices, voters are unlikely to thank him for it. 

Boris Johnson addresses delegates at the annual CBI conference in London on 4 November 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who is responsible for an austerity violating human rights? Look to New Labour

Labour's record had started to improve under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. 

The UN has made it clear the Government’s austerity programme breaches human rights. This is not because of spending cuts - it is because because those spending cuts target women and disadvantaged groups, particularly disabled people and asylum seekers.

The degree of injustice is staggering. The Coalition Government used a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts to reduce the net income of the poorest tenth of families by 9 per cent. The cuts faced by disabled people are even more extreme. For instance, more than half a million people have lost social care in England (a cut of over 30 per cent). Asylum seekers are now deprived of basic services.

The injustice is also extremely regional, with the deepest cuts falling on Labour heartlands. Today’s austerity comes after decades of decline and neglect by Westminster. Two places that will be most harmed by the next round of cuts are Blackpool (pictured) and Blackburn. These are also places where Labour saw its voters turn to UKIP in 2015, and where the Leave vote was strong.

Unscrupulous leaders don’t confront real problems, instead they offer people scapegoats. Today’s scapegoats are immigrants, asylum seekers, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people. It takes real courage, the kind of courage the late MP Jo Cox showed, not to appease this prejudice, but to challenge it.

The harm caused by austerity is no surprise to Labour MPs. The Centre for Welfare Reform, and many others, have been publishing reports describing the severity and unfairness of the cuts since 2010. Yet, during the Coalition Government, it felt as if Labour’s desire to appear "responsible" led  Labour to distance itself from disadvantaged groups. This austerity-lite strategy was an electoral disaster.

Even more worrying, many of the policies criticised by the UN were created by New Labour or supported by Labour in opposition. The loathed Work Capability Assessment, which is now linked to an increase in suicides, was first developed under New Labour. Only a minority of Labour MPs voted against many of the Government’s so-called "welfare reforms". 

Recently things appeared to improve. For instance, John McDonnell, always an effective ally of disabled people, had begun to take the Government to task for its attacks on the income’s of disabled people. Not only did the media get interested, but even some Tories started to rebel. This is what moral leadership looks like.

Now it looks like Labour is going to lose the plot again. Certainly, to be electable, Labour needs coherent policies, good communication and a degree of self-discipline. But more than this Labour needs to be worth voting for. Without a clear commitment to justice and the courage to speak out on behalf of those most disadvantaged, then Labour is worthless. Its support will disappear, either to the extreme Right or to parties that are prepared to defend human rights.

Dr Simon Duffy is the director of the Centre for Welfare Reform