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27 May 2008
Why did Boris Johnson double fares for London's poor?
The news that the half price fares for London's poor will end come August was slipped out on Sunday in the hope that nobody would notice. The question still has to be asked, why was it done?

London seems to have gained from the deal that saw Venezuelan oil bartered for the city's technical know-how in various aspects of transport policy. Before anyone starts laughing, the issue is not what Venezuela gained out of it because that is a matter for them. What matters is that London got cheap oil which meant that the poor got cheap rides on the tube and buses. This being so it is hard to accept the Boris argument that the deal was bad for Venezuela. Boris was not elected to get good deals for foreign countries, but to ensure that the people of London get decent services. The oil for advice swap was certainly that.

This makes the decision to cancel it all the more puzzling. Boris Watch reckons that it is all about keeping in with "his chums at Policy Exchange," a right-wing think tank, but that argument strikes this writer as a bit thin.

The point is that whatever ideological differences the mayor may have with the government of Venezuela, at the end of the day politicians don't tend to go out of their way to make enemies unless there is an advantage to be gained. As far as the cheap fares deal goes, why make enemies out of the 250,000 or so people who gained from the policy, especially since it cannot be presented to the middle class as a cost cutting exercise?

The only sensible answer that we can come up with is that Boris did it as a test to see if Labour would respond. Labour hasn't responded, and so the message has gone out that nobody gives a stuff about the London poor. The newspapers are quite happy to circulate the line that this is all about Venezuela, not because they have bought that line, but because the people who write for those papers don't give a shit about the London working class either.

Looked at in this light, the policy change could mean that yet more cuts are on the way. Let's face it, if Nu-Labour can't even be bothered to defend something as basic as cheap bus and tube fares for its core supporters, the party can hardly be expected to defend anything.

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