When the Mayoral election finally comes round, hopefully in six months time, all the betting is that Sadiq Khan will trounce his Conservative challenger by a landslide.
Shaun Bailey's campaign has been an angry one characterised by bold accusations against the incumbent, many of questionable veracity. He's been particularly keen of late to accuse Sadiq of bankrupting TfL (whereas the pandemic delivered the killer blow) and of unfairly raising the congestion charge (despite the fact central government demanded it). Nuanced argument is not Shaun's style.
But the prize for chutzpah and rank stupidity has to go to something Shaun tweeted on Wednesday about... I can't believe I'm typing this... the Metropolitan Line extension.
London isn’t just Westminster and the square mile, but Watford very much isn't in London. The Metropolitan Line extension, long promised but never delivered, would have run entirely outside the capital and became part of the mayor's portfolio solely because it's on the tube. @BorisJohnson merely promised to fund it whatever the cost (immediately before a General Election), and @SadiqKhan mothballed it (extremely quietly) because those costs spiralled out of control. London Reconnections has the entire sorry story here, and I've covered it afairfewtimes too.
And we could perhaps have left things there if only Shaun hadn't gone to Watford, stood outside the station and recorded a minute-long video. You can watch it in his tweet, or you can read the entire speech below, perhaps open-mouthed. Why is this man attempting to reopen a dead can of worms?
I've just been hosted by Dean Russell, who's the MP for Watford.
I wonder if Shaun realises Watford is outside London. We may find out later.
He and his constituents are very worried about the closure of Watford station which you see just behind me.
Hang on what? There are no plans to close Watford station. Local constituents are not, in any way, worried. Had the Metropolitan Line extension gone ahead then the station would have closed, severed by the diversion to Watford Junction. But as things stand 'Watford Met' is perfectly safe... unless the extension Shaun appears to be supporting goes ahead.
When Boris Johnson was the Mayor he left the money behind to make sure this station, and the extension, actually happened so that Watford and London would be closely linked as lots of people commute.
Where to begin? Boris did indeed negotiate a £284m funding package, but when TfL took control of the project they calculated it'd need at least £50m more and weren't willing to take the risk. All sorts of people got annoyed by this, including local residents and the DfT, but nothing Boris did ensured the extension "actually happened".
Watford station doesn't need to "actually happen" either because it's been open for 95 years. Watford and London are already closely linked by train, both here and at the much-better-used Watford Junction, so commuters are hardly missing out. It's increasingly evident that Shaun has blundered into a project he knows pitifully little about.
But under Sadiq Khan's poor management of TfL's finances this station is now under threat.
Quite the opposite. Sadiq's funding concerns in fact removed the threat hanging over Watford station by cancelling the extension. Shaun is so intent on bashing the Mayor's poor financial management that any old backdrop will do, justified or fictional, in the hope that voters will simply nod along in anger.
It's just another example of how Sadiq Khan has failed to deliver transport across London and the wider region.
The chief project Sadiq has failed to deliver is Crossrail, a limping behemoth nobody who'd been in power for the last four years could have forced through. Governance of Crossrail has been the mayor's responsibility for precisely four weeks. Meanwhile Shaun's website is able to promise "I’ll deliver much-needed improvements, like Crossrail" because whoever's in power during the next Mayoral term will claim this prize, just as Boris claimed hire bikes and Sadiq claimed the Night Tube.
Also note that Shaun is lambasting Sadiq for not delivering transport improvements beyond the Greater London boundary. This is of course not the Mayor's responsibility, even though he continues to gift the Home Counties step-free stations and has repeatedly attempted to wrest control of Southeastern Metro services.
We've had 21 of 26 major infrastructure projects cancelled, and this was before COVID, not since.
This has taken some tracking down, but I believe I've found the 26 projects Shaun is talking about. In January this year a report from the London Assembly's Budget and Performance Committee reviewed 26 commitments from the 2016 TfL Business Plan. Only five of these remained on schedule according to 2016 timelines whereas 21 had slipped. But of these 21 slippages only four projects had been paused or cancelled (e.g. the removal of the Vauxhall gyratory and the Piccadilly line signalling upgrade) and the other 17 were still in progress.
A correct reading of the report would be "4 of 26 major infrastructure projects paused or cancelled", or "21 of 26 major infrastructure projects delayed". A world of difference exists between 'cancelled' and 'delayed', but Shaun seems happy to use the two interchangeably without any respect for the truth.
And I just want to say to everybody, I have a plan to fix transport in London...
I wondered what Shaun's plan was, so I checked his website. His transport plan is entitled Make London Move and this is the full extent of it.
There's the bankrupt claim again, and the Crossrail open goal, and the congestion charge zinger. But the heart of Shaun's policy seems to be that transport is more likely to receive funding if London elects a Mayor from the same political party as the government. Relatively speaking, that's probably true. But Shaun's certainty that he can reverse the congestion charge increase on day one, an increase the government conveniently imposed on his predecessor, looks increasingly like a stitch-up.
...and stations like this will be rescued wherever possible.
To repeat, Watford station does not need rescuing, it is safe. No other existing stations are in need of rescue either, nor under any kind of threat.
But I want to make a challenge to Sadiq Khan - it's time to stop blaming the government...
In 2015 Boris and George Osborne engineered a huge reduction in TfL's grant from central government. No other European metro system receives a smaller subsidy. Sadiq's fares freeze is about a quarter of that magnitude. It is quite easy to blame the government in such circumstances.
... and deliver transport for London and the wider southeast.
Shaun is pitching to too wide an audience here. Inhabitants of Dartford and Reading have no vote on TfL services they may or may not receive, and venturing out to Watford has been a misguided waste of time.
There are all sorts of reasons to despise an incumbent Mayor, indeed they usually do things millions disagree with. Shaun must be hoping that a desire for change will propel him into office. But to elect a fool with no grasp of policy... well, we've done that before and look where the country is now.