London Supporters of Ken Speak Out.


There has been a sustained smear campaign against Ken Livingstone, the Labour candidate for the Mayor of London, which has not been suffered by the Conservative candidate, Boris Johnson.  These are some of the voices that have been drowned out in the ‘personality circus’.  Given the current circumstances, a majority of Londoners cannot afford to be beguiled by the ‘cheeky chappie with the floppy hair’.  Boris Johnson is a Tory through and through, and will always put the City of London before Londoners.

The Academics (1)

As most Londoners are struggling with falling real living standards, we endorse the policy to cut fares adopted by Labour’s candidate for mayor, Ken Livingstone (Johnson still has six-point poll lead in mayoral race, 16 April). The cut in fares will benefit hard-pressed fare payers and can help businesses and jobs in London that rely on consumer spending. By contrast the current Tory mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has increased fares by more than inflation in the past four years and is committed to further fare increases of 2% over inflation in each of the next four years. His policy further erodes the real living standards of fare payers in London, with consequent damage to businesses and jobs.

The controversy over the affordability of the policy to cut fares seems entirely misplaced. In the last financial year the total surplus over budget at Transport for London was more than £1.3bn. In the current financial year TfL estimates the surplus will be £830m before exceptional items of expenditure. These unbudgeted surpluses are over 41% of actual fare revenues last year and over 23% of next year’s estimated annual fare revenues. The promised cut in fares is 7%.

Clearly the policy of cutting fares is affordable. Indeed, after the cut there are still hundreds of millions of pounds available for potential investment or other items of spending. Londoners will make their own judgment on 3 May, but they should do so in the certain knowledge that Ken Livingstone’s policy of cutting the fares by 7% is easily affordable.

Prof Victoria Chick University College London

Prof Hulya Dagdeviren University of Hertfordshire

Dr Chris Edwards Senior fellow, University of East Anglia

Prof Susan Himmelweit Open University

Prof George Irvin SOAS

Prof Margot Light LSE

Prof Simon Mohun University of London

Robin Murray Senior visiting fellow, LSE

Prof Engelbert Stockhammer Kingston University

Prof Jan Toporouski SOAS

Prof John Weeks SOAS

The Urbanism and Regeneration Advisor – Richard Rogers (2)

The choice of who is to run the city has never been more critical. We need a Mayor who is visionary and decisive, who understands the needs and aspirations of ordinary Londoners. We want a Mayor who understands the need for a better distribution of wealth and who will help protect the vulnerable from the Government’s slash-and-burn economics.

I worked for 10 years with both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson as chief adviser to City Hall on urbanism and regeneration — and I am convinced that Ken best meets the needs of Londoners.

We’ve already seen that Ken understands the job of Mayor. He can think strategically and is deeply interested in the detail. He established the autonomous role of the Mayor at a time when there was far less appetite for devolved power than there is now.

Under his leadership London became a model city — culturally, socially and economically. It was visited by leaders from around the world studying how such urban vitality had been achieved. Ken maintained the green belt and increased public space. He set a target for developers to build 50 per cent of affordable housing adjacent to all new private developments.

Ken focused on the regeneration of east London, and when with his support the Olympics were won for London, he chose a site in the East End knowing it would strengthen one of the poorest parts of the city.

Ken secured the go-ahead for Crossrail, he cut congestion, revived the bus service, licensed minicabs and doubled the number of cycling trips made in the city. He has the ambition to achieve even more.

Some people, including too many from the liberal Left, say choosing Ken would be disappointing. I agree that his inability to apologise over gaffes is unattractive, and although he has done nothing illegal, greater transparency over his tax affairs would have been wise and welcome.

But to echo American author Jake Lamar on Barack Obama, I would not be disappointed if Ken cut public transport fares by seven per cent, showing his understanding of how most people are struggling in tough economic times.

I would not be disappointed if he offered childcare grants of up to £700 to low-income families, interest-free loans to families earning up to £40,000 a year and campaigned for better childcare services. I would not be disappointed if he reinstated the Educational Maintenance Allowance.

I would not be disappointed if he took full responsibility for Londoners’ safety by heading the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime — and by reversing the cuts Boris Johnson made to policing, including Safer Neighbourhood Teams.

I would not be disappointed if Ken made cutting Londoners’ fuel bills and reducing carbon emissions a priority. I would not be disappointed if he introduced a city-wide empty homes strategy, ending the scandal of decent homes lying empty while waiting lists lengthen.

