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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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Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

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