The Wuhan virus was first under-estimated, and now grossly over-estimated in its severity, but there is no doubt that the reaction to it will have many strange and unexpected consequences.
One of them is the degeneration of the finances of Transport for London (TfL), the Greater London Authority owned corporation which runs London’s tube and bus network and controls London’s major road arteries. Even before the Wuhan virus because endemic in the UK, TfL’s finances were in a parlous state due to the Crossrail debacle and years of profligacy under Sadiq Khan who has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on his pet cycle superhighway schemes.
These have had the effect of narrowing road space for motor vehicles on London’s major road arteries where there are very few cycles at most times of the day. This has increased congestion and emissions in a manner which was entirely predictable. Yet Sadiq Khan is a fully signed up member of the green brigade and is committed to implementing Agenda 2030 and the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.
The UN sustainable development goals include the densification of ‘human settlement’ areas and actively implementing measures to discourage the use of motor vehicles, regardless of the cost and the consequences. They also propose such targets as regularising migration, closing coal and gas power stations, getting Western nations to give away 0.7% of GNI in foreign aid and providing universal access to abortion.
Now, however, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has implemented a spectacular power-grab from his fellow greenie Sadiq Khan. With the travel restrictions and social distancing measures that the Johnson government imposed, TfL fare income upon which it depends to survive has dried up and is down by 90%. It is burning through its cash reserves at a rate of £15 million per day, and without support will go bankrupt in a matter of weeks.
The only option was for Khan to go cap in hand to the government and ask for a bailout. The Johnson government duly complied with £1.6 billion for TfL. The sting in the tail however is strict conditions attached. The government has effectively taken control of TfL’s management and operations, leaving Khan as a semi-eunuch.
The London Mayor has two major roles. One is to direct London’s transport policy; the other is to be the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for London. He now only has one role left.
If Johnson were truly ruthless, he could use the opportunity of the coronavirus fallout to abolish PCCs. This would undoubtedly prove to be popular in the country as a whole. PCCs were introduced by the Cameron government with the rationale of making the police accountable to the public. In reality, however, they are simply expensive superfluities which duplicate the work of Police Commissioners, costing taxpayers over £50 million per year in the process. Their only visible role is to set the police precept in their jurisdiction, which increases annually along with our council tax bills.
If Johnson abolished the role of PCCs and returned their functions to the Police Commissioners who make the operational decisions, he would at a stroke save enough to pay for at least 20 extra police officers in most forces, as well as trimming back on unnecessary bureaucracy. This would be a popular decision.
It would also have the unique consequence in London of completely removing the political power of Sadiq Khan. With the government running TfL, and the functions of the PCC returned to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the office of Mayor of London would have little purpose, apart from overseeing the London Fire Brigade. If the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) which was abolished in April 2018 were revived to provide the necessary management oversight, the London Mayor really would have nothing to do.
It remains to be seen whether Johnson will return the control of TfL back to Sadiq Khan, or castrate him completely.