I am passionate about the benefits that compact, sustainable cities can provide. I would not be disappointed if Ken were given the chance to make London a model for the world once more.

The Outer London  Transport User – Helen (3)

Boris Johnson made many transport promises before he was elected in 2008 – London Transport Is A Mess, he claimed. How has Boris improved public transport for me in the outer London borough of Hounslow (Z4 Tube/Z5 National Rail) in his four-year term?

We’ve seen no improvements in Underground services – the Piccadilly line upgrade, due to be completed in 2014 under the previous Mayor, has been put back to 2025. The line is still using rolling stock built in 1973. Hounslow railway station continues to have an abysmal service of only one four-carriage train an hour on a Sunday – during the summer, especially when there’s cricket on at the Oval, passengers at the next stop of Isleworth are unable to board due to overcrowding.

Our local train operating company, South West Trains, was the very last in London to install Oyster-compatible ticket machines – almost two years after Oyster was accepted for travel on London’s rail services. When they finally arrived, they were of little comfort as Boris Johnson had raised the daily off-peak Oyster cap for Zones 2-6 from £5.10 TO £8.00 and the peak Oyster cap from £9.00 to £15.00,  then again in January this year to £8.50 and £15.80 respectively.

When repeatedly challenged about these enormous increases, the Mayor claimed these massive hikes were actually reductions. Boris Johnson also removed the price differential of 50p between a one-day Travelcard and the equivalent Oyster cap which was designed to encourage Oyster use, putting up the Oyster price to the same as a paper one-day Travelcard.

Children’s fares have also gone up – under the previous Mayor, children over the age of 5 with a Zip Oyster photocard could travel all day on Tube, Overground and Rail for £1. The child off-peak cap (depending on Zones) is now up to £7.60 and the peak cap up to £10.30. Not only that, but the child Oyster card itself was free under the previous Mayor; Boris Johnson has introduced a £10 charge for it, meaning that each child’s card costs at least £15 as a passport photo is required. Johnson may boast about “free” travel for children on London’s buses and trams, but without the £10 child Oyster (a huge sum for parents on a low income) each child must pay the adult cash fare of £2.30.

As for the buses, the promised orbital routes never materialised and there are no Countdown screens at any of the bus stops I regularly use – I do not have a smartphone and I cannot afford to pay for the text message service every time I use a bus.

I have never, ever seen a PCSO, police officer or British Transport Police officer on bus, train or Tube when I travel home late at night, which I do at least twice a week.

Boris Johnson has increased bus fares by 50% since he became Mayor and the daily Oyster cap in outer London by 70% in just the last two years. As his Bullingdon buddy George Osborne takes us into a Double-Dip recession and the Mayor himself has refused to admit at several public hustings that his own election manifesto commits to annual fare hikes of RPI +2, use your vote wisely next week – Boris Johnson is the only Mayoral candidate committed to raising our sky-high fares even further.

The Journalist – Seumas Milne of the Guardian (4)

“The best that Johnson has been able to come up with as a flagship promise for the next four years is to reduce his share of Londoners’ council tax by 10%. But Livingstone is standing on what by any reckoning is an imaginative progressive platform that would have a significant impact on Londoners facing the biggest fall in living standards since the 1920s.

That includes a funded 7% cut in public transport fares (while Johnson promises to increase them), a nonprofit lettings agency to reduce rents and cut out estate agents, a restored educational maintenance allowance for 16 to 18 year-olds, childcare grants and loans and an energy co-op to cut gas and electricity bills through bulk buying.

If the focus of London’s election were actually on the bread-and-butter issues at stake, the outcome would hardly be in doubt – especially given the overlap between Labour, Green and even Liberal Democrat policies in a system of preference voting. But so far they have been drowned out by the personality circus.”

Ken Livingstone’s manifesto includes (5):

Use TfL surpluses to cut fares by 7% by October this year and freeze them throughout 2013

Reverse cuts to police numbers. Getting more police on the beat cuts crime and keeps police and residents in touch with each other

Reduce rents by establishing a non-profit London lettings agency to cut out estate agents’ profit. Build new homes built to take pressure off the housing market

Use San Francisco-style ‘smart parking’ to cut traffic circling for a space, coordinate roadworks and give more Londoners access to car clubs

Review all major junctions, trial a cyclists-only traffic light phase and redesign cycle superhighways for safety

Restore a London-wide educational maintenance allowance of up to £30 a week for 16-19 year olds. Work to extend the number of genuine apprenticeships

Support a vibrant banking and financial services sector, put money back in Londoners’ pockets and oppose restrictive practices on attracting skilled workers

A network of wild flower corridors to transform the verges of roads, footpaths, cycleways and railways into refuges for nature

Electric buses and support for the development of electric taxis. A London health commissioner to help tackle air pollution

Work with boroughs to use discretionary planning powers to protect the high street and local pubs

Help make Boris Johnston an Ex-Mayor on the 3rd May 2012. Vote for Ken Livingstone.

