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Boris vs Ken vs Brian vs Jenny: what happened at the Mayoral Business Hustings? Not much, actually

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They came, they spoke, they rather disappointed. This mayoral race is going to be a slow burner

Hustings? The name suggests some sort of gladiatorial combat. Repartee. Rebuttal and sharp wit. The gathering of the four main mayoral candidates for a business hustings at the Allen & Overy headquarters in the City proved to be more of a tepid panel debate. They might as well have been discussing the widening of the A14.

The format didn’t help. With four candidates answering each question responses needed to be under a minute long and, inevitably, facile.

To kick things off each candidate got five minutes to pitch to the audience. None said anything you haven’t heard before. Boris got off a few early shots at Ken, citing his wasting tens of thousands of pounds on trips to Havana and hundreds of millions on “delusional projects” at the London Development Agency, including a London Weather Forecasting Centre and a London Space Agency.

Ken stuck to plans for a 7 per cent tube and bus fare cut, arguing the increase in household money would help the London economy.

Jenny Jones wanted a “green and sustainable London”. Seriously.

Then Samira Ahmed, she of Channel 4 news, took questions from the floor.

First up, transport. Jenny Jones mentioned her pay-as-you-drive tax, an idea hated by drivers and by libertarians who aren’t thrilled with the idea of the State tracking every car journey.

Ken criticised the Boris Bike scheme, saying the cost worked out at £12,000 per bike per docking station.

Boris said he wanted fibre optic broadband upgrades, both in London and to other UK cities to run alongside HS2.

Brian also spoke.

Another question from the floor: how can we revitalise London’s high streets? Boris perked up. He vowed to make them more shopper friendly. He’d introduce trees and benches. Tackle crime. And parking! Naughty councils are…he groped for a word… “they are mulcting, mulcting” drivers to increase their revenue without raising council tax.

Jenny Jones offered a sensible recipe of “streetscapes”, using traffic calming measures and pavement widening to create more pedestrian friendly environments conducive to shopping.

And what of the unions? Jenny Jones said she was “in awe of Bob Crow and his ability to screw money out of the system. He should be a banker!” Laughs! We were grateful for the light relief.

Ken referred to the success of his own multi-year pay deals with the unions. “The way I dealt with Bob Crow, was we made a reasonable offer. We never made an unreasonable offer. If they went on strike that offer was never improved. There were two strikes before they realised I was serious.” He added: “They have got to know you are as bloody-minded as them.”

Boris’ solution for the unions is automation. He reminded us of his decision to remove ticket offices made redundant by Oyster cards in his first term, and vowed not to shirk the tough decisions which would be required in his first.

Brian said “things have gone too far” with the unions and that London needs “a tough mayor who can stand up to them”. He failed to mention who he had in mind.

The riots brought out the most thoughtful responses. Boris pointed out that he had established two funds to help the affected areas. Ken suggested Boris might have averted the crisis had he come back from his holiday a little earlier and met the family of Mark Duggan.

Brian pointed out that some shopkeepers in Tottenham are reporting business down 50 per cent, and that in Ealing loss adjusters to deal with compensation claims had still not been appointed six months after the riots.

Jenny said young people need “hope”.

The inanity of the debate was exposed when a question was asked about the tussle between London and Munich to host the new European super court for patents. If the court is in Germany, stated our man from the floor, it could cost the UK £1bn a year. If London hosts the court, it could be worth £3bn.

The Allen & Overy partners in the audience drooled at the thought! What would the candidates do to win the fight for it to be located here? Frankly, our questioner might as well have asked whether Azithromycin is the best treatment for streptococcal septicaemia.

Boris said he would do “er, everything in our, er, power to make sure London gets it” and it was vital London did get it. Brian agreed. Ken said he agreed with Boris. Boris blew the goodwill gesture by growling: “You should talk like that more often”. Jenny Jones simply muttered her agreement with all the other candidates. A cynic might suppose that none of the candidates was even aware of the proposal for the new patent court.

Any gems from the evening? Jenny Jones said she’d promote bank lending by threatening to take the GLA’s bank accounts away from banks which didn’t lend to small firms. Brian reminded us that Ken favours an 80 per cent income tax (“on second incomes” said Ken in defence). None of the candidates supports a mansion tax.

After an hour and 20 minutes we toddled out the auditorium. Still, we learned two things. Mulcting, tr.v: to acquire by trickery or deception. And this mayoral race is going to be a slow burner.




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