Mayor answers to London

Tube Strike

[Supplementary question]

Question number3065/2010
Meeting date15/09/2010

Question by John Biggs

Although we had various Conservative newspapers parading hate figures and suggesting this is outrageous and dreadful behaviour, do you accept that the dispute last week was predominantly by relatively lowly paid workers who work predominantly in ticket offices and in support roles? They are not the alleged union fat cats. They are ordinary Londoners, many of whom I am sure voted for you, who want to have consideration in any changes to their working practices.

Answer by Boris Johnson (1st Term)

): I do accept that. I do accept that completely. I think that is a very fair way of putting it. I would remind you - just to go back to Dick’s [Tracey] point - that 3,194 people voted for this strike action. That is quite a small number by comparison with the millions who were adversely affected by it.

I just want to say to those people again, the points I made repeatedly in the last few weeks: these proposals are mild. They are very much watered down by comparison with the 40 outright ticket office closures that were planned by the previous administration, theoretically supported by all you guys. Number two, they involve no compulsory redundancies. Number three, I think that, overwhelmingly, people understand there is a great deal of merit - where you have got ticket offices that are not selling huge numbers of tickets per hour - in getting hardworking employees out from behind those glass screens on to the station concourses and on to the platforms where they can be of use. I think it is a sensible reform.

I hope that union members, when they understand what is really at stake and we move away from the pointless political polemic about beating up the Government and trying to attack Danny Alexander [Chief Secretary to the Treasury] for his cuts, and the pointless antagonism towards the Coalition Government, all this kind of nonsense, and concentrate narrowly on the issues as it affects London Underground, they will see that this is a commonsensical reform that is motivated by nothing but the best interests of the London travelling public, without doing damage, to the interests of London Underground’s workforce.

John Biggs (AM): The basic problem is that people still do not quite believe that leopards change their spots. They believe that when you have a Conservative administration it tends to reward itself with fat cat pay and rewards way beyond its abilities - such as applies to a significant number of Members of the Conservative group on the Assembly, for example - whilst it hammers the conditions of the relatively low paid Londoners and reduces their security and employment. Evidence of that, I guess, would be the concern shown by bus workers’ representatives outside City Hall today and by those who work at Billingsgate Market and feel that we should be taking consideration of the quality of work that they do, rather than forever pursuing a race to the bottom.

You do try to face both ways. This is a crunch issue. I think London Underground workers would like to feel that they are valued by you, that they are being properly considered by you, that they are not being let up the garden path into jobs which are insecure and unsupported, that their fear of crime on London Underground stations is being properly taken into account and they are not being dragooned into a position which they cannot defend themselves from.

At a time of economic weakness you, as the Mayor, have a responsibility to Londoners, most of whom are on low incomes, to stand up for them and to make sure that the cuts from this Government and the threats to their wellbeing are properly understood by City Hall and that their concerns are taken into account. I think they are not persuaded that you are doing that. You like to pretend that you are a social democrat and not really a Conservative. This is an opportunity for you to do that.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): The reality is that you are right; there is a massive job to be done at the moment in making it clear to central government, the Coalition Government, that we must protect investment in London transport. Where I think you are completely right is to say that that includes buses as well as the big ticket items that we always bang on about; the Crossrail, the Tube upgrades and everything else. We have got to make sure that we have a world class bus network in this city. We have a fantastic bus network and I think we should all work together, might and main, over the next few weeks to protect it.

One thing that I am hearing at the moment from central government is, or I am told, “Oh if only we could stop the Liberal Democrats who want to send all the money up to their constituencies in the north. If only Danny Alexander was less cruel to London”, this is what I am told. I know that you will be useful in this, John. If Mike Tuffrey [Assembly Member] , Caroline and Dee when she takes off her impartial Chair hat, and anybody else who has influence with the Liberal Democrats could make the point that London is the motor of the United Kingdom economy - that would be an advantage to London’s bus network!

I am grateful however John, for what you said about London’s Tube workers I think you are absolutely right there too.

Main question

Richard Tracey


1Caroline Pidgeon
> 2 John Biggs
3Darren Johnson