For more see Boris and Lynton Crossby’s spin against Ken backfires (6)







Michael Gove should redo his GCSEs.


In response to a recent speech, in which Michael Gove warned the number of pupils passing exams would fall as a result of government reforms making exams tougher, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the traditionally moderate association of Teachers and Lecturers, accused Mr Gove of seeking an “utterly disastrous” return to the 1950’s exam system.

“Education should be about developing students’ skills and not about ensuring some students fail exams”. Dr Bousted added that top priority should be given to tackling poverty, social exclusion and social inequality as a means of improving the performance of disadvantaged pupils.

She said right-wingers laid the responsibility for tackling educational inequality upon the school … “In their world, the school exists in a bubble, unaffected by the economic forces raging around it which will put 200,000 more children below the poverty line.

“We need to understand just what schools can do but we also need to understand what needs to be done in terms of social justice to give all children a fair start in life and a fair chance to benefit from their education.”

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said “Michael Gove’s continual criticism of teachers, headteachers and pupils achievements is thoroughly undeserved…While it serves the Education secretary well in securing headlines it simply alienates and demoralises the profession which strives day in and day out, often in difficult circumstances, to achieve the best for all their pupils.” (4)

Following on from Alicia Duffy’s post (3) about restricting access to Open University degrees by tripling the fees, Think Left posts another from Liam Carr challenging the retrograde education policy of the Tory/LD government and specifically the lack of understanding of Education Minister Michael Gove:

Under-equipped? by Liam Carr

First posted

Michael Gove should redo his GCSEs. If he did GCSE Sciences now he would learn some important concepts about how to look at data both in the media and from other sources. He has noticed that there is a correlation between low academic achievement and ‘risky behaviour’ (1) or what a normal person might call having unprotected sex. He has made the classic mistake that GCSE science students have learned not to make, and jumped from correlation to cause. Fertilisation of an egg is the cause of teenage pregnancy, not, doing badly in class. He has then made the leap that if everyone did well in acagemic subjects there would be no need for sex education. This is yet another example of the retrograde education policy of the tory government (2). When Gove dreams up policy is he just reminiscing?

“When I was at school the Queen had a boat = we need to buy the Queen a boat”
“When I was at school everyone did Latin = We are bringing back Latin”
“When I was at school there was no sex education = We are scrapping sex education”
“When I was at school we all stood up when the an adult came in to the room = we need a policy on standing

(The lib dems could do with a policy on standing at council elections)

An education secretary must be capable of thinking in the future and not just in the past. It is one of the most important ministerial positions; ineptitude is a disservice to the next generation.

Education in the UK is not as content heavy as in some nations which are held up as ‘overtaking’ us. This, in some ways is no bad thing. Knowledge is easy to access but an understanding of how we find out the things ‘we know’ is more important for students if they are going to break new ground. The progress made in fostering skills development, particularly in Science education, is progress that we cannot afford to reverse.

The academic rigour of some subjects needs to be looked at, but unless a holistic approch is taken, we risk providing an education to our students that would equip them well for life in 1950s Britain, but leave them floundering in a rapidly changing world.





The University without Walls


It was a dream of Harold Wilson, Leader of the Labour Party, an Open University. In 1966 Labour’s general election manifesto contained a commitment to establish the University of the Air. Wilson was returned with an increased majority and in September 1967 his Cabinet agreed to set up a Planning Committee ‘to work out a comprehensive plan for an open university’. The Open University has given opportunities to so many, which otherwise would not have been possible. We have grown so used to it, we now take it for granted, but as Alicia J Duffy writes, all this is now under threat.


Previously published at The Camel’s Hump

by Alicia J Duffy

If I told you that there is a way to get a degree without A levels, would you believe me? If I told you that the university accepts all students, and that you can study at home, in prison, on an oil rig or anywhere else that you might happen to be? If you could study how and when you like, whether that be in bursts of activity with gaps in between, steadily in short bursts on the bus or when the kids are in bed, or full time? That you would get support off a tutor, optional tutorials and online social support?

