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The single object that sums up Boris Johnson's disastrous mayoralty

Pets look like their owners - and pet projects reveal much about the politicians who create them.

They say that people often keep dogs that look like themselves; certainly they chose pets with a temperament that matches their own. In Boris Johnson’s case it’s his new Routemaster pet project which offers quite a good mirror on its creator’s soul.

After eight years at City Hall I understand the secret hidden depths of Boris Johnson. 

There aren’t any. Stop searching for them.  The man is deeply superficial and is defined solely by his insatiable appetite for profile and publicity.

In September 2007, Boris Johnson announced that if he became Mayor he would scrap his bête noir the bendy buses and would replace them with a new Routemaster- cue a press release and photo op.  After the election a competition to design a New Bus for London was held (another press release) and once the winning design had been selected (glitzy press launch) Wrightbus were given the contract to build the bus (pause for a trip to Northern Ireland for a media tour of the factory). 

In May 2010 the final design of the bus was announced and finally in February 2012, five years after it was first mooted the first of eight prototypes new Routemasters went into service on route 38. All of course accompanied by photoshoots and interviews with Boris on the “Boris bus”.

Since then, TfL have ordered 800 of the new buses  With press launches, announcements and photoshoots firing off like bangers from a sausage machine you’d think the finished product would be a marvel, sadly as with many Boris projects there was far more style than substance.

On the most basic level Boris’ sums just don’t add up. The first 600 new Routemasters cost TfL £212.7m, that’s £354,500 per bus, the next 200 cost £69.9m a slight discount at £349,500 per bus. But look at the cost of an equivalent double decker bus and it all becomes a bit murky. A conventional double-decker costs £190,000 to build, almost half the cost of the New Routemaster.

Of course just because something is expensive it doesn’t mean it’s not value for money. So what do we get?

·         Less space - The capacity of the New Routemaster is 87 people, whereas the capacity of other double decker buses is higher, such as the Volvo B7TL EL DD, has a capacity of 96.

·         Overheated passengers - Having been fitted with an air cooling system, rather than an air conditioning one, the New Routemaster is well known for being unbearably hot during the summer months. Old technology solutions (like openable windows) spoiled the aesthetics of Boris bus - so for years its passengers were denied relief.  After three years of boiling bus journeys the Mayor was forced to announce a refit to add in openable windows, at a cost to the taxpayer of £2m.

·         Rocketing costs – One of the key reasons the new bus was introduced was to bring back a jump-on, jump-off service with constantly open rear doors. To do this he bought back conductors in an attempt to replicate the experience of the old Routemaster buses, and ensure the safety of passengers when the rear door was left open. Each extra member of staff costs TfL £62,000 a year.

So after spending millions on a new bus with a openable rear door, the Mayor is scrapping the staff and closing the rear platform door for good. In fact eight of the 12 routes have already scrapped conductors all together with the remaining four only having them at specific times of day. Unsurprising given that in October 2014, TfL confirmed that all future New Routemaster routes would run “entirely” in One Person Operated (OPO) mode, meaning the rear platform will be closed while the bus is running and only open when the bus pulls up at a stop.

What about the new bus' environmental credentials? The oft repeated but empty claim that the Routemaster is cleaner has helped the Mayor disguise the fact  that London is still running a largely old and ageing bus fleet, while other world cities - and some European provincial ones, are making big strides on cleaner hybrid buses and electric only single-deckers. London’ s polluted air is at crisis levels  and all the photoshoots  in the TfL press portfolio can’t disguise  the heavy unhealthy feeling you experience walking or cycling along London’s major roads.

The Mayor’s proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone should mean that buses which don’t meet emissions targets must pay a daily charge of £100 to enter Central London from 2020. However, in a very Boris Johnson’s like make-a-rule, break-a-rule fashion, he has exempted all of his new Routemasters. Despite knowing about London’s air quality crisis there was little effort made to control the emissions standards of the new buses, which would now cost between £7m and £15m to bring up to standard, a price Boris believes is too high so it will not be done. This means they can go on pumping out more harmful emissions in central London.

Add that to the fact that the failure of the hybrid battery technology has meant dozens of Routemasters  running solely on polluting diesel  and what you’re left with doesn’t look that green at all. 

It costs more than an equivalent hybrid double decker, and because no other City in the world wants to buy them they will always remain at a premium cost, it has less capacity, has problems with the air conditioning, has conductors that are being phased out, a rear platform that is superfluous and is due to be the most polluting TfL bus on our roads in central London in 2020.

Sadly though Boris has ploughed on throughout, focused more on the photo-ops and press releases than the millions of pounds of public money being wasted.  It can be a massively expensive rip off, not work properly, be polluting, uncomfortable and too small for purpose but if you can stand on the back platform with your blond locks blowing heroically in the wind for the cameras then for Boris Johnson, it’s got to be a deal. 

Val Shawcross is transport spokeswoman for the London Assembly Labour Group 

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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