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Boris’s spin and falsehoods mask a partisan agenda

30th Oct 2020
Boris’s spin and falsehoods mask a partisan agenda

Addressing Parliament during PMQ on October 21, PM Boris Johnson falsely claimed the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and not the pandemic bankrupted TfL (Credit: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)

Mohammed Hassan

Manchester Mayor, Any Burnham, has been in the eye of the storm recently. With a lot of spin and bluster, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, decided to impose Tier 3 restrictions on Greater Manchester, without agreeing to a commensurate financial compensation package to cushion the shock. Only a day later we are told that the Chancellor has agreed to make available a compensation package which would be backdated for regions like Manchester.

In sum, the total package would be more than the £65 million which Burnham was content with! Surely, the Prime Minister would have known what his Chancellor was about to announce when he tried to blame The Mayor for asking for less! Could it be that the actual agenda was to humiliate a popular Labour Mayor?

The plot gets even more intriguing once we look at the Transport for London (TfL) saga. Even the most intellectually challenged Tory backwoodsman would figure out that it would not be possible to run a viable full transport service in London with less than a third of its normal passenger load.

There would either have to be cuts to the service or a subsidy to plug the gap. This has very little to do with the management of TfL. Indeed, the Government has quietly been subsidising the rail operators to the tune of £500 million monthly to keep their services running. These are the same operators who were about to be nationalised even before the pandemic! Instead of recognising this reality, the Government has resorted to spin and falsehoods.

So, when it came to TfL’s request for plugging the gap, the Government started to smear London Mayor, Sadiq Khan and insisted on imposing conditions for any subsidy.

The first round of temporary funding came after the Mayor was forced to increase the congestion charge to £15 per day seven days a week, limit times for free travel for senior citizens on London Transport and increase the timings of the applicability of the congestion charge to 7 am to 10 pm, this at a time, when Boris was advising people not to use public transport but travel by car whenever possible.

As the pandemic showed no signs of abetting, the discussion started for further subsidies to take TfL through the next year. Further round of acrimonious negotiations has started. The Government is insisting on expanding the congestion charge zone to include key areas of outer London and impose above-inflation fare increases. The Mayor was also required to run a full service.

However, the spin has been to blame the Mayor and his management of TfL for this state of affairs. Matters came to a head when the Prime Minister used parliamentary privilege to falsely accuse Mayor Khan of mismanagement of TfL and increasing TfL’s losses.

Audited accounts reveal that since taking over from Boris’s time as Mayor of London, Khan had reduced the TfL deficit substantially. Londoners will also attest to a much-improved service in the three years before the onset of the pandemic. This spin and falsehoods were designed to shift the blame on Mayor Khan for the effect of a pandemic, not of his making.

This Government always had it in for Khan ever since he won the Mayoral election in the face of rampantly Islamophobic attacks by his Tory opponent. Ever since then Khan’s competence and popularity has rankled with the Boris government.

Chris Grayling, the Conservative Minister in charge at the time, clearly expressed this when he said that he was loath to hand over the grossly mismanaged Southern Rail franchise to TfL as it was under a Labour Mayor. Potshots were also taken at the Mayor when he proposed a plan to move the headquarters of his administration to East London from its present location. The Conservative media alleged incompetence.

The Government did not come to the defence of the Mayor when President Trump tried to maul him for gun crime in London. Trump himself mired in the Black Lives Matter pandemic since the murder of several African Americans by police in the US, looks silly and out of his depth. The fact remains that our Government had no courage to support the Mayor of the largest city in the UK from a footloose President.

Perhaps the Government was looking for a favourable trade deal from the Trump administration and the reputation of its popular Mayor was of little consequence. A popular Labour Mayor elected with a larger electoral mandate than any MP always rankled with the Government.

Thus, part of the Tory Government’s agenda has been to smear the Mayor. Boris’s mismanagement of TfL and crony vanity projects like the £40 million spent on the still to materialise Garden Bridge had somehow to be erased from Londoners’ memory. Now with the Mayoral election approaching in May 2021, TfL’s plight gave the Tory Government a hook to smear the Mayor via spin and falsehoods.

It is sad to see that the underlying Tory strategy is to create unpopularity for Labour politicians like Burnham and Khan by any means necessary to enable Conservative politicians to replace them. Hopefully, people of London, Manchester and other targeted regions will deliver a resounding and fitting rebuttal to this sinister agenda.

 

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