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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’s best general election bet is Keir Starmer

The shadow secretary for Brexit has the heart of a Remainer - but head of a pragmatic politician in Brexit Britain. 

In a different election, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer might have been written off as too quiet a man. Instead - as he set out his plans to scrap the Brexit white paper and offer EU citizens reassurance on “Day One” in the grand hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers - the audience burst into spontaneous applause. 

For voters now torn between their loyalty to Labour and Remain, Starmer is a reassuring figure. Although he says he respects the Brexit vote, the former director of public prosecutions is instinctively in favour of collaborating with Europe. He even wedges phrases like “regulatory alignment” into his speeches. When a journalist asked about the practicality of giving EU citizens right to remain before UK citizens abroad have received similar promises, he retorted: “The way you just described it is to use people as bargaining chips… We would not do that.”

He is also clear about the need for Parliament to vote on a Brexit deal in the autumn of 2018, for a transitional agreement to replace the cliff edge, and for membership of the single market and customs union to be back on the table. When pressed on the option of a second referendum, he said: “The whole point of trying to involve Parliament in the process is that when we get to the final vote, Parliament has had its say.” His main argument against a second referendum idea is that it doesn’t compare like with like, if a transitional deal is already in place. For Remainers, that doesn't sound like a blanket veto of #EUref2. 

Could Leave voters in the provinces warm to the London MP for Holborn and St Pancras? The answer seems to be no – The Daily Express, voice of the blue passport brigade, branded his speech “a plot”. But Starmer is at least respectful of the Brexit vote, as it stands. His speech was introduced by Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, who berated Westminster for their attitude to Leave voters, and declared: “I would not be standing here if the Labour Party were in anyway attempting to block Brexit.” Yes, Labour supporters who voted Leave may prefer a Brexiteer like Kate Hoey to Starmer,  but he's in the shadow Cabinet and she's on a boat with Nigel Farage. 

Then there’s the fact Starmer has done his homework. His argument is coherent. His speech was peppered with references to “businesses I spoke to”. He has travelled around the country. He accepts that Brexit means changing freedom of movement rules. Unlike Clive Lewis, often talked about as another leadership contender, he did not resign but voted for the Article 50 Bill. He is one of the rare shadow cabinet members before June 2016 who rejoined the front bench. This also matters as far as Labour members are concerned – a March poll found they disapproved of the way Labour has handled Brexit, but remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Finally, for those voters who, like Brenda, reacted to news of a general election by complaining "Not ANOTHER one", Starmer has some of the same appeal as Theresa May - he seems competent and grown-up. While EU regulation may be intensely fascinating to Brexiteers and Brussels correspondents, I suspect that by 2019 most of the British public's overwhelming reaction to Brexit will be boredom. Starmer's willingness to step up to the job matters. 

Starmer may not have the grassroots touch of the Labour leader, nor the charisma of backbench dissidents like Chuka Umunna, but the party should make him the de facto face of the campaign.  In the hysterics of a Brexit election, a quiet man may be just what Labour needs.

What did Keir Starmer say? The key points of his speech

  • An immediate guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit, while seeking reciprocal measures for UK citizens in the EU. 
  • Replacing the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill with an EU Rights and Protections Bill which fully protects consumer, worker and environmental rights.
  • A replacement White Paper with a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. 
  • The devolution of any new powers that are transferred back from Brussels should go straight to the relevant devolved body, whether regional government in England or the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Parliament should be fully involved in the Brexit deal, and MPs should be able to vote on the deal in autumn 2018.
  • A commitment to seek to negotiate strong transitional arrangements when leaving the EU and to ensure there is no cliff-edge for the UK economy. 
  • An acceptance that freedom of movement will end with leaving the EU, but a commitment to prioritise jobs and economy in the negotiations.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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