The Open University is a wonderful organisation. Launched in 1969, it currently has more than 260,000 students, mostly in the UK. A network of nearly 7000 tutors support these students, often alongside working in a traditional university, and 1.6 million people have studied with the university since it was founded.

The university has a stated aim of helping people acheive potential despite barriers that would prevent study at many universities – 12,000 disabled students a year study with the OU, and up to 44% of the student body started without the qualifications that would normally be needed for university study. However, the degrees and other qualifications are well respected – studying with the OU shows a determination and level of self organisation that many employers find very attractive.

The university produces television documentaries and study resources for other universities and schools. It also makes a huge range of learning resources freely available at OpenLearn, which is well worth a look for anybody interested in thinking and learning, as well as through iTunes and YouTube.

It is now at risk.

Due to changes in student finding arrangments, the university is having to stop providing the financial support system that it has been helping thousands of students with. Fees are increasing for all students across the university – a student starting an honours degree in September 2012 will pay approx 15 thousand pounds for their degree in total, around three times the full fee the year before. Many students currently pay either a reduced fee or no fee at all, depending on income, and all students have access to a budgeting account to spread the cost. What’s more, students will now have to apply for funding through the student loans system, meaning that students who already have a degree or who are otherwise barred from student loans will have to find the money themselves.

Studying with the OU is still much cheaper than study at many traditional universities, and the nature of the courses means that working full time alongside study is very possible. Still, the university is suffering from the increase in fees, and many students that could have changed their lives and achieved their potential will be put off by the cost.

I really hope that the university can continue to provide this wonderful service for all of us non traditional students. If you feel the same, please sign this petition or, even better, why not register on a course? It is still the cheapest and most flexible way to get your degree, and might just change your life.

Don’t say you weren’t warned George!


Britain has sunk back into recession, its first double-dip downturn since the 1970s.GDP unexpectedly shrank by 0.2% between January and March, following a 0.3% contraction in the fourth quarter of last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. A technical recession is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of economic decline. The figures wrongfooted City economists, who had expected a return to growth of 0.1%.

Double-dip recession a terrible blow for George Osborne

“UK government stands accused of over-cooking austerity and killing off tentative recovery that was under way two years ago.”  Larry Elliott

Richard Murphy of Tax Research blog writes today:

Osborne offered us his vision two year ago.  It was of “expansionary fiscal contraction”.

His argument was that the more he cut government spending the more  people would spend, liberated by knowing that if he succeeded in his aim of balancing the budget tax cuts would follow, letting them repay debt they’d take on now to spend.   It hasn’t happened.  People who face the prospect of unemployment, increased cost for things that were previously provided by the state, lower pensions, higher cost of childcare  and the uncertainty of recession have simply stop spending…..

There is only one way to restore that balance in our economy and that is for the government to spend now on the creation of new infrastructure projects, new green energy projects, on the backlog of repairs that need to be undertaken in our public sector properties, in providing services that people need, and in investing with business in our future in sectors such as non-carbon energy.

This spending will, of course, require additional funding, but there is over £2 trillion invested in pensions at present in this country with more than £900 million (or thereabouts) in the larger pension funds. In that case money seeking a proactive home on which a positive return can be paid does exist. In addition, business itself has £750 billion of cash on its balance sheets right now, none of which is being spent. It is this combined cash that has to be brought into use in our economy if we are to get out of recession and nothing George Osborne is doing  will achieve that goal.

We don’t, as a result, need corporation tax cuts for big business right now: we need them to pay more tax now so that investment can take place to fund demand for their products.  That gets the business cycle going again. (1)

All of this was totally predictable following George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review in October 2010… as the economists reported below said at the time (3).  Currently, only 88% of the cuts detailed in the CSR have been implemented, and George Osborne has suggested an additional 10 Billion may be withdrawn from Welfare.

It should be remembered that the implicit consequences of the Coalition government’s stated policies of cuts would result in less spending on public services in the UK than that of the US by 2014/15. (2)

The UK needs more than a plan B.  It needs a new government committed to public investment in reducing energy needs and increasing energy production from renewables. It needs a government committed to taking back the NHS and creating living wages and living support for the disabled and long-term sick.  Above all, the UK needs to tackle unemployment, particularly amongst the young.